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Politicised CBSE

Politicised CBSE

The sheer ineptitude of the Union government in managing school education has been mind-boggling. When its claims that no question papers had leaked were found to be hollow like the promises the ruling party made during the 2014 elections, it does not realise that it is the country which has been exposed before the world community.

The CBSE has come up with another astounding assertion that as one question paper had only a “limited leak”, there was no need to hold a re-examination in the subject concerned. Nobody knows how the Narendra Modi government defines “limited leak” that does not require re-examination and “wholesale leak” that requires re-examination. 

I wish Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar had solved the riddle, instead of making a farcical appeal to the people to come up with an ingenious system to plug possible leaks of question papers in future. It is like his boss asking people to suggest topics for his  monthly Mann ki Baath fusillade against the common sense of the common man.

Does Javadekar know how much damage he has caused to the education system in the country by his inability to hold proper examinations? I know a student whose parents had drawn up an elaborate plan to make him appear for various competitive tests at centres as distant as Delhi, Bengaluru, Ghaziabad and Pune. The parents were happy that their ward was able to do well in the Maths paper, though he was weak in the subject.

All their plans have been scuppered by the decision of the Central Board of Secondary Education to hold re-examination in the subject. He was preparing for the various competitive exams when this decision came like a bolt from the blue. The experience of many of the students who appeared for the 10th and 12th CBSE examinations would have been similar. Now, who will pay for the loss of time and money they suffered?

Most people are convinced that all the question papers had leaked. Of course, the CBSE cannot admit it because it would amount to accepting its incompetence. Does the government realise that the CBSE results are recognised the world over for their once unimpeachable fairness? Even if other governments and boards do not de-recognise the CBSE, doubts in their minds about its results would go against the interests of Indian students.

Sorry Shri Javadekar, you and the person who gave you this job are solely to blame for the present mess. What happened is the result of the politicisation of the CBSE, which is almost a century-old organisation. True, it came into being in its present form in 1952 and it has been growing ever since with more and more schools  getting affiliated to it every year. There are now nearly 20,000 schools affiliated to the Board in India and abroad.

The CBSE also conducts other competitive exams for admission to various courses like medicine and engineering. One of the great strengths of the board was that it was free from government control. All over the world, governments tend to control an organisation only when it is dependent on it for survival.

The CBSE never wanted any monetary support from the government as it could manage its affairs with the money it collected from the schools affiliated to it and the students who appeared for its examinations. That is why a person like Fr Thomas Kunnunkal, a Jesuit, was able to remain chairman of the CBSE for seven years. I remember listening to him at a meeting on democratising education in the Capital a few years ago.

I marvelled at the clarity of his thoughts and understanding of the education scenario in the country by virtue of his life-long work in the field of education. One reason why I heard him with great admiration was because one of his brothers was my own friend from my days in Patna. Fr Kunnunkal was made a member of several high-powered committees of the government and was bestowed with Padma Shri.

When I first heard that the CBSE question papers had leaked, I wondered how Fr Kunnunkal would have reacted to it. Of course, the CBSE has undergone a metamorphosis since the day Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister. He appointed a lady with questionable educational credentials as the HRD minister, although she was roundly defeated in the 2014 general elections when Modi’s image was sufficient even for a broom to win in Uttar Pradesh. Ordinarily, Smriti Irani would not have been appointed a minister till she won an election.

It was demonstrative of Modi’s disdain for democracy. True, she was not the only person to receive such a preferential treatment. Arun Jaitely, who ate humble pie at the hands of Congress party’s Amarinder Singh in Amritsar, was initially given charges of two most important portfolios — Finance and Defence. Why did Modi do so?

He knew that Irani and Jaitley had become political non-entities and he could keep them under his control. You may wonder what this has to do with the CBSE. One of my acquaintances was the Secretary of the CBSE, who was personally in charge of the medical admission test it conducted. Soon after the NDA government came to power, he was sent to Panchkula in Haryana.

Worse, the CBSE remained without a chairman for the first one and a half years of the Modi government. In this country of 1.3 billion people, neither Modi nor Irani could find a person worthy of this post. One can only imagine what happens when an organisation remains headless for a long time. Irani wanted to appoint a person but that person was not acceptable to him. After one and a half years of dilly-dallying, the government appointed RK Chaturvedi, a Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS officer, for a term of five years.

But he could not continue for long as he was removed and sent to the National Skill Development Agency. Finally, Anita Karwal, IAS, took over as the new chairperson on August 31, 2017. She had the right credentials. She belonged to the Gujarat cadre of the IAS. She was, in fact, the Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat when general elections were held in 2014. If Modi trusts officers from Gujarat more than others, he cannot be blamed. 

