About 600 students in eastern India were expelled for widespread cheating in ongoing 10th grade examinations. Upon reading about the incident, I was appalled and instantly thought of the whole episode as wrong and immoral. It put my country under a degenerate light. It made me want to try to understand the reason behind the extensive cheating.
A photo that came to light depicted parents and relatives of the students taking the exam climbing the wall of a building to help the students by passing them chits with answers written on them. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Indeed, the photo is telling of the desperation that lies behind succeeding in academics in India. According to India Today, around 2.3 million students registered for the 10th grade state board examinations in 2014. This speaks to the immense amount of effort required to stand out amongst the large number of students. In addition to this, the number of seats available for 11th grade is lower than the number of students that pass the 10th grade. Herein lies the massive pressure to flourish.
Let us look at the average day of a student preparing for their 10th grade examinations — and keep in mind, they begin studying for these exams two years in advance. Their day begins early morning at 5 a.m. when they go to tuition classes, an additional form of education, until around 6 a.m., when they go to school, which starts at 7 a.m. After school ends, they rush to tuition classes again, to stay ahead of the material taught at school. They return home anywhere between 10 p.m. and midnight. I have seen my cousins back home in India go through this rigorous schedule day after day for two years, whilst forgoing extra-curriculars, abandoning their summer vacations and forsaking having fun, all to perform well in these examinations. Somewhere along the way, this drive to prevail turns into a fight for survival. With top schools in India demanding a 100 percent score, students get depressed over a score of 99. Sometimes, even that isn’t good enough.
There should be an eagerness to learn associated with studying, but for most children in India, studies turn into a burden. It is when they are pushed to the absolute limit that they turn to cheating. It is not for the fun of it — it is more of a survival instinct. The 600 students in Bihar were searching for an out from their lives of poverty. The education system is set in such a manner that it isn’t education itself that will give them this out, but it is the grades attached to their exam paper that will do this. These unrealistic standards have pushed the families to put their lives at risk to help their children thrive.
The cheating that has taken place is simply a side effect of a much more deeply rooted issue. Teacher absenteeism and insistence on rote learning and poor infrastructure, especially in rural areas such as that of the district of Vaishali in Bihar, played a primary role in pushing students to turn to dishonest methods to get good scores. I’m in no way advocating cheating, but we must accept that the education system requires drastic changes before any progress can be made. Albeit wrong, it was a combination of despair, strain to succeed and societal pressures that resulted in the mass cheating that took place in Bihar.