CBSE: Plug the real leak NOW

No amount of procedural safety, no degree of encryption, no number of locks and bolts will be enough so long as we keep reposing our faith on a rote learning system

Police show a coaching centre owner and two teachers who were arrested on suspicion of their involvement in circulating the leaked CBSE question papers on social media groups, in New Delhi.

You can never step into the same river twice, there goes the saying. Now imagine being part of a football match that is supposed to be the title-decider. You fight it tooth-and-nail right till the whistle goes off for one last time — only to be told that the referee had goofed up with the rules and so there will be a replay! Or for that matter, put yourself in the shoes of a chef in a cookery competition. You have just rustled up a sumptuous treat that has taken hours to prepare — only to be told that you’ll have to do that all over again because some of the ingredients supplied to the contestants were spurious.

Disgust. Hopelessness. Anger. Feeling shortchanged. One could just go on and on with more of such negative attributes.

Students protest against Board exam paper leak outside CBSE headquarters in New Delhi. PTI

Now think about all those students who had slogged it out for two years. Through rain and shine. Pain and patience. Trials and tribulations. Hope and despair … preparing for their ‘Board’ exams. And just when they thought that the coveted ‘finish line’ was that wee bit nearer, came a bolt from the blue: Some of the question papers had been leaked and so there would be re-examinations. According to reports emerging out of India for the past two weeks, questions for Class 10 Mathematics and Class 12 Economics for the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Examination had been leaked, sending the Board into a tizzy and the affected students into one deep, bottomless pit of anxiety, anguish and uncertainty.

Sold for Rs35,000

A section of the Indian media reported that these question papers had initially been sold for Rs35,000 (Dh1,989) each and around 1,000 students in Delhi alone might have accessed them.

As the Indian government roped in Google authorities to get to the source of the leak, it was reported last Saturday that the origin of the mail – containing images of the leaked papers, that had been sent to the CBSE office in New Delhi — was traced to a Class 10 CBSE student from Delhi who had apparently used his father’s email account to transmit the leaked Mathematics paper. Some suspects have been arrested in the last few days as furather investigations are still in progress.

Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) students display placards during a protest over the alleged paper leak, in Jabalpur. PTI

According to CBSE figures released in 2017, a total of 1.78 million students took the Board’s Class 10 and Class 12 exams that year. That’s a huge number by any measure. And given a country of the size of India, the challenges of conducting these public examinations — right from the time questions are set and until the tabulation of the last mark sheet — year on year, is a humongous task. There are so many thousands of people involved in the command chain that even a minor blip here or a negligible slip there can trigger a major catastrophe such as the one CBSE and the concerned students are saddled with right now.

Archaic academic system

The challenges notwithstanding, there can be no excuse for throwing so many students into disarray. In a country that still follows an archaic academic system that tends to put too much weightage on the traditional pen-and-paper test; where success or failure is still measured in terms of a bunch of figures on a mar ksheet; where a student’s physical and mental makeup on the given day of a certain exam can make or mar his or her life and career; in such a setup, it is no small matter to ask a student to write a particular exam twice.

A student may not be in the same frame of mind or may not be able to maintain the same level of preparedness as she or he appears for a paper the second time.

Education Secretary Anil Swarup announces the re-examination dates for the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) that were cancelled after the alleged question papers leak. PTI

So who will take the responsibility for all those students who may have done quite well in the first instance, but may not manage to retain the momentum the second time around?

While CBSE has ruled out re-examinations for the Class 10 Maths paper, students who wrote the Class 12 Economics paper aren’t so lucky as they will have to take a re-test later this month. It has been said that the leak had occurred in Delhi and Haryana and so re-examinations will be restricted only to those states. But the point is, why should even one student have to bear the agony of a ‘re-take’ for no fault of his or her? The plight of the affected students reminds one of the Franz Kafka novel The Trial, wherein the protagonist wakes up one morning and finds himself under arrest, though for the life of his, he just can’t figure out what his crime is!

A dumbing-down tool 

There is no end to blaming the government, blaming the Board, holding the gatekeepers responsible for such a shameful negligence, and so on. But all that blame-game often tends to blind us to a deeper reality, thereby forcing us to miss the woods for the trees. It’s high time we all come to realise that no amount of procedural safety measures, no degree of encryption, no number of locks and bolts, dos and don’ts will ever be enough to prevent such untoward incidents from happening again as long as India keeps reposing its faith on a rote learning system where pen-and-paper tests within a stipulated time-frame are the absolute bottom line to judge merit.

CBSE headquarters at Patparganj in East Delhi. PTI

By laying too much emphasis on ‘education’ as a dumbing-down tool and not as one that aids and abets ‘learning’, the academic structure in India has managed to contribute to the levels of desperation to beat the system through unscrupulous means. In the process, the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of a greater learning have been repeatedly sacrificed at the altar of the ‘whats’ and ‘whens’ of a lesser pedagogy. That’s where the real ‘leak’ is. Try plugging it NOW.

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