The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development announced yesterday at a press conference that the re-examination for the Class XII Economics paper will be conducted on April 25 while that for the Class X Mathematics paper will be held sometime in July if “need be”.
It was an agonizing hour-long press conference that was addressed by the Union Education secretary Anil Swarup, who was accompanied by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) chairperson Anita Karwal, who kept mum throughout the press conference.
Addressing media persons, Swarup said, “The board will take a call in the next 15 days if there is a need to conduct retest for Class X Mathematics examination. Preliminary inquiry has revealed that the Class X paper leak occurred in Haryana and Delhi-NCR, which is why re-examination will be held only in these two regions”.
Swarup added, “As the leak was restricted to Delhi and Haryana, a re-examination will happen only in those two regions and a decision will be taken on this in the next 15 days. If at all a re-exam is done, it will be in July.”
Students outside these two regions must have heaved a sigh of relief but those who took the examination in Delhi-NCR and Haryana were left on the tenterhooks for the next 15 days. Students of Class XII, however, across the country will have to appear for the re-examination on April 25.
Failure Accepted but Problem Not Fixed
The ministry accepted that it was indeed a failure but added that the immediate concern of the government is to mitigate the sufferings of students as far as possible. An assurance was given that all the corrective measures would be taken after scrutinizing the whole process of conducting examinations.
However, when asked what action is being taken against the people in position including the CBSE chief, Swarup’s reply was evasive. He said that the administrative decision can be taken at a later stage and in the order of priority it cannot precede the interest of the students. He refused to fix the responsibility on anyone pending inquiry including the CBSE chairperson.
“We don’t have any perfect answers. We have a limited set of information. It may not be the perfect decision but our immediate concern is that the children should not suffer. Children’s interests are supreme. Other things can wait,” Swarup said.
Decision on Punitive Actions after the Probe
The government argued to the repeated queries by journalists as to why no action has been initiated against the people responsible for conducting the examination. Swarup said that the Special Investigation Team is probing the matter and the perpetrators will be nailed after that.
Virtually ruling out the sacking of the CBSE chief, he said, “Action will be taken against whoever is responsible. But you cannot pre-empt the inquiry. Without inquiry, action will not be possible. There are two levels of inquiry – one is the police inquiry and the other is a departmental inquiry. We cannot say what exactly went wrong but we are trying to find out.”
A majority of the concerned people are not convinced with this logic though. Mohan Das Pai, formerly with Infosys, said, “The CBSE chief should accept the responsibility. It’s very clear that that there was negligence. There was no crisis management team and nobody was available to address the problem when it happened. There was a problem. She must step down. She must take responsibility and step out and proceed on leave. CBSE is such a big organization. The second important thing is that a quick inquiry should happen to find out what exactly happened – where and when the leakage took place. This is so that the system is improved”.
Yogendra Yadav, an educationist, thinks that in the midst of examinations, it’s not a good idea to remove the head of the CBSE. He said, “I agree that it may be too early to think of long term solutions. Had it just been a one off case of a CBSE paper being leaked, then I would not have called it a failure and would not have involved the government. As far as the immediate rolling of heads goes, I don’t think that is a good idea. Examinations are on and if you bring any administrative changes immediately, it can disturb the entire examination process”.
It’s now an established fact that an email did come to the CBSE chief on the night before the Mathematics examination. It was on the official email address of Anita Karwal informing her about the leak. The email clearly mentioned that the paper was leaked and that it should be cancelled. A handwritten Mathematics paper was also attached with the email. Nobody saw that email till an hour before the exams started – a classic example of bureaucratic malfunction by the CBSE. By the time it was sent for confirmation and the report arrived that it indeed matched with the question paper, the examination had already begun. Now the CBSE says that it was not possible to abruptly stop the examination. So, more than a million students were made to participate in an exercise that was to be cancelled a few hours after the examination were over. Anil Swarup in his press conference admitted this fact.
Government Not Confident about a Full-proof System
On the day the papers were cancelled, the HRD minister had said, “The CBSE will put in place a stronger mechanism to ensure that no further paper leak happens. Monday onward, a new system would be put in place so that no leak happens and justice is done. All the loopholes would be plugged and this is something that I want to assure parents and students about. With the help of technology, the government will put in place a system which is so fool-proof that there is no leak” (See https://edinbox.com/cbse-papers-leaked/). But, within 48 hours, the ministry secretary was singing a different tune. Asked whether the government can guarantee that there will be no leaks in the future, Swarup said that nobody can guarantee about the future. He said, “I cannot guarantee that there will be no leak in the future. But we will take all steps to see such leaks don’t happen.”
Education Mafia: An Organized Industry in the Country
Paper leaks are not a new thing in our education system nor do they constitute random accidents. There is an entire syndicate that works. Touts are helped by people, who are parts of the government machinery. As schools and coaching institutes compete for better results to attract more and more students into their kitty, they resort to malpractices and the touts are always available to help them. Add to it the vulnerability of students and even parents, who in search of better scores in the examinations, fall for it and pay exorbitant prices for the question papers. This vulnerability is a direct consequence of our opaque education system where learning has taken a back seat and marks have become everything.
