For Ayush Kumar Panjiyar, 17, it was a timely escape from lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, as he managed to catch the last train from Vijaywada for Patna with some of his friends before tracks went silent.
A resident of village Bhutahi under Sonbarsa block of Sitamarhi district, he studies at Sri Chatanya’s Vijawada campus for the last eight years. Though lucky to be back to be with his family in the nick of time, he is concerned about the unfinished exam of class 12 board and his preparations for IIT-JEE, like many others.
Every year thousands of students from Bihar migrate outside state in search of opportunities of admission in reputed institutions across the country. Earlier, it was mostly for higher or technical education, but now parents take the tough decision of sending their wards even for schooling or coaching purposes.
Though the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has announced the dates for remaining papers in July and his computer paper is scheduled on July 7, Ayush is worried how he would reach Vijawada again, around 1625-kms from Sitamarhi.
“We hope the college reopens. Our exam centre is near our college. But we have to get tickets. All my friends are also concerned. When we left, there was not so much fright about COVID-19, as it had just started. It started sinking in gradually. But now, there is a lot of anxiety. Family members are also apprehensive about our safety,” said Ayush, adding that soon after board exams, he has his JEE (Mains) exam in the same month and JEE (advance) in August, with centre in Vijawada.
He said that everything happened very quickly after the college announced that the administration had ordered closure and that the hostels would also have to be vacated. “We were told that we should go home,” he said, recalling how all the students started contacting their parents immediately for Tatkal tickets, realizing little that it could turn out to be a long haul.
“My father tried for Tatkal ticket, but it was not possible. Later, he got me an unconfirmed AC-2-tier ticket, but it got confirmed just in the nick of time. All my friends were, however, not so lucky, but still lucky enough to board the Sang Mitra Express, which turned out to be the last train before lockdown from Vijawada,” he added.
In the heat of the moment, Ayush said, the students carried just enough books, hoping that they would return soon. “Nobody apprehended then that it could stretch so long. But with lockdown extending, it has posed new challenges, as books are not available here. We are doing what we can within the available means,” he added.
Ayush said that at the school, there was packed routine from 6 am to 10 pm, with small breaks in between. “There were three hours each for the main subjects – Physics, chemistry and mathematics – and rest for self-study and doubt removal. During lockdown, there are online classes for six hours everyday. I manage it with my mobile phone,” he added.
His father, Ajay Kumar Achal, Bhutahi primary agricultural cooperative society (PACS) chief, sent his son to a distant place on the advice of his friends in the hope of quality education.
Lakhs of students from Bihar go to Kota, Vishakhapatnam, Vijaywada, Hyderabad, Dehradun and various other towns in search of better schools, colleges and coaching institutes – a reflection of the slide the state, which boasts of the a rich legacy of ancient knowledge centres like Nalanda, Vikramshila, Telhara and Odantapuri, has witnessed.
“Generally people talk about Kota, but a large number of Bihar students also study in Vijayawada, Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam and other places, though it is not an easy decision to make. But then, education is very important. All the guardians are worried about sending their wards for exam. We hope things get normal, else it will be a huge problem. The CBSE should also think on these lines, as thousands of students from Bihar study outside,” said Purnnath Kumar, a school teacher who has also sent his ward to Vijawada.