Bihar’s Rotten Education System and the Scapegoating of Ruby Rai

Holding Ruby Rai up as the face of Bihar’s education crisis shields the real culprits. 

3 min read
Ruby Rai, the Humanities ‘topper’ in Bihar. (Photo: Twitter/IndiaToday)

Consider the following headlines:

(Screenshot Courtesy: <a href="">India Today</a>)
(Screenshot Courtesy: India Today)
(Screenshot Courtesy: <a href="">News 18</a>)
(Screenshot Courtesy: News 18)
(Screenshot Courtesy: <a href="">Indiatimes</a>)
(Screenshot Courtesy: Indiatimes)

The general engagement with the Bihar topper scam, whether mainstream media’s or the public’s, has been an exercise in smug mockery. Bihar has always been a bit of a punchline for the urban, cosmopolitan elites and this story has been treated as more fodder for entertainment.

Another, more damaging reaction has been the knee-jerk punitive sort. Ruby Rai, the Humanities ‘topper’ in question, was arrested by a special task force after she appeared for a re-test at the Bihar School Examination Board and failed. Rai, a minor, was then sent to judicial custody. Her life since then has been a series of court appearances, re-examinations, and media interviews.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, we’ll let Satish Acharya’s cartoon make our point for us:

Systemic Rot

In this March 18, 2015 photo, family members climb the wall of a building to help students appearing in an examination in Hajipur, Bihar. (Photo: AP)
In this March 18, 2015 photo, family members climb the wall of a building to help students appearing in an examination in Hajipur, Bihar. (Photo: AP)

This photo, capturing the culture of widespread cheating in exams in Bihar, was shared virally on social media in March last year. So were anecdotes of students slipping in 100 rupee notes into their answer sheets or devising a complicated system of codes to let the examiner know that a certain paper was to be favorably checked. While it gave rise to much mirth everywhere, state and school authorities, aside from making token noises of disapproval, remained largely unmoved.

Persecuting the likes of Ruby Rai to address the issue of cheating in Bihar is like trying to patch a crumbling wall with a band-aid. Students, devoid of good teachers, a stable school infrastructure, and lack of access are naturally tempted to take the easy way out but they still remain victims of a machine they have little control over. 

Reform in the Works?

Former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian, who headed the committee which was entrusted with preparing a new education policy for India, finds in his report that there is:

... large scale corruption in appointments, transfers, approvals to affiliate and grant recognition of institutions, even going to the extent of manipulation of examination results. Political intervention from all levels is all-pervasive in selecting the location of institutions, approval of grant-in-aid status, selection of examination centres, and all senior appointments, and in many states from VC to college Principals to District Education Officers. Any functionary or close observer could give any number of examples from his own experience to substantiate this point.  

The 200-page report goes on to make 90 suggestions, like compulsory quality audit of all higher education institutions every three years and allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in the country in collaboration with Indian institutions, to enact reforms in the educational infrastructure of places like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

What the HRD Ministry intends to do with the report’s findings remains to be seen. The ball is in your court, Miss Irani. 

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