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National Shame

National Shame

For a whopping 3.28 lakh students, who have allegedly failed in the exams of the Telangana Board of Intermediate Education (BIE), the results of which were announced last month, the only hope is the outcome of re-tallying scheduled to be announced on May 8, following judicial intervention.

Out of the eight lakh students who appeared for the Intermediate exams, what came as a rude shock for many was the glaring blunders in the results that came along with mark-sheets on the board’s web portal. Several students were either shown as failed (with zero or poor marks) or those who had appeared for all subjects but had been marked absent.

Even as almost 41 percent of those who appeared were declared unsuccessful, finding the rather casual response of BIE that “there was nothing wrong with the results”, simply unacceptable, the only recourse available to  parents and students’ group was to take to the streets. In the meanwhile, frustrated with their results, some 23 students have already committed suicide, either by hanging, consuming rat poison/pesticide, or by jumping before the train etc. With protests further intensifying and the Court taking suo motu action, the State Government was compelled to order re-evaluation of answer sheets and results of all the students who had failed so far.

The cause for concern is those who had got good marks in the first year had failed in the second year, particularly in maths and physics. A district topper who got 98 marks in Telugu in the first year was shocked to receive zero in the same subject this year. Thanks to a local newspaper highlighting her case forcing the BIE to act, after re-verification she was awarded 99 marks. While a fine of Rs 5000 has been imposed against the evaluator who was responsible for erroneously awarding her a zero, another evaluator who served as the scrutinizer but failed to notice the blunder has also been penalised.

Just because a penalty had been imposed, the goof up cannot be passed off as a stray incident. It is a national shame that young lives had to be lost, rather prematurely, owing to sheer negligence and non-fulfilment of official responsibilities by those in the helm of affairs.

A paltry penalty cannot bring back the dead nor can the deeply traumatised hearts of those who lost their lives heal so quickly.

What really went wrong?  Who is the culprit? A probe ordered by the state Government appointed committee has concluded that there were errors in the process including major technical issues coupled with a few human blunders. 

A huge software lapse led to large-scale mismatch between roll numbers and declared results besides wrong totalling. An estimated 60,000 errors are said to have been already identified.  Technical glitches in the evaluation system led to brilliant students getting 5 or 10 marks in some subjects and hundreds were marked absent despite appearing for the exam. 

It is pathetic that the results for 496 students were displayed as AP (absent and present) instead of marks. For some students, it was AF (absent and fail) despite appearing for the exams. For nearly 4200 students, single digit marks were granted for Economics. The report also highlighted the errors in the circling of the optical mark recognition sheets. 

The outsourced agency which developed the software admitted that there were issues. Sheer negligence seems to have further compounded the problem. It is now revealed that the said agency had encountered problems even at the primary stage of fee collection. But why it was allowed to undertake the mammoth task?

We feel proud to proclaim that the Indian school education system is one of the largest. But is it unmanageable since it is also the most complex in the world? Our education system has become so competitive. The thrust seems to be only on scoring marks. Yes, competition is getting rather unhealthy. Youngsters are forced to put up with untold parental/peer pressure, but why? Because top performance and getting admitted in a reputed educational institution is increasingly becoming the norm amongst many parents.

If every school is mandatorily required to employ counsellors to help students face/overcome challenges, why are student suicides on the rise? Statistics are shocking, sample this. India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for youth aged 15 to 29 according to the 2012 Lancet Report. As many as 26,476 students committed suicide in the country between 2014 and 2016 as per National Crime Records Bureau. A total of 8934 students ended their lives prematurely in 2015 and specifically 1360 persons below 18 years and 1183 below 30 years committed suicide due to failure in examination. In 2016 the number of students who committed suicide rose to 9474, that is, at a rate of more than one per hour. While Maharashtra and West Bengal recorded the maximum, Lakshadweep recorded none.

With specific reference to Telangana, it is disappointing that  allocation on education in the state has been falling over the years. From 10.88% of the state budget in 2015-16, the allocation for education has dwindled to 6.71% for the fiscal 2019-20. Further, that the government pays its examiners Rs 15/- per answer sheet and deploys around 800 teachers to correct the papers over a month, speaks volumes of an overburdened educational system which needs an immediate revamp.

To prevent recurrence of student suicides, it is important that the society, at large, and parents in particular play a leading role in creating courage and self confidence amongst school children. As every child is unique, they ought not be overburdened. By mandatorily providing effective pre and post exam counselling, educational institutions can go the extra mile in enabling students face challenges in their career. The focus should be on long-term plans and permanent solutions.

(Published on 13th May 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 20)