It doesn’t take rocket science to guess the issues on which elections are fought in Bihar. They are obviously the caste arithmetic, religious polarisation and personality cult of their leaders.
For decades, public in Bihar has prioritised these issues over the basic ones, such as education, health, industry, infrastructure, unemployment, etc. And strangely, a large segment of mainstream media calls Bihar a politically-aware state. They obviously need to assess their understanding of being “politically aware”. Just being conscious of the caste dynamics and shifting loyalties can’t be a parameter of being a politically aware citizen, at least not in the 21st century.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has yet again thoroughly exposed the gaps in both human and infrastructure development of the state. From jobless migrants walking barefoot across the length and breadth of the country to the deplorable health infrastructure in which people are dying due to lack of hospital beds, Nitish government seems to have failed in each aspect.
Of the many developmental issues mentioned above, let’s take a look at the state of education in Bihar—what ails it and what needs to be done.
Right from elementary to higher education—plus the competitive examinations, a similar set of problems can be seen. This includes poor quality of teaching-learning, lack of both capital and human resource, red-tapism, corruption, untimely academic sessions, lack of employment opportunities, poor salaries, use of unfair practices, etc. Hence, it’s no surprise that Bihar was ranked 17th out of 20 major states in NITI Aayog’s School Education Quality Index.
In the last 15 years of the Nitish government, the number of school buildings has no doubt increased considerably—thanks to the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA). The enrollment of both boys and girls, too, have jumped significantly owing to the provisions of RTE Act, Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDM), and the plethora of populist measures introduced by Nitish government, such as cycle yojana or scholarship for the girl child, etc. But this is just the quantitative aspect of it. As you move to the qualitative aspect, the same government has left no stone unturned in ensuring that Bihari children get the worst quality of school education.
Our very own Ravish Kumar aptly repeats, “Kaksha mein bina guru ke Bharat kaise banega vishwa guru?” Yes, Bihar wishes to achieve the glory of ancient learning without adequate teachers!
In his 15 years in office, Nitish Kumar could appoint school teachers just once and that, too, was marred by the appointment of untrained teachers and corrupt, nepotistic practices. When you see clips on television in which teachers are not even able to write their names properly, it’s the product of that 2011-12 recruitment by Bihar government. They are the very teachers who produced toppers like Ruby Rai.
After that, no recruitment has been done in the last eight years. More than one lakh posts are vacant at different levels, but the government simply doesn’t care. Neither do they conduct TET exams every year, nor wish to appoint the already qualified ones. The STET exam earlier this year was cancelled on the frivolous charges of “cheating”, and as usual, the matter is in court for the past few months.
Besides the recruitment, comes the issue of the salary of teachers. Bihar is one of the very few states who don’t adhere to the principle of “Equal Pay for Equal Work”. Not just in education but almost in every department the posts are converted to a contractual basis—so that they don’t have to adhere to the “Pay Scale”. Unfortunately, in a long drawn battle in Supreme Court, Patna High Court’s judgement on increased salaries was reversed.
Now moving to the field of higher education, Bihar continues to be a regular exporter of students to engineering and medical colleges in western and southern India. Except for IIT, Patna, none of the engineering colleges from Bihar feature in the top 100, nor do any medical college or law college feature in the list of top-ranking institutions.
The state of medical colleges is quite visible amid the COVID-19 outbreak with more than half the posts of doctors and nurses remain vacant in addition to an inadequate number of beds, ventilators, and oxygen cylinders.
Although a couple of new universities, such as the ones in Munger and Purnia have been established, University education overall has been in a deep crisis in Bihar for long. Just like the technical colleges mentioned above, none of the Universities of Bihar feature in NIRF ranking. In fact, they are hesitant to even participate in the process.
The problem in Bihar Universities starts right from the top with heavy corruption charges in the appointment of the Vice-Chancellors. Besides that, ad-hocism in running the universities has also been a common practice. At present, only five universities in Bihar have regular vice-chancellors. This lacklustre attitude at the top is reflected in the whole administrative and academic structure of the universities—leading to delayed sessions, absentee teaching-learning and widespread use of unfair means to pass the exams.
The glorious past of Patna, Bhagalpur and Magadha Universities have systematically been undone in the last four decades. While the appointment of lecturers during Lalu’s regime witnessed corruption, Nitish government in 2005 abolished the University Service Commission alleging it to be a den of corruption.
But the Nitish government failed to start any new processes of recruitment, which has halted any fresh appointments for the next 10 years. Finally, in 2014, about 3500 posts were advertised by BPSC, but after six years, it’s yet to complete the process for all the subjects.
Talks of about 9000 new vacancies have been in the news for the last two years, but without any success. The Nitish government has also decided to bring back the infamous University Service Commission. The ongoing recruitment by BPSC has, by and large, been fair and qualified people have come into the system. Still, the academic community fears that with University Service Commission back in place, we are again moving towards corrupt and fraudulent recruitment process.
As we move on to competitive exams, the same story of administrative apathy is also seen here. Due to the lack of any industry or service sector, the youth of Bihar is left with only two choices: leave the state in search of employment opportunities or go for the government sector exams.
As is the custom elsewhere in the Hindi heartland, the exam-conducting agencies such as SSC, PSC, BSEB, etc., take full liberty in draining one’s energy waiting for exams, results and court cases for years.
However, the work of BPSC and BSEB in the last couple of years does show a ray of hope that things can be improved for better—if there’s a will to do so. BSEB, which was quite infamous a few years ago for delaying Board exams and results—thus casting a shadow over further admissions in colleges, did a turn around in 2019 completing the process within one year. In fact earlier than other states.
BPSC, too, in the tenure of Sishir Sinha, did a remarkable job by bringing calendar on time and increasing transparency. It was so successful that BPSC became a model for other states’ PSCs. But with the retirement of the incumbent officers, there’s a fear of these bodies plunging into their earlier state again.
After having discussed the various aspects of education at length, it’s needless to say that overall, Bihar has an abysmal track record in every aspect. And one big reason behind all this is that we have never made it an election issue. Election manifestos and rallies of politicians here hardly talk about quality education and employment.
It’s high time we move away from succumbing to populist measures and demand concrete change in the education system. Only then can we address the massive exodus of Bihari students and create a congenial environment for development within our state.