— Dhirendra Jha
The sorry state of Bihar’s schools is in the news again, with the declaration of the results of the Intermediate examination conducted by the Bihar School Examination Committee (run by the Bihar government). A total of about 12 lakh students had appeared in all three faculties of Intermediate – Arts, Science and Commerce – of whom 65% have been failed. Of the 35% successful candidates only 8% have secured 60% or more. Students and parents alike are protesting, alleging that due to the teachers’ strike, answer sheets have been evaluated in a questionable way and by unqualified persons. Meanwhile, another ‘topper scam’ is embarrassing Bihar.
Last year’s Class X ‘topper’ Ruby Rai called political science ‘prodigal science’ and thought it involved cooking: she was the niece of the Principal Bachcha Rai, who was the mastermind of the topper scam. This year’s Intermediate topper in the Arts stream was 42-year-old Ganesh Kumar who fraudulently posed as a 24-year-old. When asked basic questions by a reporter about music, supposedly his subject, Ganesh Kumar gave laughable answers that proclaimed his lack of basic knowledge of music. The State Education Minister Ashok Choudhary, unabashed by this evidence of yet another topper scam, retorted, “Is the media person who posed queries to the topper himself a great musician?”
It was AISA’s protests that first exposed this year’s topper scam. On June 1 AISA, knowing that the Topper’s college was a fraudulent institution that guaranteed results in exchange for cash, held protests and submitted a memorandum to the District Magistrate demanding a probe into the results of the college and the veracity of the topper. It was after this that the media made a beeline for Samastipur and probed the credentials of the Topper Ganesh Kumar.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is simply dismissing the allegations of faulty and unprofessional evaluations and refusing to conduct revaluations of all answer sheets. He has even ignored a sting operation proving that answer sheets were evaluated by provision store employees, watchmen (chaprasis) and women working in beauty parlours. The fact was that due to the ongoing teachers’ strike, schools got Class XII papers evaluated by middle school teachers or even by other, unqualified persons. Moreover, the coding and tabulation was chaotic.
A Bihar bandh was organized on 8 June and Left students’ organizations held a joint hunger strike on 12 June. DEO offices across Bihar were gheraoed and the demand for revaluation of all the answer sheets was made. The government has refused to agree to this demand, stating that only the answer sheets of 4 lakh students who have paid the fee and applied for revaluation will be revaluated. The government has announced that they will hold a special compartmental examination whose result sheet will be similar to the original one. Meanwhile the results of Bihar Board Class X exams have also been announced – with an abysmal 50% pass percentage.
The BJP, though now in Opposition in Bihar, is unable to say much on the Topper scam because its own leaders are also closely involved with the education mafia. The Director of Topper Ganesh’s fraudulent college is himself a BJP leader who has twice fought Assembly elections from Kalyanpur on a BJP ticket and is the blue-eyed boy of the new Bihar BJP President Nityanand Rai. I have personally gone to this college and seen that the college is still under construction; only two rooms are ready; there are no library or laboratory rooms. No classes are ever conducted in the college because there are neither teachers nor fully-constructed rooms. And 654 students from this college sat for all three faculties of the Intermediate exam. In other words, registration and then exams – and the flourishing business of result-tampering! The condition of 80% of Bihar’s schools and colleges is similar. Classes are not conducted even in government Intermediate schools and colleges. Everything is left to the mercy of coaching classes. The Bihar government has no arrangements for students who pass Class X from the Bihar Board. 80% of the students are doomed to take admission in this kind of institutions.
The yearly scams and the sheer chaos in exams and evaluations are symptoms of a deeper rot in Bihar’s education system. After last year’s topper scam, AISA and RYA as well as CPI(ML), supported by farmers and workers, had organized a Bihar bandh demanding a thorough enquiry into the government school system; the links of political forces with the education mafia; and the double standards in schooling – i.e high-priced and better quality private schools for the children of the rich and powerful, and scam-ridden, chaotic government schools for the children of the common people. The enquiry set up by the Government evaded probing the impact of Government policies, avoided exposing Government patronage for the scamsters, and instead limited itself to indicting a few corrupt individuals. The fact was that one of the scamsters, Prof Lalkeshwar, as Chairman of the Board, was a political appointee and his wife Usha Sinha was a JD (U) MLA.
Education Policy Must Change
Education is an urgent issue for Bihar’s working class and rural and urban poor – as proved by the popularity of AISA-RYA’s ‘Schools on Streets’ initiative in Bhojpur district. The Common School System Commission headed by Muchkund Dubey had recommended a common school system to ensure a uniformly high standard of school education for children of rich and poor alike – but the then BJP-JDU Government headed by Nitish Kumar rejected those recommendations.
For the past few decades, Bihar has witnessed what we can call a ‘reverse revolution’ in the fields of land reform as well as education, which are the two bases for the movement for social justice. In the late 1980s, Congress Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra ushered in a policy of ‘non-financed’ schools and colleges which would not get any funds from the government. Private schools and colleges mushroomed, to the cost of students and staff alike. The ABSU (predecessor of AISA) together with employees of non-financed schools and colleges had then played an important part in a huge student movement demanding that the Government withdraw its policy of non-financed education and takeover the non-financed educational institutions. People like Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Ghulam Gaus – who later became prominent RJD and JDU leaders respectively – were a part of this movement. But the governments led by Lalu Yadav and Rabri Devi in the 1990s in Bihar pursued the same policy. In that period, regular classroom teaching in schools and colleges simply collapsed – education meant getting registered and then appearing for exams without any classroom experience. 25 teachers and workers committed suicide, and thousands of people retired without drawing even a single salary.
During his second term with the BJP in 2008 Nitish Kumar brought a new scheme of result-based grants for non-financed schools and colleges. This gave rise to a whole new breed of education mafia. The business of ‘pay money and get desired results’ started flourishing—and the result is the Topper Scam and the Result Scam which repeats itself every year. The education mafia enjoyed patronage of the old and new ruling powers alike – witness Bachcha Rai’s photographs with Lalu Yadav of RJD and Giriraj Singh of BJP. Several institutions owned by Bachcha Rai got recognition during this phase.
While the immediate demand is to reevaluate and rectify the exam results, the issue must be a wake-up call for a serious overhaul of the state’s education policy and educational structures.