Prodigal Students

Prodigal Students
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When board exam toppers have no answers to basic questions

ANY SCHOOL child can slip in giving answers under pressure. In Bihar, however, matters have taken a decidedly downward turn after the state’s school examination top scorers gave incoherent answers to rather simple questions.

Take Bihar’s class XII Humanities stream topper. When asked what Political Science was about, the student responded that ‘prodigal’ science had something to do with cooking. She meant ‘political’ science. If this is incoherent, then consider what the Science champion had to say. His answer to what is the most reactive element in the Periodic Table was aluminium, which is actually one of the most inert elements.

The video clip on which these gems were on display has now gone viral. This has forced the state’s education department to order an unprecedented review and retest of these and other top scorers. That will not help the cause of better education in Bihar.

If one leaves aside this specific case—the students, their scores and their answers—the bigger scandal is the process of filtering talent among school children. There has to be something deeply wrong with the manner of teaching and academic evaluation in Bihar. The huge swings in the results are an indication. Last year, 86 per cent students managed to clear Class XII exams in Humanities; this year the figure dropped to 57 per cent. In Science, 89 per cent cleared the exam last year; this year only 67 per cent. What happened? Was the quality of students so poor that the number fell drastically? Or was the grading rather generous last year? Either way, standardisation in teaching and scoring—one of the key principles of any educational system—seems to have eluded Bihar.

It has been a while that the state has been plagued by two problems. On the one hand, parents want ‘high scores’— come what may—for their wards, and on the other, there has been rampant mass copying during exams. There is nothing wrong in seeking high marks, provided it is done through hard work. The prevalence of mass cheating suggests that the system has broken down. The answers given by the toppers this year are only symptoms of a larger malaise. All that can be said is that in Bihar, the marks printed on score certificates are illusory.