Advocating for the No Detention Policy

Meera Samson and Anuradha De

13 December 2017

It is a matter of great concern that the current session of Parliament may see the passing of the bill to amend the ‘no detention’ policy provision in the Right to Education (RTE) Act. The existing policy does not allow students to be failed or expelled till Class VIII. This provision is sought to be changed in the new bill with the stated objective of “improve(ment) in the learning outcomes in the elementary classes”. Students in Classes 5 and 8 may be kept back if they do not clear the annual examinations in March. They are to be given a second chance to clear the examinations in May. During the deliberation process leading to the amendment, over 20 states had argued that ‘no detention’ has resulted in lowering of educational standards and increase in drop-out rate after Class IX.

There are many reasons why the ‘no detention’ policy should not be scrapped. We need to begin with why it was there in the first place. It was not because the eminent group who worked on formulating the RTE was not concerned about children learning. It was because the RTE is primarily concerned about bringing all children into school and educating them for at least eight years. The argument most strongly in favour of having a ‘no detention’ policy is that detention (widely termed as “failing”) leads to children dropping out of school, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Parents and adolescents confirmed again to us in recent research studies in states as different as Haryana and Maharashtra that failure / detention was the main reason for which the young person dropped out of school. Under RTE they are protected till Class 8 but often dropped out after that due to failure.

It is important to understand the different components of the RTE and how it strengthens the education of children. RTE is concerned about the rights of children to all round development. Teaching is to be child-friendly, with teachers using activities and building on what the child knows already. RTE sees learning as a holistic process, which explains why it stresses the need for Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) rather than placing the emphasis on the annual examinations, on the basis of which students would be detained. ‘No detention’ policy was never meant to be understood as ‘no assessment’.

RTE is against schools functioning as institutions which shame children. That’s why it is concerned with age-appropriate enrolment, and has prohibited corporal punishment. These are ideas contrary to what many adults have grown up with, when fear and shame have been used to incentivize children to study. RTE has stipulated that all inputs required for a functional school be put into place – norms for pupil teacher ratios, qualified teachers, and basic infrastructure.

The problem is that implementation of RTE is very challenging. It requires the state to increase its investment in education so its government schools meet the basic requirements. It requires private players to ensure that their schools meet the basic requirements of a school. It also requires private players to admit 25% of their enrolment in the entry year to be children from the EWS, and thus build more equity into the system.

The challenges are not only in terms of resources. There are other major challenges in terms of improving teaching quality. The fact is that students without much home support require more time, effort and teaching skills. This is a difficult task in the context of current policies on recruitment of teachers, with regard to limited regulation of preservice training and provision of short bursts of in-service training. Just having more of what is there at present is not enough. Modifications of strategies are required, more resources and more inputs are required; a change in management structure and quality of inputs is also necessary.

Limited efforts are being made to meet RTE norms. Every year, the RTE Forum conducts a stocktaking exercise to assess progress towards meeting the requirements of RTE and finds major shortfalls on all counts. Government schools do not have the basic requirements in terms of sufficient number of motivated and trained teachers and infrastructure in spite of the rhetoric of increasing public expenditure. Private schools are a mix, and not all schools comply with the RTE norms in terms of teachers, infrastructure, evaluation and the 25% reservation in admissions at entry level. The government is unable to ensure their compliance, particularly the reservation clause.

Children’s lack of learning is a failure of the state on many other counts. Vulnerable households still exist in both rural and urban areas who may not be able to ensure that their children attend regularly. The classroom processes have not been sufficiently adapted to address the needs of these children. More importantly the assessment system in the form of CCE has not been implemented in its true spirit in many states. It’s important to note that the states which have implemented CCE are the ones in favour of retaining the ‘no detention’ policy.

Rather than taking action to strengthen their commitment to RTE and bring all children into school, and provide them with schooling in which they learn with dignity, policy-makers seem united in attacking a clause which will take away protection offered to children who are falling through the cracks, and facilitating their being ejected from the system. This will particularly play into the hands of the private school lobby who will no longer have to struggle to include children from EWS backgrounds, particularly those who are performing poorly in a system heavily weighted against them in terms of language and other socio-economic barriers.

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