Annual examinations conducted by various state and all-India school boards have begun in most of the states. Not just the exams, but reports on copying and mass copying, particularly from the regions considered weak in educational advancement, are also an annual feature. It flourishes in connivance with parents, teachers, community, and functionaries of the state departments of education and private managements.
In certain states, rates to get an examination centre sanctioned are also known. In Uttar Pradesh, the governor lamented the other day how copying has brought bad name to the state. The spread of this malpractice puts the sincere students and ethically functioning schools to severe disadvantage in career prospects and reputation. Those holding political authority either encourage this practice or just blink at it. In the hierarchy of management and administration, corruption plays its role rather openly. Imagine a school head negotiating with his students whether they would like to copy themselves or need someone else to assist or do it for them! The rates, of course, would differ.
The point of concern is the lukewarm response from the non-partisan opinion-makers in society. A sense of resignation consequent to desperation prevails among those who care for the future of the nation and, hence, for the future generations. Every year, official press notes elaborate strict measures being taken to prevent copying. But at the ground level, things are going from bad to worse. Prior to theory examinations, practicals in science subjects are conducted by external examiners appointed by the boards. These have become a farce, a ritual conducted just to complete kaghazi karyavahi—paper work. It would be a revealing exercise to study the variations in the marks obtained in practical examinations—the performance levels would be astonishingly in the highest grade.
While these debilitating practices require immediate corrective measures, the omnipresent theme of the educational discourse remains the non-presence of Indian institutions of higher learning in the global rankings. No nation can achieve excellence in higher education, knowledge creation, innovations and research if it fails to provide congenial learning environment to the majority of its children in the initial stages. This is a major factor in the overall decline of education quality. The other intrusion in the system manifests out of frequent interference of politicians in the life and work of government school teachers. Further, in spite of the Supreme Court order, states assign every conveyable task to teachers without caring for the loss that is inflicted on the children under their charge.
Consequences of the intrusive practices are perilous. If a 16- or 17-year-old is allowed and encouraged to copy, his approach and values for the adult life gets concretised. Teachers who permit copying are supposed to be their role models. There is a strong premise that every teacher is a teacher of values. Children observe how they conduct themselves in discharging their responsibilities, how committed they are and to what extent they lead a value-based life.
The system has been polluted in many ways, from copying to fake degrees. Last year, over 1,400 primary teachers in Bihar resigned post-haste fearing action over possession of fake educational degrees. People are still awaiting the completion of the verification process. Who could be blamed for the loss of traditional respect for teachers in society? What happens in education, from primary school to universities, impacts work culture, commitment and quality of output in every area of human endeavour and activity. When the Bar Council of India chairman says "the results of an ongoing verification process may surprise many, and far exceed the initial estimates that over 30 per cent lawyers have fake degrees”. His estimates last year were pegged at 20 per cent. Can India afford all this?
(Author is a former director of the NCERT)