Cleaning-up time

Print edition : July 08, 2016

Bachcha Rai, the principal of Vishun Roy College in Patna, an accused in the Bihar school board examination degree scam, was produced before the judge at his residence late on June 6. Photo: PTI

Recruitment of unqualified teachers is an issue that has rocked Bihar over the past five years. Even government-run institutions are not blameless in this respect.

In July 2015, the educationist Dr Nageshwar Prasad Sharma published a 600-page study on Bihar’s education system. The title that the former Director of the State Education Department had chosen for it summed up the story in simple and stark terms. It read: Bihar ka Sisakata Shiksha Tantra (The Sobbing Education System of Bihar). The book, a product of years of research and investigation into the State’s education system, presents a historical analysis of the system from the time of Independence, highlighting systemic issues, infrastructure deficiencies, fraudulent recruitment of teachers and other staff, abysmal quality of teaching, problematic examination processes and systems and social and political factors. It underscored the limitations of political will and initiative to effect a comprehensive course correction.

Talking to Frontline recently, in the context of the raging intermediate toppers scandal in the Bihar School Examination Board (BSEB) results, Sharma pointed out that the shocking case of the Plus-Two toppers not knowing even the basics of the subjects they studied was merely one aspect of a multifaceted malady. A senior bureaucrat in the State administration pointed out another significant aspect of the current revelations: “Anybody who has been looking at Bihar's education scenario for some time would be able to tell you that what is really shocking about the present episode is not the practice of fraudulent examinations and evaluations per se but the blatant scale at which they have been carried out. It is well known for several decades that there are rackets that help students to procure pass certificates or pass marks in these examinations. But creating toppers out of children who know next to nothing is the height of daring and impudence.” The topper in the science stream scored 485 marks out of a total of 500; the arts stream topper got 444 marks out of 500. Both failed to answer basic questions relating to their subjects when approached by television reporters. They also could not pass in the re-examinations that were conducted following the exposure. Consequently, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) has initiated criminal proceedings against four students and Bachha Rai, the principal of Vishun Roy College in Patna, where the students studied.

The Bihar government has also launched “Operation Clean Up”, a drive apparently aimed at bringing about far-reaching changes to ensure that “real quality education” is given in the State. The drive includes direct inspection of 228 BEd colleges (mainly private) by special teams led by District Magistrates or Senior Superintendents of Police to check their legal status and functioning. These inspections are expected to lead to comprehensive reports on the legality of the institutions, their infrastructure, the quality of education, the degrees they offer, the competence of the teaching staff, and the regularity of classes.

The frame of reference of Operation Clean Up gives one an idea of what ails the education scenario of Bihar. The commercialisation of educational degrees and the competence of teaching staff have been prominent issues. Social activists and educationists point out that rampant commercialisation has led to the mushrooming of educational institutions that do not meet legal and administrative parameters. In a large number of such institutions, the regularity of classes and the quality of education have been compromised.

Recruitment of unqualified teachers is an issue that has rocked the State over the past five years. Even the government-run institutions were found to be guilty of this practice. There have been many public interest litigation (PIL) petitions in the Patna High Court questioning the recruitment of 40,000 teachers by the government. During the hearings, the government admitted that it had recruited nearly 2.25 lakh fixed-pay contractual teachers in schools from 2006 to 2011 as part of its massive drive to meet the schools’ requirements, particularly in rural areas. The government also admitted that many of these recruitments were carried out without proper verifications of the educational and professional degrees of the candidates.

The court passed strictures asking the government to remove the unqualified teachers. In 2014, the government removed 1,137 teachers who were found to have presented fake degrees and invalid documents to obtain jobs. However, the High Court took up the matter again in May 2015 and ordered an inquiry into the qualifications of around three lakh contractual teachers. It also stated that teachers whose qualifications are fake should resign on their own in order to facilitate the cleaning up of the system. Interestingly, about 3,000 schoolteachers in Bihar, who allegedly used fake degree certificates to get jobs, resigned in 2015 apprehending legal action. Education Minister Ashok Choudhary and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav have said that the “cleaning up” of the schools is in progress.

A senior bureaucrat who did not wish to be named told Frontline that the mass recruitment of contractual fixed-pay teachers between 2006 and 2011 was aimed at addressing some of the fundamental problems that had plagued the education system right from the time of Independence. These included the very access to education, enrolment and retention of primary students, micro planning and community mobilisation to enhance schooling. It had been stated repeatedly since the early 1960s, including in the Bihar Education Programme, conceived and implemented under the auspices of the Planning Commission, that these aspects needed to be emphasised. The recruitment drive of 2006 was an important step in this direction. Indeed, this was done along with supplementary steps that promoted community mobilisation in education such as the distribution of cycles to schoolgirls. That drive boosted Bihar's primary level enrolment and retention in a big way. Bihar recorded the highest improvement in retention rates among low-scoring States such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal. However, the absence of proper monitoring mechanisms has created a situation where the negative side of the recruitment drive is dominating the debate.

According to Dr Shaibal Gupta, social scientist and Member-Secretary of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), many issues and problems in Bihar’s education system are manifestations of the larger social churning that has happened in the State over the past two and a half decades.

“Along with several other streams of society and administration, corruption, particularly in the education system, has also got decentralised during the two decades of social churning which led to the upward mobility of the Other Backward Classes and Dalits. Earlier, the upper castes controlled the education system complete with its corrupt practices, but now more people have access to and control of both the system as well as its corrupt practices. Aspiration levels have also risen steadily in this larger socio-historical context. More and more families are goading their wards to take up competitive examinations to qualify for civil services, medicine, engineering and banking. Of course, these aspirations have to be pursued lawfully and that is something the legacy of the Bihar education system has not inculcated in a large number of people,” he said.

To the larger question whether the current “Operation Clean Up” would yield results in some ways, both Dr Shaibal Gupta and Dr Nageshwar Prasad Sharma were sceptical. Indeed, Bihar has a long way to go before things in the education system get cleaned up.