AS THE day draws closer, Indrapath Thakur is struggling to keep his nerve. A month ago, Thakur had emerged with a smile from his Class XII board exam centre in Dantewada — the Economics paper was “not difficult”, after all.
But the next day, the 18-year-old came to know that he would have to reappear for the exam on April 25, with other students across the country, following allegations of a CBSE paper leak. The others were outraged, but Thakur’s heart sank. For, he knew that the challenge before him was much harder than for most of the others.
In Maoist-hit Bastar, stuck at the bottom of the development ladder, it is “impossible” for the private centre that is coaching Thakur and his classmates to stay open for that extra month outside the school term. And so, on the eve of the important exam, the students have been left to fend for themselves.
“Imagine if you’d studied in a coaching centre for two years, and suddenly you have to do it on your own. It changes every everything. We don’t feel confident. In the bigger cities, students have more study material, or can call tutors to their homes. But here, reference books are limited because they don’t reach Dantewada… our tuitions were everything,” says Jyoti Haldar, a classmate of Thakur at the DAV Mukhyamantri School. “My family lives on farming and forest produce. If the exams had ended with the Hindi paper on April 2, I would have helped my family in the fields. I still have to help at home, but now I am not doing as much as I can because of the exam. I am caught in between,” says Thakur.
Another classmate, Baby Priya, spent much of the time in home at Arabhata on the outskirts of Dantewada town, scanning newspapers and online news sites on her patchy Internet connection. “I had hoped to read the news that the exam would not have to be retaken, but I came across stories of several students who were affected,” says Priya.
Thakur, who sings well, and Priya, who is “passionate about painting”, want to apply to the Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya in Khairagarh. “The entrance test there has been delayed. We don’t know when the exam is, and if we will have time to prepare. Jyoti wants to study mass communication at Kushabhau Thakre University in Raipur, and for that she has to study general and media studies. These entrance tests will be held in May, and other students would have had much more time to prepare,” says Priya.
Teachers at the DAV Mukhyamantri School are aware that not only does the rescheduling present unique challenges, but also that the stakes are much higher. “For one, all of these students appear for the exam in the English medium. But we teach in a mix of English and Hindi, because they may not be that confident. Some of these students are first-generation learners who grew up not even knowing Hindi, only Gondi. When they see students from outside, there is a sense of intimidation, and that is something we are working on. But the rescheduling has hit morale. If they fail due to the rescheduling, they will have to stay at home for a year and help in the house… especially for the girls, their parents may not allow them to leave again,” says a teacher.
At the Navodaya Vidyalaya residential school in Barsoor, 40 km away, acting principal Sonwati Bhagat is thankful for small mercies. “If the new dates had been announced after April 2 when the board exams ended, we would have had no way to get in touch with our students. Some of our students come from villages across the Indravati river, which have no electricity or connectivity. We were able to inform them. But then, after April 2, they had to leave for home, because the hostel staff had to leave,” he says.
For the last few years, Bhagat says, the school has been “proud” of a hundred percent pass percentage built on a system streamlined at the hostel. “This time, for close to two months after the normal course, the 41 Commerce with Economics stream students woke up early and studied for close to 15 hours a day, aided by teachers in the hostel. This meant constant supervision, special attention to areas of weakness, and peer review,” she says.
Says Pawan Negi, the son of a police inspector in Geedam, “When you have always had teachers to guide you, to suddenly study on your own is very difficult. When I have a doubt now, there is no teacher to help… I wanted to go to a tuition centre but at this time of the year, they are all shut.”
Bhagat is more worried about the 15 students who live in “interior villages.” “We have been trying to get in touch with them to ask how they are doing, but there is absolutely no contact. I hope they appear for the exams from their villages, and that they do well. We have never been this tense for our students,” she says.
Negi says he has been trying to get in touch with them, too. “They had told me that after the boards, they would have to go home and pluck mahua and tendu so that their families could earn money for the year. I watched on TV as students from cities said that their holiday plans had been ruined. In Bastar, there is so much more at stake,” he says.