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Telangana student suicides: Activists allege private college lobby controls state board; raise doubt over IT firm that handled results

Hyderabad: The crisis in intermediate-level education marked by an unending trail of student suicides points an accusing finger at the Telangana State Board of Intermediate Education (TSBoIE). Erroneous calculations in evaluating academic performance of students, which reportedly caused at least 20 senior intermediate students to commit suicide, has lead to a wave of protests by students, parents, and civil society organisations.

The intermediate boards in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in under a massive credibility crisis due to their failure to ensure a fool-proof mechanism in conducting examinations without leakage of question papers, and an error-free evaluation and grading process. It became evident following this years' fiasco when the Telangana boards' intermediate results, declared on 18 April, were fraught with blunders. This has inadvertently cast a pall of suspicion over the software firm, Globarena Technology Private Limited, which the board picked to handle admissions, pre-examination and post-examination processes. The exercise affects the future of nearly 10 lakh students.

 Telangana student suicides: Activists allege private college lobby controls state board; raise doubt over IT firm that handled results

Protesters in front of the Telangana intermediate board office after discrepancy in exam results pushed at least 20 children to commit suicide

Furthermore, the board's role, and the procedure adopted in selecting the IT partner firm also comes under question in the backdrop of student suicides. M Madhusudan Reddy, secretary of the Telangana Junior Colleges Lecturers Association referred to a performance certificate (Dated 08-09-2014), which was issued by the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University-Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh as Globarena Technology's client, to raise pertinent questions over the rating of the software firm and its capability to handle an assignment of such magnitude.

In the performance certificate, Reddy asserted, the JNTU-Kakinada said the software agency was never involved in pre- and post-examination web-based application activities, but only took up online evaluation of answer scripts for the academic year 2013-'14. This is when the operations at JNTU-K involved only a few thousand students compared to the lakhs of students who appear for intermediate exams. Then why did the board not only entrusted the firm with the future of a lot more students than it had the proven track record to handle, while also increasing the scope of work it was supposed to undertake. Reddy demanded that the board make public the details of the contract awarded to Globarena Technology Private Limited.

Neerada Reddy Committee on suicides

The undivided state of Andhra Pradesh had constituted an expert committee headed by Neerada Reddy in 2007 to study the factors leading to students' suicides in campuses and to recommend remedial measures. Depicting the corporate colleges as “concentration camps” with students as captives, the committee observed that 17-18 study hours in a day and 10 exams in a month were some of the causes behind the stress, which caused campus suicides. The panel made 17 key recommendations to loosen the hold of corporate colleges over regulatory bodies but 13 years later and post bifurcation, neither of the state boards of intermediate education in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, managed to implement those suggestions.

"P Narayana, who runs a chain of collages by the name of Narayana colleges in both the states, is an influential minister holding municipal administration and urban development portfolio in Andhra Pradesh government. Narayana became a close relative of Human Resource minister Ganta Srinivasa Rao after he married his daughter to Rao’s son. Can the intermediate boards dare to proceed against erring corporate college managements under such conditions?" asks Noor Ahmad, a former leader of Student Federation of India (SFI).

Academics and experts frown upon the manner in which the intermediate board executes evaluation of answer scripts. Each evaluator gets 80 scripts a day which they have to finish within a span of eight working hours, leaving only four to five minutes for evaluating each answer script, including an hour of breaks in between the work. "It is humanly impossible to be accurate in assessing the performance of students under such conditions," says educationist Chukka Ramaiah, doubting the standards of evaluators.

A toothless regulator

The very objective behind the establishment of intermediate board is to regulate the colleges coming up in private and government sectors. The board is obligated to accord permissions to colleges after ensuring their compliance relating to infrastructure norms, safety measures and engagement of qualified faculty, among others things.

"It's an open secret that all the corporate colleges are running in multi-storied apartments with no basic amenities like playground and proper ventilation. None of them has a lab facility enabling science students to perform practicals," points out Maddhileti, president of the Telangana Vidyarthi Vedika.

Information obtained by Vedika under the Right to Information (RTI) Act in March, 2019 from the intermediate board revealed startling realities — out of 130 corporate colleges with 36,000 students, 76 are running without any permission in Telangana.

Maddhileti suspects the "invisible" hand of corporate colleges in the bungling in this years intermediate resulsts. All the students who committed suicide were from state-run colleges with poor background and those protesting at the board office for several days are also from the same colleges. Maddhileti alleges that it is a pre-planned "operation" to kill the government colleges while helping corporate colleges flourish.

Poor standards take heavy toll on students

The corporate education culture in Telugu states that focuses on helping students crack entrance tests of premier engineering institutes largely ignores conceptual learning and stresses on rote learning.

Vaditya Nehru, a boy from Miriyalaguda in Telangana’s Nalgonda district, had secured a top rank in intermediate and the screening tests that helped him get into Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur. He committed suicide after failing to clear the first year exams in 2012. Nitin Kumar Reddy of Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh ended his life in a similar fashion for the same reasons the next year. Nitin had secured admission in the prestigious IIT-Madras with a respectable score.

The tragic loss of lives points at the huge vacuum students experience at premier institutes, after being conditioned through modules based on rote learning developed by the intermediate boards with poor conceptual learning skills only to suit the commercial requirements of corporate colleges.

A study conducted by some professors from the states, working in IITs, revealed that around 35 percent of students from the two Telugu states are failing to clear exams at the undergraduate level after having shone in the all-India level screening tests for admissions in the premier IITs.

After medical education went into the control of national eligibility-cum-entrance test (NEET), intermediate education is forced to completely focus on engineering education. The students with poor fundamentals in their intermediate education are taking admissions in engineering courses, but a huge number of them are ending up jobless, leading to another crisis.

Author is Vijayawada - based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2019 13:26:54 IST