The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal hides a lapse with a lie

Calcutta, Sept. 3: The story of Satyarup Banerjee, the ninth-ranker in this year’s Madhyamik who left a reputed educational institution because the medium of instruction was English, despite scoring 82 out of 100 in the language, does not surprise examiners.

Head examiners and examiners of English papers in the Madhyamik and Higher Secondary examinations admitted today that they were under the “strictest” instruction to give “as many marks as possible” to every candidate who “could write a sentence or two”.

Satyarup dropped out of Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur, because he could not follow the lectures in English and went to another school that taught in Bengali.

The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and the West Bengal Council for Higher Secondary Education have a policy — unwritten but more strictly enforced than every other written guideline — for evaluating English papers, said examiners.

This policy, they added, is in place to make up for another education policy that was in place till 2000: teaching students the basics of English only from class V.

“During the 1980s, there used to be so many failures in English that the spotlight invariably turned to the government’s flawed language policy,” said a senior government schoolteacher, evaluating Madhyamik and Higher Secondary scripts since 1983.

The phenomenon continued till well into the following decade and the government found itself facing uncomfortable questions after the declaration of every Madhyamik and Higher Secondary result, he recalled.

As it became clear that a whole generation of students was being ruined because of the no-English policy till class V, the government grew wiser. First, it set up the one-man Pabitra Sarkar Committee that recommended English be introduced as early as class II. Curiously, officials connected with the process said one of the reasons for the recommendation was the “widespread demand” for the return of English at the primary level.

At the same time, “word” went out to the Madhyamik and HS bosses — and from there to the head examiners who passed on the instruction to the examiners under them — that continuing debacles in the English results were denting the government’s image.

So, mark “as liberally as possible” all English papers. “Not a word was written on the change in policy but, if there was one decision the two boards implemented, it was this,” an official said.

Added to this was the gradual simplification of the English paper, particularly for those for whom it was the second language. And this had the spin-off effect: marks in the high 80s — and even 90s — for those who could barely stitch together a sentence.

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