Deputy CM Dinesh Sharma leads campaign against those who illegally aid students, but government’s move invites criticism from academia and the opposition.
New Delhi: Over 66 lakh students were slated to appear in board examinations in Uttar Pradesh this year, which began on 9 February. However, within just four days, a total of 10.56 lakh students have dropped out, according to state government data.
This drop of more than 15 per cent can be attributed to a major drive started by the Yogi Adityanath government to prevent mass-scale cheating in the exams.
“You would be surprised to know that around 70 per cent of these dropouts are from other states who came only to appear in exams,” Dr Dinesh Sharma, Deputy Chief Minister and the person in charge of education in the state, told ThePrint over the phone from Lucknow. “Copying in examinations has become very normal in the state, and we had to end this menace.”
However, implementing such a sudden, large-scale crackdown on cheating has invited criticism from academia and opposition parties.
As early as August last year, the government started putting up the framework for cheating-free examinations in 2018. Dinesh Sharma chaired several meetings with education department officials to finalise a strategy.
As a first step, the notification for February examinations was released in October last year. “Normally the notification would only come by December end. But the government was of the firm view that this would give students ample clarity on their preparations,” said Dr Awadh Naresh Sharma, UP’s director of secondary education.
Right from the selection of examination centres to coding answer sheets and installing CCTV cameras, the government used every possible technology to ensure a free and fair examination.
In the past, exam centres would be allotted manually. For the first time, schools were asked to apply online if they wanted exams to be conducted on their premises.
“They were strict norms, such as there should be CCTV installation in each class, a boundary wall around the school campus, and no hostels or teachers’ residences within the school compound,” the deputy CM said. “The special software selected only those schools which fulfilled all these requirements.”
A team comprising of the district magistrate, the district education inspector and other officers, visited all the schools selected by the software for the final approval.
During the 2017 examinations, 11,415 centres were approved for 55 lakh students. This year, for more than 66 lakh students, only 8,549 centres were approved.
“Earlier, schools with literally no infrastructure would also conduct examinations. An online system followed by verification and GPS marking helped us reduce the number of centres,” added Dinesh Sharma. “A lot of representatives, ranging from MLAs to some local leaders, came to me for relief in the norms, but I didn’t allow anything.”
Tackling the various methods of cheating
After the identification of centres, the biggest task was to crack the cheating modules. “We had decided that no student or teacher would be arrested or sent to jail. The target would be on those who facilitate cheating,” said Sharma.
There are four prevalent modules of facilitating cheating in examinations in UP.
‘Solver’ method: This is where a different person appears in place of the candidate and writes the answers. To avoid this, all the admit cards of the students were verified through Aadhaar-linking.
“Till date, six people from two places have been arrested for trying to appear as solvers for the candidates, and have been sent to jail,” Sharma said.
Question paper leak: This was a rampant practice in the past. To avoid this, three sets of question papers were prepared from the beginning, and the movement of question papers was tracked through GPS.
On 7 February, news came from Hardoi that the English question paper had been leaked by a school administrator. The man was arrested immediately, and within no time, a new set of question papers was supplied to all the centres.
Answer sheet swap: In the past, there were reports that back pages of answer sheets were exchanged between a student who had done well with another student, favouring the latter. This time special codes were assigned to each answer sheet, and adding and attaching any page at a later stage was made impossible.
One printing press in Jaunpur was raided and people who were trying to print duplicate answer sheets were arrested.
Narrating answers: The fourth and most common method of cheating in rural areas was that one person would narrate the answer to a class or a group of students, in connivance with the centre in-charge.
“CCTV cameras helped us in eradicating this. Special identity cards were also issued to all the invigilators for the examination,” said Sharma.
Two such incidents were reported from Allahabad and Pratapgarh, and in both cases, the persons involved were arrested.
The total duration of the examinations has also been reduced from two and a half months to one month – for class 10, the examinations will be over before Holi at the beginning of March, while for class 12, the last paper will be held on 9 March.
The district administration as well as the deputy chief minister himself has been conducting raids on regular basis on exam centres to prevent cheating in schools.
The government’s move has been criticised by various quarters – social and political.
Lucknow-based youth sociologist Vinod Chandra said: “Cheating in examinations is a deep-rooted problem, and cannot be treated superficially.
“Cheating is an outcome of improper teaching, and students are only victims of the system, which has over the years forced them to adopt such things. There is an urgent need to revamp the education system where teachers, right from the primary school level, should be engaged more in teaching rather than doing other work.”
Chandra said the Yogi government could feel the political heat for this move. “The youth, which voted for the BJP in large numbers in previous elections, could go against it,” he said.
Observers recall the events of 1991 when Rajnath Singh, as the education minister in Kalyan Singh’s government, brought in an anti-copying ordinance. A large number of students and teachers were arrested during the examinations that year. Later, Mulayam Singh Yadav made it a huge poll issue in the 1993 assembly elections — Rajnath even lost his own Mahona assembly seat, while Mulayam formed the government in partnership with the BSP.
Sunil Yadav ‘Sajan’, spokesperson and MLC of the Samajwadi Party, said: “This is an eyewash reform by the Yogi government. It is not bothered about the quality of education and the non-availability of teachers. How does it expect students to pass if they haven’t been taught?”
Manjeet Chaturvedi, retired professor of sociology at the Banaras Hindu University, said it would be better if the government promoted vocational education as an alternative. “The time has come for the government to think of encouraging vocational education over normal education. A mere crackdown on cheating won’t help,” he said.
Full revamp in the pipeline
Deputy CM Sharma, however, assured that several measures to revamp the education system were in the offing.
“We are going to introduce NCERT syllabus from the next session, and all the teachers would get two and a half months of training for the same. We have reduced the number of holidays, and would appeal to students to attend schools where they would be taught properly,” he said.
But when it comes to cheating in exams, there can be no relief, he insisted. “Come what may, this is not going to change. I am a teacher myself, and know the importance of education,” he said.