Some four decades ago, I went with my daughter to a school designated as an examination centre for a professional entrance test. With full three hours at my disposal, I observed some 45 students, each feverishly copying from another. They were hired to copy lesson-plans for students of a university known for awarding BEd degrees by correspondence. Every aspirant was required to prepare 40 lesson-plans in his own hand, conduct classes, and present these to the evaluation committee. Entrepreneurs offered the ready-made lesson-plans for a price. Young ones were obviously lured.
This school, as many others, was supposed to be the practicing school responsible to ensure that 40 lessons were delivered in the classrooms in the presence of a senior teacher. It also conducted ‘contact classes’ to which ‘experts’ were invited to deliver lectures. Deliver one lecture, sign for four, get paid for two; and everything was in order.
This university, subsequently joined by many more, was giving BEd degrees to around 40,000 future teachers every year. One could Google ‘Bihar BEd Scandal 1999’ and get some real taste how values have been decimated in the Indian education sector by the nexus of academics, bureaucrats and politicians.
It is not an uncommon talk amongst university academics how a doctorate thesis is managed and arranged. There are universities that are known only for producing 400-500 doctorates. Recently, the Parliament was informed of two vice-chancellors whose PhD degrees were found plagiarised. The English word ‘plagiary’ is explained as ‘one who wrongfully takes another’s words or ideas’. However, plagiarism is best understood by one who knows the Latin term ‘plagarius’, which means: kidnapper, seducer, plunderer, literary thief.
Right from preparing school teachers to highest level of educational attainments, we have watched erosion of values, as also intrusion of cheaters and manipulators. The University Grants Commission (UGC) and the MHRD have recently taken serious note of plagiarism in higher education and have issued certain guidelines to ‘control the malice’.
What has led to the current situation deserves an incisive scrutiny. Ever since the UGC introduced API system for promotion and decided to award marks for publications and participation in seminars/conferences, the number of ISBN journals rose by a couple of thousands and every seminar became a national seminar. Pay and publish became the norm. It erodes honesty, integrity and commitment. Those entrusted to erase it deserve full support from genuine professionals. Imagine the damage to the image of India when seven professors of Stanford University wrote to Dr Kalam about a serial plagiarist in India who happened to be a vice-chancellor.
Indian education system must acknowledge the erosion of moral and ethical component in institutions. A solid edifice of good quality research is built only on sound moral upbringing that nurtures curiosity, creativity and readiness to take up challenges. There are institutions that understand, appreciate and adhere to these basics. They could lead by example.
J S Rajput
Former director of the NCERT