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Wednesday , December 19 , 2012
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What kids are learning from us: You can get away with anything
Schools taste student terror

Calcutta, Dec. 18: Four school campuses in and around Calcutta erupted when teenaged students held teachers hostage — through the night in one instance — demanding that they be declared passed in the selection tests.

The manner of the protest, the age of the protesters, their grown-up abettors and, most of all, the target of their hostilities should have made it one of the most shameful days in Bengal.

But, viewed against contemporary Bengal where lumpen adults have been getting away with almost anything with remarkable ease, the next generation appears to have simply borrowed tactics whose efficacy has been proved repeatedly on the street.

The response to the chaos was even more disturbing. While some schools buckled under pressure, the West Bengal Council of Higher Education announced a re-examination for failed students and those who won with grace marks at a Santoshpur school where the trouble first broke out.

“Today we saw that illegitimate demands of students got fulfilled by successfully carrying out protests. If this becomes a trend, the principle of evaluation of students in schools through examinations will become redundant…. That’s really sad for the school education system in the state,” said the principal of a reputable school.

If the children of Class XII and Class X were aping the adults, they did so with devastating effect. The teens laid siege on their teachers — some old enough to be their parents — held them hostage for as long as 22 hours and through the night, and chased as well as beat them up in one school. Some guardians injected new meaning to “proactive parenting” by squatting on a highway and egging on their children. (See chart)

The rowdy response carries echoes of what has been unfolding on some college campuses and workplaces in the state. The events at the schools suggest civic life is tasting the fruits of a trickle-down effect that have eluded the economy.

At Santoshpur, one of the protesting girls said: “It is our decision, our demand that if we are not allowed to write our HS exams, no student from our school will be allowed to do so. Plus, we will not allow our school to publish results for any of the Classes from V to VIII.”

Local Trinamul leaders and Shankudeb Panda, the general secretary of the Trinamul Chhatra Parishad, had rallied around the students during the protests. Panda said he was outside the school.

Almost all the schools conduct selection tests before the Class X and Class XII board examinations as the rules of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and the Council allow them to screen the students before they sit for them.

Some students are held back for poor performance in the selection tests. The failed students and their parents often plead with school officials to allow them to take the board examinations.

“But such organised protests are new. This means these students are not at all worried about the consequences of adopting unfair means to press for an illegitimate demand. Do the students have any regard for the rule of law?” asked the teacher of another school who did not want to be named for obvious reasons.

At Santoshpur Rishi Aurobindo Balika Vidyapeeth, trouble broke out when 29 girls who failed to clear the Class XII selection test started a protest outside the room of the headmistress around 1.30pm on Monday.

The officials promised to show the answer scripts of all the failed students but the students insisted that they be passed. A siege started around 3.30pm on Monday and continued till 1.30 this afternoon.

“We were not allowed food and water and students kept banging on the collapsible gate outside the office. Outsiders roamed around on the campus and it was scary,” said Sreemati Ghosh, the headmistress.

Initially, the council officials called the students to a meeting at its Salt Lake office tomorrow morning. Later, Muktinath Chatterjee, the council president, announced the re-exam.

The reason cited suggested that the teachers were extremely sensitive and went out of their way to accommodate as many children as possible.

According to council officials who scanned the tabulation sheets, two-thirds of 105 students who took the selection test would not have qualified but for leniency by the teachers. The council interpreted this as anomaly and ordered the retest for those who failed and those who were shown leniency.

“We found a lot of anomalies in the results. So we have decided on a re-test for all the failed students, not just the 29 whose names were not on the list,” Chatterjee said.

Headmistress Ghosh said some failed students were bumped up, considering their overall performance. “Yes, it is true that we were lenient with some unsuccessful candidates and this is done every year as we want to send as many students as possible for the board exam,” Ghosh said.

In spite of the 22-hour ordeal she and 13 other teachers went through, Ghosh did not utter a word till this evening against the students — a priceless tradition lost on the crusaders at the gates.