If hard work is the key to success, the exam season in Assam this year has already witnessed a bunch of students working really hard, albeit with foul means. In the ongoing Class 10 exam, at least 74 students have been expelled for cheating in exam in Assam’s Hailakandi district.
Even though the district administration introduced a number of initiatives to curb the use of unfair methods, the erring students seem to fear nothing. To check the use of unfair methods by students, the administration has pressed into action flying squads, engaged supervising officers and even enforced Section 144 Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) within a 200-metre radius of the exam centres to stop the assembling of five or more persons, according to Inspector of Schools, Rajiv Kumar Jha.
According to Jha, 23 of the 74 students were caught cheating during Social Science exam, 19 in General Mathematics, 15 in English, 13 in General Science and 4 in Assamese.
What is more disheartening is the fact that the work of such erring students was made easier by lax invigilators. The administration as issued showcause notices to two invigilators being negligent in performing their duties.
But this has not happened for the first time. It won't be wrong to say that the use of unfair means in exams, much like any other state of India, is endemic. Earlier, the Assam Higher Secondary Education Council (AHSEC) announced that HSSLC examination-conducting bodies will install jammers to block radiofrequency devices in 25 sensitive exam centres across the state to prevent exam candidates from cheating using cellphones and other gadgets.
Officials of the AHSEC claim that with technological advances, cheating too have gone high-tech. Cellphones, wireless earpieces and bluetooth devices are some of the favourite means of cheating used by students to write their papers. If the officials are to be believed, many even wear transmitters to examination centres.
The AHSEC hoped to block mobile signals, wi-fi and bluetooth operation on electronic devices by installing jammers.
While CCTV cameras were installed in every centre, and the jammers reportedly used in sensitive centres.
An organised sector
Instances of cheating in exam have not only increased but has become an organised and elaborate 'business' for many who facilitate students in using such unfair means.
Perhaps, it wouldn't be wrong to say that the state of Bihar leads the way. In 2015, Bihar made headlines with photographic and video evidence showing parents scaling a five-storey building to pass answers to their wards taking exams inside.
Around 300 people were arrested following the blatant cheating in school exams even as parents and friends of students were photographed scaling walls to pass on answers.
While students were seen copying answers from note sheets, policemen posted outside the exam centres were seen taking bribe to look the other way.
While most of those arrested were parents, at least 750 students were expelled. The photographs and video went viral on, much to the embarrassment of an entire state and the country.
Following that the state installed CCTV cameras in exam halls introduced various steps like making students leave their footwear and even socks at the entrance. Despite that more than 1,000 students were expelled for cheating last year.
In 2016, the student with the highest score in Arts had to forfeit her certificate following a TV interview in which she said political science was the study of cooking. In 2017, a student who topped the state in Arts actually turned out to be a 42-year-old man.
While these incidents from Bihar made the state infamous, every year students across the country are found indulging in such foul means to earn their degrees and certificates.
What it says about our education system
So what drives such a huge number of students to resort to unfair means? Psychologists pin the blame on society and an education system which creates intense pressure to score good marks. Moreover, the mushrooming growth of private schools in small towns and villages is more of a lucrative business venture to extract money from gullible parents. While the government has shown interest in building new schools, it is hardly bothered about what happens inside these schools. What has added to the woes of the students is an army of poorly paid teachers or none. Sample this: Around 36,500 posts of teachers are lying vacant in schools of all levels across Assam.
This was revealed by the government in the state Assembly on February 20. In a written reply to a query by AGP MLA Utpal Dutta, Education Minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya said a total of 36,523 teaching posts are vacant at present, including 17,293 posts in primary schools
Moreover, the incentives for teachers and administrators are so dismal that they could hardly be bothered about the future of students. Often schools are seen promoting students to the next level since the incentives of the staff are based on what percentage of children in a school or district are passing their exams. This is also a big reason why invigilators either assist or overlook cheating.
Even though social aspirations in India are growing, there are not enough opportunities and means for the students to match the expectations of the society. Naturally, youngsters take the easy route to make their dreams come true, till the time they get caught.
(Sunaina Upadhyaya is a senior journalist from Assam based in New Delhi. Views expressed are her own)