The Mumbai division of the Maharashtra state board said it will recommend derecognition of the Virar school, whose principal and clerk were arrested on Saturday for leaking at least two Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exam papers.
The images of six HSC papers were leaked in ten days starting with the Marathi paper on March 2, followed by Secretarial Practice and Physics papers on March 4, Mathematics and Statistics papers on March 6 and the Book-keeping and Accountancy paper on Friday, March 10.
According to the board, Anand Kamat, 43, trustee and headmaster of Mount Mary School, Virar, and Ganesh Rane, 30, head clerk at the school have been arrested, along with two others by the police. Both of them took photos of the question papers and sent it to advocate Nikhil Rane, 29, who runs a private tuition class. Rane shared the pictures with Vinesh Dhotre, teacher at Lokmanya Junior College, who also runs his own tuitions. Dhotre forwarded the messages to several students, who had paid him for papers.
Dattatray Jagtap, chairperson of the divisional board said they will probe into the school’s involvement to see if any more staffers were helping Kamat and Rane, and recommend derecognition of the institute.
“If the government takes away their approval, it will set a stern example, discouraging others to commit such crimes in the future,” said Jagtap. After the police investigation is complete, the board will conduct its own inquiry, he added.
HSC students caught in connection with the leaks will also face action by the board after the police probe is over. The maximum punishment would be a ban from appearing for the next five exams.
Ban colleges from associating with coaching classes: Experts
With police investigations revealing that the source of the recent HSC paper leaks was an exam centre in Virar in nexus with several private tuition centres, experts pointed out the need for enforcing a ban on teachers and colleges from associating with coaching classes, and to find long-term solutions to plug the leaks. Printing centre-wise codes on question papers and taking undertakings from the centres are other suggestions.
Even though a Bombay high court order and the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, states that teachers employed by schools and colleges should not teach in private classes, large numbers of them continue working with such classes, said experts.
In fact, junior colleges have integrated courses, in which educational institutes partner with coaching classes. “Such collaborations create an unholy nexus between some of the coaching classes and colleges. It is surprising that the government is allowing it, despite repeated instances of paper leaks in the past three years,” said Narendra Bhambwani, former vice-president of the Mumbai Coaching Classes Association.
Assigning centre-specific codes on the question papers will help in tracking down the source of future leaks easily, said experts. The move was first proposed by the former Mumbai division chairperson, Laxmikant Pandey in 2014, but was later turned down by the state board.
School principals and teachers agree that if question papers contain codes of the centres in which they were distributed, it will discourage leaks. “The codes should be printed on each page of the paper. This will make it easy to locate the source of the leaks,” said Prashant Redij, principal, Hilda Castelino School, Kandivli and head of the Mumbai Principals Association.
Another suggestion is to ask the principals and trustees of exam centres to sign undertakings bearing full responsibility of the confidentiality of the papers, once they reach them. “The undertaking should clearly spell out what kind of action will be taken against centres if malpractices are reported from there,” said Uday Nare, teacher, Hansraj Morarji Public School, Andheri.
Experts said that students need to be made aware of the consequences of sharing images of question papers. Students found to be involved in the leak stand to face legal action along with a maximum punishment of being debarred from taking board exams for five years.
“Currently, students seem to be unaware of the extent of action that will be taken against them if they are found to be involved in the leaks or forwarding the messages to others,” said Nare.
‘Next year, students will have to arrive at centre 15 minutes before the exam’
In an attempt to curb paper leaks in the future, from next year, students will be banned from entering exam centres after 10.45 am in the morning and 2.15 pm in the noon sessions, said Vinod Tawde, education minister. Centres will have to provide comprehensive explanations if they allow students inside after the deadline. The exams start at 11am and 2.30pm in the morning and afternoon session.
Following the HSC paper leaks, the board had on March 6 asked invigilators to keep a separate note of students reaching the centre late.
Tawde told Hindustan Times on Saturday night that the department has decided to change the existing board rule that allows students to enter the exam hall 30 minutes after the exam begins. “Usually children are expected to be seated in the classroom by 10.30 am for a morning paper. So the new rule will prohibit students to report after 10.45 am.
The new rule will require centre supervisors or exam controllers to furnish a page-long explanation if any student is allowed to cross the deadline, said Tawde.
Adding he held three meetings with the cybercrime cell in Belapur to track the investigation’s progress, Tawde said,
“Even though these instances cannot be called leaks, they are serious and are tarnishing the reputation of the state board,but it’s impossible to depute more supervisors as there are hundreds of supervisors across the state.”
Further, stricter punishments will be put in place for students or teachers caught in such malpractices. “It will be more than just a few years of suspension or debarment. We will impose the strictest legal punishment, which could be a jail term,” said Tawde.