Education

Something Rotten in Bihar’s School System

Class 12 toppers from last year and this year show similarities that point to a disturbing pattern in Bihar’s education system.

Men scaling the walls of Vidya Niketan school in Vaishali, Bihar in 2016, to pass chits to students during an exam. Credit: AP

New Delhi: For two consecutive years now, Bihar has been in the eye of an education storm. From disturbing images of mass cheating to embarrassing interviews with Bihar school state board toppers, something rotten is plaguing Bihar’s school system.

The Nitish Kumar government has been applauded on various fronts, for arresting the slide in the law and order situation to improving economic indicators, spurring growth and investment in Bihar. Yet his government seems to have made little or no headway in improving the abysmal state of school education.

The Bihar 12th standard board exam results this year, announced on May 30, showed that 64% of the students have failed, and 63% in the arts stream. Since then, the Bihar School Education Board (BSEB) has been shrouded in controversy with daily reports of discrepancies.

Ganesh Kumar from Samastipur was declared topper of the arts stream with 82.6%, but his results had to be cancelled within two days when he was detained because of a discrepancy in his age. An NDTV report says he claimed he was 24 years old, but his real age was found to be 42. He is also the father of two children.

Kumar, from Giridih in Jharkhand, said he had come to Samastipur looking for a job some years ago. He admitted himself to Ramnandan Singh Jagdip Narayan High school in Chhakhabib village in Samastipur after some people asked him to, reported the Indian Express.

Kumar scored 65 out of 70 in music practicals, but the Indian Express report says he fumbled when the media asked him basic questions about ‘sur’, ‘taal’, and ‘matra’. He told a TV channel that the singer Lata Mangeshkar is known as ‘Maithili Kokila’  a title given to folk singer Sharda Sinha, who is from the same town as Kumar.

These revelations bear an uncanny resemblance to Ruby Rai, who was Bihar’s class 12 topper in last year’s board exams. Post results, when Rai was asked a question about political science, which she called ‘prodigal science’, she replied the subject was about ‘cooking’.

Just a year earlier in 2015, a photograph of Bihar’s mass cheating scandal went viral. The photograph, that showed young men scaling the wall of a school to pass on chits to students writing exams inside the building, grabbed the media’s attention world-over. The Indian Express reported a local journalist’s surprise at the photograph raking up such a storm. “It happened last year too but nobody noticed as the images didn’t go viral,” he said, adding “… boys tied ropes to windowsills and climbed. The rate for taking a chit to a third floor window was Rs 50, Rs 40 for the second and so on.”

These instances continue to take place despite education being the topmost on Nitish’s agenda. In the 2016-17 state budget, education was given top priority with an allocation of Rs. 10,950 crore or 15.31% of the total outlay, with an overall education budget of Rs. 21,897 crore (both plan and non plan). This year’s budget too allocated the highest amount of funds to education with an 11% increase from 2016-17. Clearly financial allocation is not where the problem lies. The malaise is embedded in the very structure of Bihar’s school education system.