HIGH STAKES

Indian parents are scaling walls to help their kids cheat because economics

Quartz india
Quartz india

Everybody knows cheating is rampant in India, but there’s just something about these images:

In the ultimate act of enabling, hundreds of parents and family members in Bihar were caught on camera brazenly climbing walls and standing on window ledges to pass papers to students taking the state’s class 10 standardized test.

One parent told NDTV why he felt the need to help his kid: “These government teachers don’t teach anything in schools. Most of the times they are absent. That’s why we have to resort to such things to help our children.”

The government doesn’t do anything to help students because it doesn’t have to, economist Atanu Dey tells Quartz. Bihar is a mineral-rich state, so there’s no incentive for corrupt government officials to focus on education.

“This is called the natural-resource curse,” Dey says.“Whoever controls the levers of government gets to extract quite a lot of that wealth.” One reason places like Hong Kong and Singapore have high rates of education is that they don’t have natural resources, so the governments have to invest in their people for economic gain, Dey says.

Students around the country have been taking the class 10 and class 12 board exams this month, inspiring obsessive news recaps. Students must pass the class 10 exams to move on to upper secondary school and to eventually have a chance at university.

Because the government has such low incentive to invest in education, there are limited seats in class 11 and a miniscule acceptance rate at India’s most competitive colleges. So in order to get one of those seats, it’s not enough to just study and do well on these tests, Dey says. You have to be the best.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world, in some sense,” Dey says. “Poor government leads to these outcomes.”

A brazen attitude

School authorities in Bihar have barred more than 500 students from taking the test in response to this latest round of open cheating. The state’s education minister put some of the blame on parents, telling press that the state could not be expected to ensure fair testing with more than 1.4 million test takers.

This isn’t the first cheating scandal to hit India. NDTV notes that a few hundred students faced the same punishment for cheating during Class 12 exams last year, and an LA Times story last year detailed nation-wide stories of bribery and high-tech cheating.

The cheating in Bihar has been open, with few people seeming to expect this level of retribution. A Indian photojournalist who documented the students cheating told the BBC that no one seemed to take note or stop what they were doing when he started taking photos.

Amitava Kumar wrote A Matter of Rats, a book about Bihar’s capital city, Patna. In it he details how administrative corruption and entitlement have created a culture of open cheating without consequences, even past secondary school. From the book:

In Patna University, a faculty member told me, it is entirely possible for examinations to be delayed by two or three years, and when examinations are finally held, everyone feels free to cheat. A nun who was the proctor at an examination in Patna Women’s College was asked by a woman she had caught copying answers from hidden notes: “What kind of a Christian are you? Why are you not showing any compassion? My husband was sick all night. I took care of him.”

home our picks popular latest obsessions search