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Bihar’s Bumbling Education System

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A state known for its top universities has fallen into chaos, is plagued by scams and lackadaisical teachers. How can this system be reformed and corrected?

By Shama Sinha in Patna

Bihar was known for its scholars, visionaries and contribution to the Independence movement. However, things changed after India became free, and later governments could not streamline the education system there. After the enforcement of the Right to Education Act (RTE Act, 2009), various central governments took steps to strengthen the elementary education system in India. But, in Bihar, the ratio of primary, high and senior secondary schools lagged at 13:3:1. This means that for every 13 primary schools, there are three high schools and only one senior secondary school.

On top of that there was inadequate educational infrastructure, especially at the high and senior secondary school levels. Over a period of time, this problem was aggravated by an exponential increase in the population in Bihar.

The result is that students who can afford education outside the state have been migrating to higher education hubs like Kota, Delhi, Karnataka and Pune. Students from economically weaker sections, who cannot afford to study outside the state, have surrendered to the circumstances there.

EDUCATION MAFIA

Education in the state has fallen into the hands of a few opportunists who have no value and respect for it. This has led to the birth of another class known as the education mafia, leading to many ills such as fake degrees, mass copying, appointment of inefficient teachers, schools getting affiliations without fulfilling the conditions and upgrading of government primary and high schools without creating additional infrastructure. All this culminated in the now infamous topper scam of 2016.

Fake degrees, mass copying, inefficient teachers, poor infrastructure, and improper school affiliations are some of the ills plaguing school education in Bihar.

Such is the sorry state of education in Bihar that the government has not opened even a single intermediate college in the last 15 years. The state government formulated a policy whereby some high schools were upgraded as higher secondary schools. The condition of most of these upgraded schools is awful as they neither have adequate infrastructure nor sufficient and qualified teachers. The average class size in secondary schools is strained as there are about 100 students per class or even more.

The appointment of underqualified teachers and those with fake degrees in government schools is another bugbear for students. Then there is political and bureaucratic interference leading to the appointment of inefficient teachers, culminating in the problem of “teacher absenteeism”. During unannounced visits by private researchers to schools, it was found that 37.8 percent of Bihar’s teachers were absent. This is the worst rate of teacher absenteeism in India and one of the highest in the world.

Justice PK Sinha, a former judge of the Patna High Court, said that the mess in education in Bihar cannot be cleared by knee-jerk or ad hoc measures. Though private schools are expensive, he said they add to the quality of education as compared to government schools. In such a scenario, closing a large number of schools and inter-colleges will play havoc with the careers of a large number of students, particularly rural ones. It would be best to give such schools a time limit to improve their infrastructure and establish good public schools, he added.

TOPPER SCAM

But what started a national debate on Bihar’s abysmal education system was the result of the secondary school examination this year. Toppers from different streams were found to be totally ignorant of basic facts about subjects which the media asked. This led to the lid being blown off the Bihar Topper Scam 2016.

The mess in education in Bihar cannot be cleared by knee-jerk or ad-hoc measures. It would be best to give private schools a time-limit to improve their infrastructure and establish good public schools.

—Justice PK Sinha, former judge of Patna High Court

Dr BK Sinha, an educationist and former principal of Rajendra Agriculture College, Pusa, Bihar, told India Legal: “It is the quality of teachers that shapes the quality of the students coming out of schools. The selection of teachers under the existing system has been a major casualty. Lack of infrastructure and teaching standards have become the bane of our present educational system.”

The reaction of the government to the scam was two-fold—form a Special Investigation Team and take action against the Board chairman and his aides. Some of the decisions undertaken were:

  • After almost 25 years, the process to revise the syllabus was initiated in accordance with the latest norms. Other academic reforms were also initiated to impart quality education in the state
  • The exam process was made online
  • Students were mandated to fill the examination form online within the stipulated dates
  • Students would have to enter a mobile number, email ID or Aadhaar card number in the examination form
  • Question papers contain bar codes for the first time
  • Students given 15 minutes extra time to read the question paper
  • Evaluation of answer sheets through a digital evaluation system

Along with these corrective steps, affiliations granted to private schools and colleges by the then Board chairman were suspended mid-session after re-inspection. They were also told not to register students for exams. This begs the question—was it prudent to do this in the middle of the session?

Without a proper alternative, the careers of thousands of students are in jeopardy, especially those who cannot afford to travel long distances for education.

Such an arbitrary action by the Board and government should have been taken after a survey on the intake capacity of government schools in surrounding areas. This would also impact science students who are required to appear as regular candidates with a certain minimum attendance before taking admission in professional colleges.

So the question that arises is that if the government and Board are serious about bringing about reforms in the education sector, then why concentrate only on private schools and not government ones? Moreover, do students of government schools not have the right to study in schools providing proper facilities?

The government should form a committee to monitor these schools and see if they are taking adequate steps to meet the required standards so that students don’t have to suffer. The government should not differentiate between private and public schools.

Steps to reform the education system should be immediate and corrective, and not selective and destructive.

Lead picture: Imaging Amitava Sen

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