Bihar cancelled the results of two controversial science stream toppers of the state Class 12 examinations and scrapped the recognition of a college as authorities ordered a judicial probe into alleged academic irregularities on Saturday.
The Bihar state examination board (BSEB) said the two students– Saurabh Sreshtha and Rahul – didn’t perform well in a re-test ordered after television interviews of the toppers indicated they had little knowledge of the subjects they had aced.
Arts topper Ruby Rai – who sparked the controversy by claiming she was taught cooking in her political science classes – didn’t appear for the re-test citing ill health. The board has threatened to scrap her result if she doesn’t appear for the re-test by June 14.
BSEB chairman Lalkeshwar Singh said the board struck down the recognition of Vaishali’s VR College, where both Rai and Srestha were enrolled. The board also ordered an inquiry under a retired high court judge into alleged irregularities, cautioning that more colleges could face action. Officials also said merit lists in all streams will be re-examined.
But the board decided to not re-evaluate the marking on the original answer sheets as it is not allowed to do so by law. Besides, authorities said they did not get reports of malpractice from the examination centres the toppers appeared from.
The controversy is a major embarrassment for the Bihar government and puts the spotlight on Bihar’s failing education system that is riddled with spurious colleges and examination rackets. Activists say colleges fix exam and evaluation centres and even hand out “tailor-made” answer books that ensure high scores.
The class 12 pass percentage crashed this year but authorities earlier attributed the decrease to stricter invigilation and a stamping out of illegal means during examination.
The state ordered re-tests for 14 toppers of the intermediate arts and science streams after the students’ dismal television performance sparked ridicule and outrage. The incident also brought back memories of photos that went viral last year showing parents and relatives scaling the walls of school buildings to pass pieces of paper to examinees inside.
VR College -- one of the many institutes promising “miraculous” results – has had a string of complaints against it. Last year, around 200 answer sheets of students from the college had identical content.
These topper-manufacturing units have gone top speed since 2008 when the state government linked students’ performance to institute funding, sources say
The experts who conducted Friday’s interaction with 13 of the 14 toppers, however, did not evaluate whether the students deserved to be at the top.
“They have just reported on the level of knowledge and subject competence demonstrated at the interface with students, while matching their handwriting with those on the original answer sheets,” said board officials.
According to one of the 11 subject experts roped in by the board, the experts simply assessed how far the toppers reflected knowledge of subjects’.
“Toppers cannot be decided through interview. It is always relative. To decide the topper afresh, one would have to go through all copies of the board again,” he said.
Another expert said the students were visibly nervous.
“We first tried to calm them down, asking them general questions about family and school. Once they were comfortable, we initiated them into the actual interaction,” he added.
The experts matched the handwritings of the students and reportedly found them satisfactory.
“The board asked us to hear the students’ side. We went there, asked a few questions and also made them write a few short answers. We have submitted our report to the board’s anti-corruption cell, but we have not written anything on students’ capability to top. It would be wrong on our part,” he added.