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Copy that

Vaishali offers a snapshot of a larger malaise: a systemic rot in education and misguided reform.

By: Express News Service |
March 21, 2015 12:19:12 am

In a picture published in this paper on Friday, people clamber up the walls of a four-storeyed building in Vaishali, Bihar, clinging to the parapets and making for the windows. Their mission, apparently, is to lend a helping hand to the Class X examinees seated inside, writing the mathematics paper set by the Bihar School Education Board. Responding to the photograph, an exasperated Bihar education minister said the government could do little to stop mass copying, it was for parents to teach their children better. Anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests this malaise is not restricted to Bihar. In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, it was so rampant that the government brought in a draconian anti-copying law in 1992, which was subsequently repealed and reintroduced in a milder form a few years later.

Better vigilance might help curb mass copying, but the roots of the problem lie elsewhere, in the structural flaws of an education system that continually fails students through its lopsided priorities and poor capabilities. Take Bihar, where the system had fallen apart over the years as the state neglected teacher recruitment and training. The Nitish Kumar government launched a massive recruitment drive, hiring 1.42 lakh teachers between 2005 and 2008, but then it was found that a large number of the appointees had forged their certificates. An evaluation conducted by the state human resources development department found that over 8,000 teachers on its payroll could not pass a Class V exam. Bihar has since introduced a teacher entrance test, but the new recruits will take time to deliver. Meanwhile, over a lost decade, students have slipped through the cracks, unable to cope with a demanding syllabus and finding little help in the classroom.

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Reforms in education have often been misguided, focusing excessively on inputs instead of learning outcomes. Right to Education norms are preoccupied with fixing teacher-pupil ratios, putting in place infrastructure such as classrooms, playgrounds and toilets. Yet the evaluation of learning levels among children has shown persisting gaps and lags, with a steep decline in scores since 2009, the year the RTE was passed. Indian children participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment fared dismally in 2011. There is an urgent need for a shift in emphasis, to more qualitative changes such as improvements in teaching, setting learning targets for students and instituting better assessment processes. Unless such steps are taken, the spectacle at Vaishali may keep recurring.

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