Literacy rate in Bihar has consistently been the lowest in India and it has been responsible for the state being a laggard in all developmental indicators. Education in Bihar is characterised by poor quality of infrastructure, lackadaisical attitude of teachers, rampant corruption in student welfare schemes, teacher absenteeism and chronic session delays. As a result many students migrate out of the state for higher education. Migrant bihari students have even become the main stay of several private professional colleges nationwide. Anyone who has had the discomfort of traveling in Bihar during examination or interview dates, when entire trains are taken over by examinees, would also be witness to the longing and yearning of students who wish to flee the clutches of poverty on the wings of education.
Another manifestation of this hunger for education is the widely acclaimed Super 30 which is a free residential JEE coaching program for extremely poor students that has turned out 100% success rates in last two years.
When Nitish Kumar took office, mending education was one of his key priorities. To fix the prevailing teacher student ratio of 73 : 1, he plunged headlong into recruitment of 2.35 lac school teachers at one go. Such a scale of recruitment was previously unheard of. Simultaneously he also reserved 50% positions for women and decentralised recruitment down to the panchayat level. The ensuing period has been anything but smooth, with systems creaking under record 10 million applications, post offices running out of stamps, fake degree rackets being busted, charges of corruption at ‘mukhiya’ levels, court cases being filed by disgruntled candidates, protests, ‘dharnas’ et all. Yet unfazed, the government has recruited more than 2 lac school teachers in the last 4 years and is still trying to recruit many more. While it is true that quality has given way to quantity and the endemic problems of teacher absenteeism, inadequate infrastructure etc are yet to be addressed satisfactorily, the resolve and priorities of the government have shone through. Another key development has been the realisation that gender differential (large female illiteracy) is the main culprit behind the abysmally low literacy rate in the state. Hence a number of schemes specially targeted at girl students have been launched. These include a free dress scheme & a popular bicycle gift scheme for every girl student (recently extended to boys too), ‘Hunar – a vocational training program for girls from marginalised community, and a scheme to improve sanitation facilities (Poor or lack of sanitation facilities forces many girls to drop school out of shame) in schools.
The success in higher education has been more visible. Within 6 months of coming to power an MOU with BIT, Mesra (the Private Engineering College that ceded to Jharkhand during bifurcation of state), which was hanging fire for a couple of years was signed promptly. The first batch of students will pass out in 2010 from its spanking new campus with adjoining housing facility for staff and students. Its . Another two new impressive institutions were started by the state government, albeit from temporary campuses. One of them is Chanakya National Law University that provides an integrated 5 year degree course in Law. Another one is the Chandra Gupta Institute of Management that aspires to model itself on the IIMs pattern. More good news followed when IIT and NIFT started functioning from Patna in quick succession last year.
The dream project of Nitish Kumar is however the Nalanda University. He has roped in two distinguished patrons to pilot the project – Nobel laureate Amartya Sen & Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. The project has also attracted funding interest from several budhist circuit countries . Once it comes to life, it will transport Bihar back to the glorious days at the dawn of civilization when it was a global center of learning. Other notable institutions that have begun operations in Bihar are Amity Business School & ICFAI Business School. Yet others in pipeline include AMU, IGNOU Regional Office, Aryabhatta Knowledge University etc. However not everything has worked out well . AIIMS type institute that was promised long ago has failed to take off. There are no other new Medical Colleges that are coming up. Even existing Medical Colleges are being threatened of de-recognition by MCI for lack of facilities. In case of Engineering & Management institutes too, the demand far outstrips supply. Also, most of the new institutions are operating from temporary premises. Soft infrastructure such as housing and entertainment for staff and students is still missing.
To put things in perspective, whereas during the earlier regime ‘Lathi Ghumawan, Tel Pilawan’ rallies ( Oil and wave the stick, ostensibly to ward off communal forces) were the order of the day and teachers & educationists were treated with scant respect, today education is the crown jewel of the government strategy to put the state back on track . The battle on the education front is far from over but at least it is moving in the right direction.