System has failed the young students and the youth of the country. Starting from the Vyapam Scam to the SSC scam and now the CBSE paper leak, no lesson has been learnt. What is more worrying is the fact that nothing is being done to stem this systemic rot. Every time a scam or a leak happens, it’s bigger than the previous one. However, once the din dies down, things get back to usual and we wait for the next one to happen.
It’s common knowledge that money and clout play big roles in this country even to get the job of a peon or a driver. Aided by corrupt government staff and the touts, the system is subverted practically at every step. Though it has not happened for the first time, the scale at which the crime has been committed in these board examinations is unparalleled. The menace of leaks, cheating and manipulation will continue to haunt the education system if there is no crackdown and this organized education mafia is not completely removed from the system. This is also important to stop the culture of cheating and finding short cuts to success. The government needs to treat the current crisis in the examination system as an emergency. Culprits need to be identified, responsibilities need to be fixed and heads need to roll – at every level without favour.
Is Technology a Solution to This Menace?
The HRD minister in his press conference said that technological help will be taken to stop such leakages. But experts say that technology has been available for years now. Why is it that the government has not used the same to fix the problem?
Mohan says, “For years, new technological solutions have been available. What you just need to do is that you put the question papers on servers and give access to schools at the right time so that the same can be downloaded at the examination centres for distribution. This is all about process. The questions that are sent to a particular centre can be decoded at the last moment – one there will be no standard paper and two nobody will be able to copy it. So, technological solutions are available. The number of people involved in the process need to maintain the secrecy”.
Innovative solutions to the recurring problem should be evolved using technology. Various suggestions are being mooted to prevent the recurrence of such leaks. For instance, a bank of questions can be prepared and then posted to a secured data source with proper cyber security measures. The question papers can be delivered to examination centers in the encrypted form. Only the top officials should be given the decryption codes just before the examination. The government needs to examine all the suggestions for a long term solution to this malaise.
Protest and Politics
The CBSE students took to the streets across the country to protest against the leak with placards in their hands and slogans. One of the interesting slogans read thus, “If you can’t handle a question paper, how are you going to handle our future?” Other students’ organizations also hit the streets in protest. National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), a student body affiliated to the Congress, called for a march to Prakash Javadekar’s residence in Delhi. One rarely finds that section 144 is imposed near a minister’s bungalow. Obviously, the students were stopped. The protesters demanded the resignations of Javadekar and Anita Karwal.
It was reported on day one that the Prime Minister expressed his displeasure over the question paper leak to HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. But one scam after the other, first the SSC and now the CBSE paper leak, have certainly dented the image of the Modi government. Students are on the streets day in and day out. There will be millions of first-time voters in 2019. They have been affected by the systemic failures and are liable to go against the present government.
Though Modi has tried to address this community through his radio addresses, programmes and speeches, these failures have given ammunitions to attack him. Also the fact that his HRD minister could not give a satisfactory answer on day one and just offered a customary assurance that “such leaks won’t happen again” went against the government.
It’s a fact Javadekar miserably failed to provide a full-proof system. He appeared short of ideas and was completely clueless when affected students were asking for some accountability to be fixed. The official twitter handle of Congress president Rahul Gandhi said, “PM wrote Exam Warriors, a book to teach students stress relief during exams. Next up: Exam Warriors 2, a book to teach students & parents stress relief, once their lives are destroyed due to leaked exam papers. The exam leaks destroy the hopes and futures of millions of students. The Congress always protected our institutions. This is what happens when institutions are destroyed by the RSS/ BJP.” It’s not that the papers were not leaked during the Congress regime. But then, public memory is short.
Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister entrusted with the education portfolio, also wrote to Javadekar and asked him to hold a daylong brainstorming session with state education ministers to avoid incidents like paper leak. In his letter, he said, “Not only does this affect the future of 26 lakh students but also puts a question mark on the sanctity of the CBSE assessment system.” He also said, “This is an issue that needs to move beyond party politics because once an examination paper is leaked, the negative consequences are for the country and not one government or one party. So let us put our minds together and think of solutions for the national good.”
The CBSE failure is visible. It failed to secure the sanctity of a system which it talks about securing. The rationale behind a board examination is simple. The very purpose of a centralised system is to remove any biases whether regional, economic or anything else. Bureaucratic mismanagement is not going to help. CBSE must realize its inability to prevent a leak and accept its responsibility for making students sit for the same examination twice for no fault of theirs. ‘Sanctity’ and fairness’ have already been compromised.
Yogendra Yadav said, “Yes, there should be a clear fixing of the responsibility and people responsible should go. But look at the situation at the moment – for example the SSC scam. There are so many leaks. If we look at the system, examinations are no longer immune to leakages. In essence, the entire system is leaking and that is the problem. We need to look at the entire system and overhaul the same. This government is behaving like any other government by not recognising that there is a systemic malady. They are simply reducing it to one limited paper, one particular problem, which to my mind it not the right approach.”
The police in Jharkhand arrested eight persons for the Class X Mathematics paper leak. The arrested include four students and the owners of a coaching institute in Chatra district. The arrests followed an FIR filed by the Principal of Jawahar Novodaya Vidyalaya (JNV) in Chatra. The police are suspecting inter-state links. (See https://m.timesofindia.com/city/ranchi/4-students-among-8-held-in-jharkhand/articleshow/63553479.cms).
Reporting by Kumar Dhananjay Editorial Consultant, Delhi