The world saw one side of the girls from Gandhi High School in Shahdehi Bujurg village here when photographs of rampant cheating at a school they were giving their Class X exams in went viral, earlier this month.
Ratnesh Kumar Singh (38) would like to show you another.
He teaches mathematics and physics to the students of Classes IX and X at the school, along with another teacher. That means a total of 1,700 students, both boys and girls, apparently split into 13 sections but actually crammed into the school’s five available rooms.
Of the remaining rooms, one is used to store furniture from the block office, another functions as a library and storage for objects used in extracurricular activities, while a third serves as a joint Physics, Chemistry and Biology lab.
The boys and girls are always kept in different rooms.
The school has only these two classes, and claims to have an average pass percentage of at least 70 per cent in Class X boards.
“I am dreading going into the classroom when the school reopens,” says Ratnesh. “Almost 200 students are crammed into each room, seven-eight on a bench supposed to seat four.”
Following images of boys scaling up the wall of Vidya Niketan School in Vaishali’s Manhar district to throw out chits to his students on March 18 and 19, and the subsequent outcry, officials have scrapped the maths and science exams there and announced a retest.
Balbir Kumar Singh (40), the other teacher of maths and physics, says the numbers are too large for them to use the laboratory anymore. “I take two-three samples of each experiment to demonstrate to the students. Then, a few are asked to perform the experiment again,” he says.
Already strained for space, Gandhi High School, a couple of years ago, also took in around 150 girls of Project School nearby, whose building is on the verge of collapse. Project School’s teacher now takes biology and chemistry lessons at Gandhi High School.
Both Ratnesh and Balbir did their B.Sc. Mathematics from R N College, Hajipur, before doing a B.Ed. They were recruited in 2013 through the Secondary-Teachers’ Education Test. Not full government employees, they are eligible only for basic pay.
Ratnesh says the RTE requirement that students can only be assessed — and not failed — up to Class VIII is affecting teaching. “We end up getting students who may not match up to Class VIII standards. There are provisions for remedial classes for lower classes… but we don’t hold them. These students are therefore asked to run an unjust race,” he says.
At the same time, Ratnesh admits that hardly anybody is held back in Class IX either. “We give grace marks and they scrape through.”
Balbir questions the role of private tutors. “Almost 80 per cent of students go in for coaching (after-school private tuitions). The same parents who abuse us don’t bother to check what qualifications they have,” he says.
Ratnesh advises his best students to avoid coaching but, as he says, there is “peer pressure”.
Baidyanath Prasad, principal in-charge of Project School and a Sanskrit teacher himself, recounts how the owner of a coaching institute approached him recently. “He was an old student of mine, an average boy. He had opened the coaching centre, but did not remember his Sanskrit grammar. So he came to my house at 8 pm for a few weeks to learn so that he could coach his students the next day.”
Balbir says he had met a few of his students since the exam was cancelled. “They were scared, tense. They are hoping the government will change its mind.”
Raju Singh, whose daughter was among the examinees, says she came home crying. “She insists she won’t go back to school. She thinks it’s been unfair to her and keeps asking her mother to teach her cooking.”
Raju Singh’s wife is a Panchayat Samiti representative and he was called to keep at watch at R P S College in Chakeyaj village, also a Class X exam centre for girls. “Boys were hanging around just to impress the girls. At one point, a boy scaled the wall with a chit and told a girl he would pass it on if she said ‘I love you’. She told him to scoot,” he said.
Raju thinks the fact that a number of candidates taking the Class X exams at Vidya Niketan lived close to it exacerbated the problem. “Parents are already desperate about girls passing. When they realised the exam centre was close by, a number of them tried to influence people associated with the examination process,” says Raju.
R P S College escaped that fate, adds Bimlendu Singh, Controller of Exams, because of this factor. “It helped us that we were away from town, unlike Vidya Niketan. We also have a perimeter wall to keep away outsiders. Besides, Vidya Niketan handled too many candidates: about 2,600 to our 1,433 girls.”
Still, he recalls, parents came dangerously close to scaling the wall. “I went around with folded hands, pleading with them to let the children write the exam. That seemed to help.”
Ratnesh believes the cheating wouldn’t have happened on the scale it did in Manhar if boys instead of girls had been taking their Class X exam at the centre. The Bihar government gives Rs 10,000 to every girl who clears matriculation with a first class, and also encourages women recruitment.
“The government is like a bank that gives massive returns on investment,” scoffs the teacher, adding that parents are also desperate to have their girls pass because potential grooms are looking for at least matriculates. “Since the government has been recruiting women in a large way, even husbands coax their wives to give the matriculation exams.”
Adds Baidyanath Prasad, “Relatives from other villages and towns are expected to come down when a girl writes her exam. Family ties can be broken if they don’t accompany her to the centre and help her copy.”
Prasad, who was a superintendent at a centre himself, points out that cheating is not new to Bihar: “We used to cheat too, minor stuff. This time, I found a boy who had attached exam guides all over his body using rubber bands. It has become a mass activity.”
After a moment’s silence, he adds: “We cannot blame students alone. A gazetted officer once gave me a chit ahead of an exam paper valuation and said it was the roll number of someone close to a political leader.”
Eyewitnesses say youngsters scaling up the walls of the Vidya Niketan asked students to spell out what questions they wanted answered. They shouted the same down to waiting parents, who tied money and the relevant page torn from an exam guide book to the end of a rope the boys threw down. The going rate was Rs 50 for the third floor, Rs 40 for the second and so on.
Local residents also recall a particular young man as having begun the trouble on March 18. Quite nimble, he rushed up the wall because he wanted to apparently heckle a girl. He is absconding and police, who arrested five parents for stone-pelting after the authorities tried to stop the cheating, claim to have no information about him.
Except one — and as everything else about that image from Vaishali, it is as sad as it is comical. Nobody knows his name. They call him ‘Parle-G’.