WHEN Calcutta-based NGO Primary Education Development Board (PEDB) first launched an alternative examination for Class IV students to test their knowledge in 1992, some 20,000 candidates turned up.
Last year, the unique PEDB examination drew 1.92 lakh students, each paying Rs 8 for this voluntary test. The huge success of this private examination, which includes an English paper, symbolises the peoples' disenchantment with the twin evils of the state government's primary education policy: scrapping English and the automatic promotion for all students till Class V.
A team of teachers, students and guardians run the examination from 2,162 centres in the state. Results of the five-paper exams are out within 90 days and scholarships ranging from Rs 600 to Rs 1,200 are given out to 250 deserving students. Citizens contribute generously to the scholarship fund coffers. "The government has tried to obstruct us many times, but the people are with us. A lot of party cadres don't come in the way, because they support us," says Kartick Saha, PEDB secretary and a primary school teacher. "They are confusing people and destroying careers," hisses school education minister Kanti Biswas. But few agree.