With 64.75 per cent Bihar School Examination Board (BSEB) candidates for Class XII failing; and a 42-year old father of two belonging to the scheduled caste counterfeiting his way to the top of the Arts stream 2017 results, the Biharis do have a grim realization that their State is at an advanced stage of decay in education.

Students being searched for cheats during matric exam in Patna.Last year, the results of all the toppers of the Board examination were cancelled; the Chief of the BSEB, a Nitish appointee, along with his wife, a former JD(U) MLC, were arrested and the Board was handed over to a professional administrator from the federal administrative rank.

However, the cancer which started with political control and interference had spread so much that one or a group of honest and competent administrators could hardly make a radical change. The tragedy of the situation evoked laughter when it was reported that the minister of Education had warned the BSEB chief to vet the toppers before declaring the results. Or, the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar complaining that the media or “a few people” were defaming the system of education in Bihar.

In fact, people of Bihar don’t have to be reminded that a rapid decline in the education system was induced in 1967 when a coalition government of Samyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD) was formed under the Chief Ministership of Mahamaya Prasad Sinha. Karpoori Thakur, a powerful ally and the Education minister introduced for the first time a system whereby a student was promoted to college from the high school even if he or she had failed in English.

Arguably, it wasn’t entirely wrong for the Education minister to have introduced PWE (Pass Without English) or “Karpoori Division,” as it was sarcastically called, since the Socialist leader was convinced that the large masses of students belonging to the rural, underprivileged categories (the OBCs, the SCs and the STs) were prevented from going into higher education because of their handicap in English. He lacked the vision to make the foundation of students strong.

Perhaps, to outwit the Bihar Congress, gain cheap popularity for his government or to consolidate the support base, Karpoori Thakur didn’t think through the unintended consequences of introducing the PWE or the potential harm he was going to inflict on the generations of students after he and his politics were gone.

Pass Without English opened up the floodgates of students with certificates in their hands seeking admission into colleges. There weren’t enough colleges to absorb them. Overnight colleges mushroomed mostly along the lines of caste and influence. Politicians of all parties, bureaucrats, corrupt favor-seeking educationists and immoral middle men all got engaged in the competitive business of setting up colleges, hiring unqualified “professors” and minting money. Since these colleges had to show satisfactory results to secure University affiliation or to flourish and since the PWE students were decidedly not up to the mark, the college establishments provided secrecy, protection and encouragement to cheating or mass copying at the exams.

Protest outside Bihar School Examination Board over irregularities in admit cards.Degeneration at the intermediate college level quickly reinforced and promoted all the bad things that were happening at schools: negligence, tardiness or political use of teachers, hiring of incompetent personnel based on caste, politics and bribe or embezzlement of funds. Mass copying and cheating at the high schools ensured that the new colleges got continued supply of fodder in the form of students. As English was de-emphasized, the standard of education in other subjects suffered simultaneously.

Adoption of unfair and outright dishonest means from leaking of questions to planting ghost examinees to mass cheating to forging of marks by the evaluators, all became part of the popular culture of Bihar. Now, digital revolution is also helping. Surprisingly, sometimes, parents -- more than students -- wouldn’t understand anything other than the unethical means and insist on the foul route. It’s worth noting that Ruby Rai, one of the publicised -- declared-but-aborted -- Class XII toppers last year said she wanted to simply pass with a decent grade. However, her father, a low-ranking army personnel, under the influence of an ‘education mafia’ wanted his daughter to top and he was prepared to pay any price. The father’s sins took the daughter to jail.

Far from taking corrective steps, the successive governments took full advantage of the chaos and anarchy in the education system. From the setting up of a school, college or university to the appointment of a peon, principal or vice-chancellor, the entire system became a cash cow for politicians and their lackeys. During the regime of Jagannath Mishra, the deterioration touched a new bottom; the Lalu-Rabri and Nitish period marked a complete collapse. It’s not clear in the brief NDA period (2005 to 2012) of the JDU-BJP alliance, the education system took any turn for the better. The BJP and its leaders have not shown any appetite for organizational or programmatic push toward reforming the education system in Bihar. They are also from the same stock.

Entrenched in power for the last 27 years in Bihar, the Other Backward Castes, whose Socialist messiah Karpoori Thakur was, can no longer blame the decay in education on the Forward castes and their leaders. If anything, the OBC leaders have only imitated or perfected the ugly corrupt financial methods of the Forwards: establishing phony institutions and misappropriating private or government grants, enslaving teachers for domestic or political/party purposes, dividing school or college campuses along caste or sub-caste lines; the professors/administrators showering favor on their relations or castes and so on. Lalu Yadav even secured private land from his ministers.

It may be argued when the Forward castes had monopoly over power in Bihar, they did set up a number of bad precedents, indulged in malpractices, suppressed the weaker sections and brought bad name to Bihar. But, now, with the OBCs at the helm, people would rightfully and genuinely expect them to cleanse the house and offer a robust, dynamic or ever modernizing system of education.

BSEB Secretary Anand Kishore conducting a body search for cheats during matric exam in Patna.But what happened? - people ask. Is the Patna College or the University the same as they were? The degeneration is such that the so-called professors all across Bihar have spent their lifetime drawing salaries and not covering a full syllabus in the class. Students show up at colleges only twice: first, when they register and then to take exams. They say there’s no teaching at the college, why to waste time? It is alleged the sale of fake medicines and production of fake degrees are the highest in Bihar. What the Nitish-Lalu government has done to wash off that reputation?

The young men and women belonging to the Backward, Dalit or underprivileged class will have to organize, move forward and demand performance and accountability from their leaders. They will have to reform within themselves to understand their leaders had fed them only on the opium of anti-Forward and pro- Reservation emotions and slogans. They must be shocked into the realization that their caste leaders have kept them perpetually disgruntled, impaired and enslaved.

Bihar would surge ahead only when the main body of the underprivileged (they constitute 70%) were lifted through better education and training.

Privileged people from all across Bihar will continue to afford to flock to other places for education.

Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.