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Mocking The Bihar 'Toppers' Means Failing To See The Real Problem

15/06/2016 8:42 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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In the city of Patna, wherever you go, coaching and educational institutes seem to follow you. Banners, hoardings and posters celebrating achievements, accomplishments and qualifications hold your attention wherever your eyes wander. You might find yourself amused by the value that the people of the state place on educational achievements. The Hindi dailies are full of "news" about competitive exams, often highlighting the exemplary accomplishments of Bihari students and extraordinary circumstances under which they were achieved. The importance that people place in not only educational achievements but education as a whole is a reflection of their aspirations. For many, education is the only way out of poverty and a path to social assertion.

The interviews, after starting as an investigative enquiry, became a vehement attempt to humiliate the two students.

Yet, once a year, every year, there is at least one piece of news that questions the very existence of a viable education system in Bihar. Then, in the spirit of sensationalism, the media bypasses any debate on the education system and makes it a point to highlight everything regressive that can be attached to the state of Bihar. Last year, it was a picture -- an image of relatives and friends climbing up the walls of a school building to pass chits/notes to appearing students, in order to "help" them pass their Class 10 Bihar board exams. This year, it was the on-camera "examination" of the two Bihar board toppers of the intermediate/Class 12th exams, conducted by a media house.

A week ago, this media house ran a story, apparently with the intent to expose a school run by a powerfully connected administrator. This school allegedly rigged the examination system so that the students scored a higher percentage, in return for a high fee that they had to pay. The piece itself though, was far less about the school and more about the two "toppers" who were examined by a journalist on camera. In no time, the interviews, after starting as an investigative enquiry, became a vehement attempt to humiliate the two students. One could indeed question the ethics of the on-camera ridicule and questioning but in today's day and age, it seems most journalists must have bunked any media ethics class taught in journalism schools, or at least forgotten them completely. In that spirit, let's put the ethics question aside and let's concentrate on the consequences of that examination.

Only 46% of students passed the class 10 Bihar board exams. If there is any indicator of the state of secondary education that needs to be taken up seriously, it is this.

The video of the two students being 'examined' went viral in no time. The names of the two students started trending on social media and became the subject of outrage and condemnation. The video was shared privately and publicly, as a joke, as a subject of ridicule and even as outright slander through social media and messaging apps. The Bihar government, reacting to the issue, immediately called for an investigation and the re/cross-examination of top 15 toppers from different streams. Fourteen out of the 15 appeared in this re-test and 12of them passed while the results of the other two students were discarded.

In the entire hullabaloo, what was left out of the discourse was a news piece that came out just a few days ago and that needed much graver attention and discussion as far as Bihar's educational system was concerned. The Bihar board's class 10 exam results were declared and only 46% of the students passed the examination. If there is any indicator of the state of secondary education that needs to be taken up seriously, it is this. The unofficial reason for this was that because of the international fame that images of blatant cheating had created the year before, this time, the exams were conducted in a very 'strict' manner and no cheating was allowed. What nobody explained was why the secondary education system in Bihar was so bad that when students were not allowed to cheat, more than half of them failed the exams.

What nobody explained was why the secondary education system in Bihar was so bad that when students were not allowed to cheat, more than half of them failed the exams.

The state of government-run schools in Bihar should be a matter of concern for every Bihari and every Indian who has been disturbed by the recent events. From irregularities in the mid-day meal scheme at the pre-primary level to lack of infrastructure, teachers and quality teaching at primary, secondary and higher levels, the problems that ail the educational apparatus in Bihar seem unending. The situation has only become deep rooted because of the neglect that the successive governments have shown towards educational institutions. Even when there is action, it is limited to cosmetic changes that do no good to a system that needs a complete overhaul.

In the meantime, coaching, tuition and preparatory institutes have replaced the government-run schools as institutions of learning. If this trend continues, students will soon be forced to abandon government-run schools in favour of the costly but qualitatively better coaching and tuition institutes. But for many Biharis who can't afford coaching and tuition fees, the government apparatus is the only option. If the situation doesn't improve, these students might be left out in the cold. Without education, it is difficult to imagine any kind of social change taking root. As for the media, it would be better if for once, they displayed some sense, instead of going for sensationalism.

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