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Merciless meddlers

- How headmistress was humiliated

Calcutta, Dec. 20: Information trickling out has shed light on the full extent of the harassment a headmistress appeared to have suffered when the HS Council exceeded its brief and meddled in pre-board tests.

Two council representatives had gone to Santoshpur Rishi Aurobindo Balika Vidyapeeth after some students held hostage headmistress Sreemati Ghosh and other teachers through the night.

Conversations with the headmistress suggest they were humiliated in the presence of the student captors. The council also appears to have selectively made public confidential information, conveying an impression that a girl was declared passed unfairly.

It emerged that the headmistress, who was returning home after spending 30 hours in the school, was called back midway so that the council could take possession of the answer scripts over which it had no claim.

The following are what the council officials told the media and the version of the headmistress.

The intervention

The council said its secretary Achintya Pal and his deputy Moloy Roy were responding to a request from the school.

Headmistress

Ghosh said she called the council because she did not want to involve the police in a situation in which there were so many children. But she was not prepared for what the two officials actually did.

Ghosh had two numbers — one of an aide to the education minister and another of the council deputy secretary. She called both.

“Yes, I called the council and asked it to intervene…. It was my duty to inform the council and the education department in a situation like a students’ gherao,” Ghosh said.

The trial

At a meeting held in the presence of the students at the school staff room, council officials Pal and Roy announced that they had detected gross anomalies in the tabulation sheets. They also promised relief to the students. The students were overjoyed. They left with the hope that the council would ensure they could sit for the Class XII board exams.

Headmistress

Ghosh said she felt “humiliated”. “They were called to mediate and solve the matter. But when the council officials told the students that they had found discrepancies, I felt humiliated, our teachers felt humiliated.”

She added: “In my 30 years of teaching, I have never been unfair, never tried to benefit one student over another.”

The council eventually ordered (modified to “proposal” after the uproar) a retest for all the failed candidates and those the officials felt were unfairly passed.

Half-truths

At the media conference on Tuesday evening, Roy, Pal and council president Muktinath Chatterjee announced that one student who had scored “one” in a subject had been cleared in the test while many others had been failed. This conveyed the impression that the school had picked on some students and discriminated against them.

Headmistress

Ghosh said she was “most hurt” by this allegation. “I had explained to them in detail why the teachers took such a decision. This girl was found cheating in one exam. We didn’t allow her to write that paper and called her guardian. She was allowed to sit for the other exams. When the results came out, we found that her scores were close to 30 in two subjects. She had fared well in others. So we decided to clear her,” Ghosh said.

The headmistress had cleared the staff room — “even the teachers were told to step out” — and explained confidentially to the council officials the logic behind the decision.

(At the media conference, the council applied the confidentiality principle selectively.)

Retest

The council president chose the platform of a media conference to ask the school to conduct the re-examination and said the school was bound to follow the directive. On Wednesday, with the virus spreading to the districts, the president said the council had only “proposed” the re-test and did not issue any written order.

He did not mention that the headmistress herself had pleaded with his representatives to get the answer scripts re-evaluated to verify if the schoolteachers had been unfair.

Headmistress

“In a school like ours, there are many weak students and the teachers try to clear as many girls as possible. The teachers are their best judge because they see the girls through the year, year after year. The teachers don’t deserve to be called unfair,” Ghosh said.

Loaded question

On Tuesday evening, the council didn’t opt for a re-evaluation since it doubted “whether all the pages are intact”. “What if some of them have gone missing? It will be unfair on the students,” Roy said.

How a council that had no business with the pre-board exams could make such a scurrilous suggestion in public has not been explained yet.

That the council has no locus standi in matters preceding the board exam was evident by the absence of any formal communication to the school even 48 hours after the officials’ intervention and public statements.

Headmistress

“I had personally handed the answer scripts in a sealed cover,” Ghosh said.

“When I explained to the council members why we cleared the girl who scored only one in a paper, I had done so in the presence of only the president of the school managing committee. Even other teachers were not there. I had honoured the confidentiality clause any exam-related information deserves. But the council’s response came through a public forum,” Ghosh said.

Inhuman

Pal and Roy had left the school with the tabulation sheets. The answer scripts had been sealed in their presence but not taken away.

When headmistress Ghosh was almost halfway to her home after 30 hours in the school — 22 of them under siege — she was told over the phone to return to the campus “immediately” to hand over the answer scripts. She did so.

The media conference where allegations were levelled at the school was convened a little later.

Headmistress

“Since it was a news conference about my school, wouldn’t it have been fair if I had been called over to present my point of view?” Ghosh wondered.

(Some statements of the headmistress were made during a programme on news channel ABP Ananda)

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, whose Pratichi Trust is closely associated with education initiatives, was approached by a journalist in Bolpur for his reaction to the “deteriorating student-teacher relationship in Bengal”. The following is the translation of the reply by Sen, who responded in Bengali to the question in Bengali.
“It can be discussed politically from various angles. The relationship between education and politics comes into play. It’s a very big problem. It cannot be answered in two minutes. We should focus on the things that can be understood very easily but which we are not doing. Among the things one needs to do to increase good relations between students and teachers, the standard of education and making education more attractive are important.
“To bring too much politics into this — like, if I have scored less, my marks should be increased — if one thinks like this, this would surely be a cause for regret.”


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