By Ananya S Guha
We cannot afford to toy with education. The fate of 3 million children hung in a balance after the CBSE question papers leakages. Though there were leakages in the past, there have been a recent spate of leakage of question papers for All India recruitment exams as well. The paramount questions is: Where exactly are the sources of such a leakage? Such incidents point towards a heady corruptibility in the upper echelons. The fact that two teachers and a private tutor were arrested may not answer all the questions.
Doing away with preparing three sets of question papers and having only one seem also to have dubious implications. Will the suggestion of sending the questions online and printing them at the centres work? Computer connectivity can be disruptive and fail, especially to schools in rural and interior areas.
Many see the leakage of question papers as a systemic failure. It is not. The existing system has been continuing: printing the papers and sending them, in a high level of confidentiality. The point is that the trust has been broken, leading to a glaring breach of confidentiality. Many of the panel discussions on television focused on revamping the examination system. That is not the point of debate. The point is corruptibility and corruption. Many complained of cheating. The children have not cheated. Those three teachers did, by opening the packets ahead of time and circulating them on the internet. So much for the use of technology in education. And, yes, parenting is a relevant point here because the parents themselves played a stellar role in buying the question papers.
The moral then seems to be: performing well in examinations at any cost. Peer pressure and pressure on parents seem to take the toll. For what? For admission to prestigious institutions, say some. But for class ten examinations, the students can remain in the same school, which many do.
Let us not bring the question of affordability in higher education in this discussion. The focal point is corruption and tainting a sacrosanct process, that of examinations. It is not merely a matter of money, because the papers were sold for a few thousand rupees. It is the culpability, the treachery, and the palpable dishonesty, which have taken precedence over commitment to the cause of education.
Many other questions arise. Why were not safety measures taken? However, we must understand how ‘safety’ was annihilated. Two teachers took it upon themselves to open the packets forty minutes early, flagellating all rules in the most gruesome manner. What were the authorities of the school doing? Were they in cahoots with the teachers?
The immediate action of course would be to sack the teachers. What will the future action be? Can we revert to the zonal setting of question papers? Can we think of online examinations in schools? Once again the systemic part comes in. Should we then look at an overhauling of the education system, because of the fear of recurrent leakages?
That brings us to the role of tutorial homes. Why do we need parallel institutions, the school and the tutorial home? Often the same set of teachers move between the two. Such duplication has caused irreparable harm and put innocent children in the rat race for marks, displaying suicidal habits.
Education is a lifelong learning process. Many students do well later in life, given the aptitude for the disciplines they choose. Education at school does not test or even try to test such aptitudes. In the process, with this fierce illogical competition for marks, the love for learning, that it is a treasure box of surprises, is totally lost. Parents compete in this rat race calling other parents rats. The learning environment in a classroom, supposed to be pleasurable, becomes a torture for some ‘weak’ students.
Even if action is taken against the perpetrators and the negligence, what will be done to assuage the feelings of children and parents, who feel cheated? What will be done to regain the authenticity of the examination system, which as it is, suffers from writing from rote and memory? Question setting is an onerous responsibility, but question stealing is a criminal act. When the Bihar incident of cheating in examination halls was flashed on media a couple of years back, everyone laughed and mocked Bihar and Biharis. Now it is happening in the heart of the country. Educationists must bow their heads in shame and say sorry to the students. Say it is a big shame, a slur on our community, instead of mouthing platitudinous hogwash on rigmaroles like ”Teacher’s Day”.
In conclusion, we can have no right to education until and unless the classroom is free from tension and false sense of competition. And the less the parents intervene, in the guise of vicariously undertaking their own studies, the better.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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