If Ruby scored 444 out of 500 marks without knowing the basics, it is larger insight into the education system's failure than hers

Bihar has arrested minor fake topper but its educational mess remains untouchedPolice arrest Ruby Rai victim of Bihar School Examination Board higher secondary exam topper scam in Patna on Saturday/PTI photo
Voices Friday, July 01, 2016 - 18:15

“Cool and brave” is how jail officials described Bihar Class 12 student’s demeanour, after she was arrested and jailed on June 26. But they are the only the last ones to ignore the possibility that she might be a minor, who has been forced to bear the brunt of the entire weight of Bihar’s flawed education system.

According to media reports, her school records show that she is a minor, and the Juvenile Justice Act, mandates that juveniles in conflict with the law are not treated harshly like criminals. But, there is no one who has come forward so far to speak on her behalf and tell authorities that she should not be in Beur Central Jail, if she is a minor as both the English and Hindi media have reported. Instead she is sharing jail quarters along with 35 women.

It does appear that the police have made any effort to procure documents to ascertain her age. With her house locked and parents absconding, her neighbours are the only ones who appear to have any care for her well-being.

With her comments about “prodigal science” and asking her father only to get her passed in the exam, she was an easy punching bag for the media’s contempt for Bihar’s education system. Taking its cue from this, the Bihar government saw a way to exonerate itself by slapping a case on her and then subsequently arresting her as well. Thankfully, it has also arrested senior bureaucrats and others in connection with the case.

If taken to its logical conclusion without sabotage or political interference, the case may help put an end to one form of corruption in education, but the larger question remains unasked: why did the students cheat and how do we rectify Bihar’s education system so that children actually learn.

The fact that Ruby scored 444 out of 500 marks without knowing the basics of class 12 education offers a larger insight into the failure of the education system than hers – and that is not her fault.

Her statement to the media that she merely asked her father to get her to pass her in the board exam, also indicates we are part of a culture that encourages parents to flaunt their children’s report cards regardless of whether numbers translate into learning.

It is great that the Bihar government has said that the guilty will not go unpunished. Education Minister Ashok Chowdhary, asserted that the government would not let any accused in the case get away and that the arrests were ‘a big success’.

The improvements that Bihar has made in educating children in the past decade, that Chowdhary listed out in the wake of the scandal, are heartening, but the case of these minors who know practically nothing of their syllabus is a stark reminder that spending 15% of the state’s GDP for education is not going to translate into quality.

The right thing to do here, would be to release the minor, as a recognition that her apparent lack of learning is our collective failure, and not arrest anymore students, but hold their parents accountable along with all the officials involved.