Whither Education in Bihar? A Minor Reality Check

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In an address recently, Kailash Satyarthi, the nobel laureate, said that the rate of admission of students and their retention have gone up globally, but the quality of education and inclusion in the education system has gone down. The right to education, therefore, is key to development.

In the month of Ramadan, the Biharis, in general - and the minority Muslim community in particular - celebrated with pride that one of its girls qualified finally to become the first Bihari Muslim woman Indian Police Service officer. She had her graduate level education in Bangalore and will be a second generation IPS officer. The system in Bihar as such may have very limited contribution to her educational development; her individual effort has to be lauded.

In fact, Bihar is a typical case where education system has slipped at all levels; individual accomplishments of Bihari students are, however, bandied about as the success of Bihar.

It's said that during the second term of the Nitish administration, there was a quantum jump in the hiring of teachers with fake degrees. Being a coalition partner up until 2013, the BJP will also have to partake of half of the blame.

Recently, at the intervention of the Patna High Court, the government had to screen the validity of degrees of teachers. Scared, many teachers quit their jobs beforehand.

This writer had a chance to interview a number of teachers and education related personnel in Bihar during his 100-day stay in India (March-June, 2015).

The interviewees unanimously admitted that primary education in Bihar had suffered the most during the tenure of Nitish as the CM.

An example: Mid-day meal for students in schools - a great idea to get kids from poor families to attend schools and to keep them minimally fed - proved counter-productive. The attention of the head teacher and others got focused entirely on getting the right meal prepared.

Education and training were utterly ignored, and perhaps weren't humanly possible. There would be two types of food prepared by the paid cook: One, spicy and high quality, for the teachers and staff; and the other, bland and starchy, for the rest of students. Cooking the account books and purchasing sub-standard materials are additional issues. No wonder, every now and then, stories of food poisoning appear in news papers.

Kids and their parent-guardians also had their share of indifference. They would also adjust their schedule accordingly - show up at the meal time and then disappear. No accountability on either side.

A village bride is a teacher on the payroll!

A competent and honest head school teacher -- whose growth from her girlhood this writer has watched - shared many of her experiences. One of the bizarre stories stands out and perhaps paints a complete picture of Bihari primary education system.

In one of the village schools she worked, the first day she noticed a lady in the corner of a room -extremely shy, her head and face covered. She would come and go every day without doing anything and behaved like a typical rural daughter-in-law of a family.

The head teacher in no time learnt that this lady was a real daughter-in-law (Kania) of the Mukhiya (head) of the local Panchayat (village-level elected representative-administrative body).
She got hired because of the socio-political influence of her in-laws' family - much against her competence and will. Her educational qualification was defrauded and all possible governmental verification, checks and balances were 'managed.'

Aware of the clout of the Kania, the head teacher one morning approached her gently and tried to strike up a conversation. The Kania spoke up, broke into tears and frankly admitted that she was illiterate since the time of her marriage, and married into the local Mukhiya's family. She was supposed to show up in the school, do mild errands and draw her salary. She was personally opposed to working in the school because she wasn't cut out for that job.

The head teacher couldn't do much. Her safety-security and continuation in new position could have been threatened, if she had raised her voice.

Very patiently, the head teacher began training the Kania in bare literacy.

Postscript: Government school teachers’ services are requisitioned to supervise the conduct of elections everywhere in India. We expect these teachers and other personnel to keep the integrity of the forthcoming Bihar Vidhan Sabha election in October, 2015.

Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad administers a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari which has sponsored Aware Citizenship Campaign in Bihar.


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