Demo dividend only when cheating stops

A decade ago, we saw the iconic (sic) photo of an exam centre in Bihar with young men standing on the windowsill of a school building while another set stood outside the campus. The two groups were ‘helping’ students inside ‘crack’ the exam – by cheating. This was hardly an anomaly. Cheating is a bane in India, where competition for university spots and public sector jobs can be fierce. In 2021, Rajasthan was actually forced to shut down the internet to prevent fraud during teacher eligibility exams.

While Assam, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Karnataka have passed laws to combat this, India lacks a national statute. On Monday, GoI introduced the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill. It seeks to punish those leaking exam papers for school, college or government job applications. Offenders face up to 10 years in jail and a Rs 1 crore fine. This is a serious and welcome deterrent. All offences are cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.

The Bill is welcome, and states that don’t have cheating laws must start working towards one. Cheating not only upends the level playing field among candidates but can also lead to wrong kind of recruitment that can seriously affect – and may well have already affected – governance quality and capability. If India is serious about reaping its much-repeated demographic dividend, this gash in the system must be sown.
However, along with a law, stakeholders must try to answer what forces candidates to cheat.

Answer: an educational/recruitment system that fails to respond to myriad learning needs of students, lack of an alternate structure that can help them skill-up, and a society that puts enormous, irrational importance on marks and degrees. This mindset needs to also change.


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