Nearly 9.74 lakh students took the Intermediate public examination in Telangana this year. Three lakh students failed. Since April 18, when the results were declared, 20 students have committed suicide. The website of the Telangana State Board of Intermediate Examination (TSBIE) was down for a couple of days after the announcement of the results. The students could not log in and pay for recounting. With the last date a day away, this created more panic.
As the parents and the students began to gather outside the board office, they discovered that some were marked absent for exams they sat for; single digit marks and sometimes zero marks were found on marksheets while they had scored exceedingly well in the first-year exams in the same subjects. Many such serious anomalies were discovered when they began to compare notes and began talking to media persons.
The response of the government and the board was to deploy police on a large scale and impose Section 144 in the area. In an ugly display of brute force, the police began to manhandle parents and students, bundle them into police vans and take them away for detention.
Inter exams are crucial for students
April, May tend to be peak examination season. It is a time of anxiety for parents, teachers and students, especially for those taking the crucial final exams like the second year Intermediate or Class 12. Crucial because the exams determine the professional track of the student and can be life changing. In the Telugu states, where preparing for the medical and engineering competitive entrance exams has become a given from Class 7 onwards, it is also the point which decides whether the five years of relentless pressure and sacrifice have led them closer to their aspirations or not.
In the years when private educational institutions specialising in coaching for entrance examinations were allowed to gain an upper hand, Intermediate marks did not count. Only the entrance marks mattered for admission to professional colleges. In 2009, 25% weightage for Intermediate marks was introduced to moderate the impact of coaching shops that were not teaching conceptually but were imparting short-cut techniques for cracking the examinations.
Following this, many of the private coaching establishments started their own intermediate colleges. There are some 963 government colleges to 1,520 private colleges in Telangana, according the government data. Out of the 9.74 lakh students who appeared for the Intermediate exam, some 3 lakh students have failed or have different sets of problems with their result.
With the EAMCET 2019 exam scheduled to commence on May 3, the students and parents began to panic at the delay in the results followed by the additional confusion of revaluation and the need to take supplementary exams. For admissions to the engineering and medical streams, even a difference of .5 in marks can mean a 500 slide in rank. Every mark counts.
The unresponsiveness of the agencies involved and the government for nearly a week, with students committing suicides, made the situation worse. Without admitting anything was wrong, the Education Minister who surfaced after four days from his political priorities, kept repeating that there was a need to see if anything went wrong, even as the bureaucrats of his department already admitted to lapses. He also repeatedly accused the opposition of politicising the issue.
The many issues with the junior college system
The resultant mess brought to the fore many issues.
The junior college system is severely understaffed. The teachers to this system are selected through rigorous screening and the seniors are experienced in handling the conduct and valuation of the examination.
Because of the shortage of competent staff, ad hoc employees and teachers from the private sector who are not familiar with valuation norms are roped in on a large scale. The procedures for cross-verification and minimising errors in tabulation are widely understood by many of the senior valuation staff but the system now is disproportionately dependent on staff unfamiliar with the processes.
Some of the teachers involved in the evaluation work have claimed that the duration given for evaluation was shortened and therefore teachers were compelled to correct 60 answer books a day instead of 30, which was the norm. This is how the years of hard work put in by the students and parents gets treated at the most crucial juncture of the process. The results, nevertheless, were held back and declared on 18 April after the Lok Sabha voting was done on 11 April.
Outsourcing the work of digital processing to a private sector player with a dubious track record, Globarena, is a new factor introduced into this expanding crisis. Manual handling of processes, if for some reason the software develops problems, especially for receiving the revaluation fee at the counters or through challans in banks, etc., are not in place. When the students and parents come to the board office for information, there is panic with police cracking down on them.
Teachersâ€™ union office bearers have been telling the media that there have been glitches in the online system while managing the collection of examination fee in October and later in issuing the hall tickets as well. Repeated appeals to the board to fix the problems went unheeded. But after the disaster struck, the Minister has hinted repeatedly to the media that the members of the teachersâ€™ Joint Action Committee may be responsible for the lapses and strict action will be taken against those found guilty. No mention of the possible problems with Globarena.
Lapses by the board and government?
It was the Chief Ministerâ€™s intervention after a week that resulted in the setting up of a three-member committee to find out what went wrong. The committee found fault with both the board and Globarena for various lapses and suggested remedies such as thorough re-evaluation of answer sheets of students whose first year and second year marks have wide disparity. However, The Hindu quotes the Secretary (Education) B Janardhan Reddy as saying that the agreement between Globarena and the board was not yet signed as it was decided to do so only after the declaration of the results. Is this how government contracts are given out â€“ without defining legally binding deliverables from the agency? Then what is the purpose of calling for tenders?
The government weakened the junior college system by not recruiting faculty and starving the system of support. The board has been accused often of not playing its role as a regulator, of allowing private payers to hijack and dictate terms to it.
Meanwhile, some rumours are afloat that the government is thinking of scrapping the Inter board altogether. Classic instance of disaster capitalism if any â€“ profiting private players on the back of a man-made disaster!
From November to April, the Telangana state has been in an administrative limbo because of the uncalled-for early dissolution of a stable government that commanded majority. After dissolution of the assembly, the caretaker government and its ministers were in election mode for the December 2018 state assembly election.
For two months after the elections, the TRS party, which won with a handsome majority, did not feel the necessity to form a cabinet with ministers assigned to specific departments. After a lot of public comment and a PIL in High Court, the cabinet was announced but it was soon followed by the Lok Sabha elections on April 11.
Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, the state government initiated the process for elections to the ZPTCs and MPTCs. All the senior ministers, including the minister in charge of education, have been busy politicking, either in elections or in luring elected representatives of opposition parties to defect from their parent parties. Effectively from November 2018 to now, there was no functioning government in place despite a significant mandate the gullible voters bestowed on the ruling party in 2014 and again in 2018.
In sheer hubris, the TRS has declared the opposition dead after aggressively enticing opposition legislators to defect. Is this a lesson in democracy that opposition cannot be eliminated by buying the politicians? The people will still raise issues. They are the opposition.
Padmaja Shaw is an activist and academic based in Hyderabad.
Views expressed are the authorâ€™s own.