Remember how he brought a person to the Reserve Bank just before he went in for the demonetisation drama and introduced new currency notes which are supposedly fool-proof. Recently, the Kerala Police marvelled at the ability of a crook who produced a couple of 2000-rupee notes in their presence using tools, not more sophisticated than a good colour printer. The police described him as a “genius”.

When I read this hilarious report from Kerala, I remembered the long list of security features the new currency notes supposedly contained. Alas, Anita Karwal, too, failed to stem the rot that had already set in. She cannot escape responsibility for the leaks that happened under her command.

Politicisation of academic bodies is utterly condemnable. The post of vice-chancellor of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, which caters to the needs of the largest number of students in India, remained vacant for two and a half years simply because the government did not like the face of Mohammed  Aslam. He was asked to sit at home and draw salary for doing precious nothing. Finally, the Delhi High Court allowed him to visit the university on the last day of his tenure to have a cup of tea with his former colleagues and leave with his honour intact.

Neither Modi nor Irani realised that IGNOU was the world’s largest university with an enrolment of 34,99,999 students, which is more than the population of several countries. It is the same callousness that they displayed when it came to managing the CBSE affairs. They should have appointed professionals and not looked for pliable IAS officers belonging to a particular cadre.

It is significant that the present investigation is around some coaching institutes. How can the questions leak without the involvement of some in the CBSE? Who are they? Why are they being shielded? Once Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned from the post of Railway Minister when a rail accident occurred? Neither the HRD Minister nor the CBSE chairman showed any inclination to own up responsibility and quit to allow a thorough overhaul of the organisation.

Thank Goodness, they have not so far come up with statistics of the question paper leaks that happened when the Congress was in power as is their wont. One does not have to go far to know how such examinations can be manipulated to favour a few.

The Vyapam scandal in Madhya Pradesh continues to hit the headlines in the Press every time a person linked with it in one way or another meets with an unnatural end. It is the single largest scandal of its kind in the country but Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is touted as one of the ablest while poor Laloo Yadav is in jail for a crime that he never committed. He is being serially punished because he allegedly knew about the fodder scam happening in a remote district in Bihar. No, Modi did not know that thousands were killed in Gujarat in the wake of Godhra! What was Vyapam? It was an organised attempt to favour the rich and the influential. 

This brings us to the question of whether secrecy in examinations can be maintained when all it requires to leak a question paper is to take a picture of the question paper before it is distributed in the examination hall and circulate it in the social media. Within minutes it will reach tens of thousands of students. That is how one question paper reached Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. But his claim was rubbished by the authorities concerned who argued at that time that confidentiality was beyond breach in the CBSE.

Given this challenge, some out-of-the-box solutions will have to be found. Examination reform in the country has not kept pace with technology. In the novel “A Study in Scarlet” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes tells John Watson that it is futile to know too many things if one is not going to use them. 

Wouldn’t it be really beneficial for students interested in Einstein and Newton’s Law to devote more time to them than to study how Shakespeare interpreted life? Before we answer this question, let us read a report prepared jointly by the World Bank and Stanford University. It found that a large majority of the so-called educated youth in India is unemployable. They include a majority of the engineering graduates. 

The report, yet to be submitted to the HRD Ministry, says that the educated youth in India cannot be compared with the educated youth in other countries. It specifically mentions that India is far behind China in this regard. It pricks our balloon that India has the largest number of educated youth in the world. It is like saying that more than half of the people who defecate in the open in the world live in India?

Kapil Sibal as HRD Minister did considerable damage to the education system by introducing the all-promotion system. Of course, it helped to reduce the drop-out rate but allowed ignoramuses to reach the high school level. True, most children have the capabilities to study. What is required is adequate nurturing of their talents. Unfortunately, no teaching worth the name happens in government schools where a majority of the children study.

The CBSE scandal is a reminder that the authorities should devise a system where even if the students are allowed to use the textbooks in the examination hall, they would not be able to copy the answers. They should be trained to think and answer questions in an individually unique way. In short, the system of rote learning should end.

It may not be possible to bring about a radical change in the examination system in a few months but it should be possible to make a beginning. As regards maintaining secrecy in the CBSE’s examination system, all that the government has to do is to treat the CBSE question papers as secret as the details of the graduate examination Narendra Modi appeared as a student of Delhi University. Everything will, then, fall in place.

ajphilip@gmail.com

(Published on 09th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 14 & 15)