Back to Detention Days?

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Days after coming to power, the Delhi government asked the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) to review the no-detention policy under the Right to Education Act (RTE). Delhi’s Education Minister Manish Sisodia wrote to Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani suggesting that the no-detention policy should not apply to students beyond the third grade.

No-detention and Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) [Section 16 and Section 29 (2)(h), respectively] are two of the most controversial clauses in the rte Act, 2009. Ever since their inception, various debates and discussions have been held to study the pros and cons of the clauses. They have come under scrutiny from the public and media alike, and there is a possibility that the government may bring in a proposal to amend the laws or even do away with them.

According to Section 16 of the RTE Act, no student shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education, which is till class eight. The provisions also suggest doing away with the traditional annual examination system and instead, recommend that the performance of a child should be monitored on a regular basis throughout the year.

It has been argued by various stakeholders including parents and functionaries within the government that both the provisions will undermine the learning quality among students. The arguments range from the observation that students will not take studies seriously if they know they can’t fail, to the belief that such provisions will discourage them from learning.

In June 2012, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), which is the highest advisory body of central and state governments in the field of education, had formed a sub-committee for the assessment and implementation of the CCE in the context of the no-detention provision in the RTE Act. The committee was headed by Geeta Bhukkal, the then education minister of Haryana, and also included other state education ministers and various stakeholders from the academia and the civil society. The committee submitted its report in July 2014 and indirectly recommended doing away with the provision of no-detention. The report stated that the ‘ground was not ready’ for the no-detention policy. However, the recommendation was rejected by two members of the committee. An excerpt from the committee’s report reads as follows: “In the absence of ground preparation, the intentions of the provision have not been met at all. Since it is a serious issue related to the future of our children, we need not act in haste. We need to stop, re-assess and then move forward.”

Unable to scrap the provisions in question, the committee recommended the implementation of the no-detention clause in a phased manner. To begin with, the government could implement a system of statewide assessment at grades three, five and eight, with no detention up to grade five, provisional promotion after that and detention after grade eight (if the minimum grade-appropriate competencies were not achieved by the child). However, it suggested that the system should be undertaken only after critical infrastructural, teacher strength and teachers’ skill-set requirements are met.

Misinterpretation of no-detention and CCE

The rte Act was lauded by everyone as a landmark legislation supporting child rights. The provision of no-detention was introduced so as to make education more inclusive. The idea behind the provision was to retain every child in the school system, giving them full opportunity to complete school education and remove the fear of failure. However, it has often been misinterpreted as ‘no-assessment’. The two provisions (other being the CCE) have often invited criticism from various sectors. Educationists believe that the reason behind such criticism is the misinterpretation of the two clauses. The Bhukkal committee found that those not in favour of ‘no-detention’ have misconstrued it as: “there shall be no examinations from class one to eight and all children will be passed, resulting in a carefree attitude among students and teachers alike.” However, the fact is that Section 29 of the Act mandates that schools are to hold and use the evaluations (a better word for examinations) to improve teaching standards and to improve the learning of the child. Unlike traditional board examinations, the CCE allows the teacher to carefully observe and evaluate students’ performance throughout the year.

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