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Fake ICSE to CBHE — over 100 unrecognised school boards are taking Indian students for a ride

While the government is working on a mechanism to identify fake school boards, ThePrint conducted an independent investigation to find out what how these bodies operate.

Illustration: Prajna Ghosh

New Delhi: You may have heard of the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education or ICSE but have you heard of the Indian Council of Secondary Education, also ICSE? What about the All-India Council for Open Education? Or the Central Board of Higher Education (CBHE)? Or Board of Higher Secondary Education? Or Indira Gandhi Higher Secondary and Open Education?

These very academic- and official-sounding “education boards” are among more than 100 “unrecognised” schools boards that the authorities are struggling to crack down on to protect gullible students.

A list of 116 “unrecognised” boards — many of which have names similar to their bona fide counterparts — has now been put up on the website of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), which has said that it will not admit students who’ve received their schooling under one of them.

Most of the 116 boards appear to be based in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

The central government, meanwhile, is working on developing an SOP to give equivalence to various boards, which in turn will help institutes identify real boards from fake ones. The task to ascertain the ‘authenticity’ of boards has been assigned to the Association of Indian Universities (AIU).

ThePrint conducted an independent investigation to find out what these unrecognised boards are and how they operate.

A detailed email was sent to Education Secretary Anita Karwal, seeking her response on what the government has done so far to crack down on these fake boards. This article will be updated once a response is received.

In a 2013 public notice, the then Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry — now Education Ministry — clarified that education boards are “set up by the central/state/Union territory governments”.

This is either by an Act of Parliament or state legislature, or by an executive order of the central or state government, the notice said.

It further specified that “there are two national-level school boards viz. Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and National Institute of Open School (NIOS) under the Department of School Education & Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development”. The notice further advised parents to “confirm authenticity” with the HRD Ministry of “any board claiming recognition letter having been issued” by it.

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Fake boards rampant in ‘small towns and villages’

How do you tell a real school board from a fake one? The task is more difficult than it seems, according to an education official who is privy to the task of developing the SOP.

The Ministry of Education had last year asked the AIU to develop a mechanism by which marks of various boards can be considered on a par with each other, for the sake of college admissions and jobs.

During the process, the AIU will come out with a list of boards that have been granted equivalence, which in turn may help the higher education institutions identify the right boards.
Anything that is not mentioned in the list should not be considered genuine.

“Anything apart from the list of boards that we give should then be considered unrecognised,” the official ThePrint.

However, so far, there is no way of knowing which board is fake and which is genuine unless the Education Ministry releases a notification or a public notice stating so, the official said.

Even so, one giveaway is boards asking for money in exchange for school certificates.

“The boards that you see in small towns and villages promising a Class 10 certificate in Rs 10,000 or so… these are the boards that are behind that. They are usually not associated with schools, but run as independent school boards to people looking for open school options,” the official said.

The AIU is expected to release its SOP by next month. As of now, there is no information on whether the government plans to fix any action against unrecognised boards.

Targets are dropouts, those who’ve failed Class 10 or 12

To understand the modus operandi of such boards, ThePrint approached a few employees who agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity.

Some suggested that they did not make overtly false claims.

“We never claim to be associated with any school. We are listed as an independent organisation and we also provide our certificate stating that. We conduct exams as any other open board by registering the candidates with us and providing them with a certificate upon successfully passing the exam,” an employee of one unrecognised board said.

Another employee said that the board catered to the needs of school dropouts who needed a matriculation certificate to get a job.

“Most of the people who come to us need a Class 10 certificate for a job. They are people who dropped out of school early in their lives and have no chances of getting an admission now,” the employee explained.

ThePrint went through the “official websites” and social media pages of several boards that have been declared “unrecognised” by the Ministry of Education. Most omitted any mention of their affiliations, but did promise matriculation or school-leaving certificates.

For instance, the All-India Council for Open Education, on its Facebook page, promises a guaranteed pass result for Class 10 and 12 students who have previously failed.

This board also claims to be an education franchise that provides consultancy and admission services, and lists the numbers of various agents in its Facebook posts.

When ThePrint called one of the numbers listed, the person on the other end said the organisation was based out of West Bengal. Sudipto Kumar, whose number was listed, claimed to be only an employee and advised that an e-mail should be sent out to the board. ThePrint did so, but had not received a response by the time of publishing this report.

Confusing claims of accreditation and ‘legality’

Most of the 116 boards listed by IGNOU appear to be based in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

The Central Board of Higher Education, an unrecognised West Delhi-based board, claims to be affiliated from “time-to-time” with several universities. The mission statement of the website reads, “To spread modern education and revive ancient culture through classical languages such as Sanskrit.”

However, miscellaneous documentation uploaded on the website paints a confusing picture. One court order under a tab labelled “accreditation and legality”, for instance, pertains to a case involving a travel company. A certificate of accreditation on the site is barely legible. The phone number listed on the website does not exist.

The Indira Gandhi Higher Secondary and Open Education (IGHSOE) claims to be registered by the Ministry of Education. A statement on its website reads: “It is hereby informed that all the matters regarding approval and recognisation about the examination conducted by IGHSOE has been approved by Union of India through Secretary Ministry of HRD, New Delhi and the matter is also Subjudice at Allahabad High Court.”

Emails to the board went unanswered.

Calls also went unanswered to the number listed for the Delhi-based Board of Higher Secondary Education.

However, the website is filled with certifications and official-looking documents, including a link to a 2012 RTI that claims the “Ministry of Human Resource Development does not regulate the setting up of education boards. The Union of India does not constitute any statutory body to establish education boards/councils in India.”

The board also says in its site: “We never claimed or declared that our board is recognised by MHRD, Govt. of India board run by UP Education Act, 1921”. ThePrint sent an email to this board seeking a response on its status and a reply is awaited.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

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