An assessment of the ‘no detention’ policy

The no-fail provision, Section 16 of the Right to Education Act, prohibits schools from detaining or expelling any student up to Class VIII. The “no detention” policy was passed in 2010 with all good intentions.

Making a child repeat a class, because of failing, was considered demotivating. Children often dropped out of school and abandoned school learning altogether. Also according to the legislation it was not right to expel a student.

The public and politicians both received this legislation with enthusiasm at the time. Professor Krishna Kumar former NCERT chief who was on the team of academicians entrusted by the UPA government to draft the law recalls, “This (no-detention) was one of the points on which there wasn’t much disagreement. The idea was to have a minimum educated citizenry.”

In any case, as many as 28 states were already following the no-detention policy in some form or the other. West Bengal, Tripura and Punjab were not detaining students up to Class IV when the Act was legislated; Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand up to Class V.; Andhra Pradesh had introduced no-detention up to Class VI as early as 1975 and extended it to Class IX well before the RTE.

But by 2012, protests against no-detention had started rising. At the 59th meeting of the Central Advisory Board for Education (CABE) held in 2012 and chaired by HRD minister Kapil Sibal, the states formally voiced their dissent saying schools were reporting huge failure rates in Class IX.

The ministry set up a sub-committee headed by then Haryana education minister Geeta Bhukkal to look into their concerns. The panel submitted a report in 2014. It observed that the policy had raised the challenge of motivating students and teachers and affected “the drive to excel or perform”. A phased out roll back of the no-detention policy was advised but because of a change in government it was not put through.

Last year, the HRD ministry again sought feedback on the no-detention policy. 22 state governments wrote back, out of which a majority of 18, including Delhi, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana sought a review of the policy.

Only Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka were in favour of it. Rajasthan and Delhi have also passed Bills to reverse the no-detention policy. These are waiting for the governor’s assent.

Gujarat Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, has pointed to the state’s poor show in Class X state board exams. Pass percentage this year stood at an embarrassing 55 per cent.

“The state is suffering ever since it (the no-fail policy) was implemented. Earlier we never faced complaints about Class VI and VII students being unable to read and write simple sentences.”

Gujarat’s Gunotsav survey, revealed that nearly six lakh students in Class VI, across all its government primary schools, failed to write words and simple sentences in their mother tongue, Gujarati.

Delhi Education Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said, “In 2015-16, 36.68 per cent of Class VI students were promoted under the no-detention policy even though they didn’t score the minimum 33 per cent pass marks. They shouldn’t have been in Class VII. No-detention is a noble way of teaching, but it’s not a very practical one”.

Educators advise that instead of one or two exams, what is required is regular assessment of the child, so as to identify those who needed help and to motivate them.

Many schools misunderstood the policy of “No assessments” to mean “No relevance of assessment”. In fact, Section 29 (2) (h) of the Act makes comprehensive and continuous evaluation (CCE) mandatory, wherein schools are expected to use test results to improve teaching and learning of the child.

CCE is a diagnostic tool to improve learning. “It is critical to measure learning outcomes to improve the quality of education. You can’t improve what you don’t measure,” says an official.

However, the CCE system is not always possible in a government school environment, with crowded classrooms and few teachers. The ideal classroom strength is 35 or 40, but in these schools teachers handle up to four classes, each with 50 to 60 students. It’s almost impossible then to do any kind of assessment, leave alone the CCE of the child.

Moreover, education is not just about sending a child from Class I to VIII but about equipping them with certain essential skills. In government schools the resources and numbers they deal with prevents that from being realised.

So the onus should not be on students but state governments, for not addressing the acute shortage of teachers and for poor management.

In a country of unequal opportunities, like ours, detention only weighs down the under-privileged. Those who send their children to government schools are low on resources and resolve. With detention the likelihood of dropping out altogether gets stronger.

The facts are that after the no detention policy Act kicked in, dropouts have decreased from 9 per cent in 2009-10 to below 5 per cent in 2013-14.

Andhra Pradesh, has also said that scrapping this rule would lead to a spike in dropout rate and, therefore, hurt the aim of universalising education.

Also an analysis of 20 of the largest states of the country shows that with a few exceptions the remaining have witnessed an increase in the overall pass percentage of Class X and Class IX exams from 2011 to 2015.

Chhattisgarh has started holding “assessments” in government schools. These are not examinations. Punjab, too, has once again started ‘external’ exams as part of a ‘Learning Outcome Evaluation System.

The present ministry is considering revoking the no detention policy. The HRD ministry has said that a final decision to annul the article will only be taken after consultation with all the states.

The issue is likely to figure at the high-profile Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) meet scheduled on October 25.

If all major states favour scrapping the law, the Centre could bring a bill to amend the clause in next session of the Parliament.

However, it might make better sense to increase teacher student ratios in schools so that CCE may be possible and education improved overall.

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