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Does 'No Detention' Mean No Retention?

Many teachers complain the RTE’s ‘no detention policy’ harms students’ performance. I disagree.

08/05/2017 8:35 AM IST | Updated 08/05/2017 1:26 PM IST

By: Alston D'souza

India Fellow

Gopalganj, Bihar

As a part of the induction training of India Fellow in Udaipur, I visited a few schools to understand from the teachers about the poor learning levels of our primary school children. The most frequent reason was "we are not allowed to fail (detain) any student up to Class VII, and have to promote all the students irrespective of their grades." This is the gist of the No Detention Policy or NDP, and it came up repeatedly in the schools that I visited.

If studying is reduced to something one does out of fear of impending examinations, the whole point of education is lost.

When I joined my organisation PRAYOG, which works to improve the learning outcomes of students in some of the government schools in the Gopalganj district of Bihar, I got a chance to interact with several teachers there. Again, they cited NDP as the foremost reason for poor learning—there was "no fear of exams" amongst the students and they were not motivated to study.

Before taking a stand on the NDP, I looked up why this provision was included in the Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009, which makes provisions for free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14yrs under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. Section 16 and 30 (1) of the RTE Act articulates that no child shall be expelled and no child shall be required to pass any Board examination till completion of elementary education i.e., Class 8.

Here are some of the arguments against this provision by the teachers whom I interacted with:

"There's no fear of examination amongst the students, so they don't study."

To this my counter is that studying is not a means to pass examinations, but an end in itself. Moreover, if studying is reduced to something one does out of the fear of impending examinations, the whole point of education is lost. It reiterates the misplaced view we as a country have on education. A child is to be educated not for the purpose of passing exams, but for her holistic individual development, to build critical thinking and reasoning faculties and reason, to provide a means of accessing and sifting through knowledge and be able to generate new ideas, to be emotionally capable of taking care of oneself, and take a step towards building a society where a person's freedom and rights are safeguarded.

India Fellow

"What is the point of exams if we can't detain them?"

Examinations aren't a litmus test to promote or detain, but to assess how well children are learning. Examinations in primary schools are administered for the teacher to focus on the kids who need more support. These assessment results are to be used to provide support for the students so that they are able to learn what they missed.

"This policy promotes students althoughthey haven't bothered to learn."

It is the responsibility of the teacher to teach the student in the lower classes. It's not as if students have a stubborn wish to not learn. The school administration is supposed to make sure that the teachers are teaching and aren't pushing the kids to a higher class. I agree that all the students cannot learn at the same level and pace, and Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) is a provision that is required. Not a detention policy.

Currently, the teachers escape the pressure of ensuring learning by letting the students cheat in exams. With a detention policy, they will not have the pressure of teaching.

The prompt for this post was an examination I recently witnessed being held. The teachers here actually let the students "cheat" to secure passing marks, rather than assessing them honestly to give them remedial classes and then reassessing them to ensure they have learnt. The teachers' logic? "What's the point of these exams? We have to promote them anyway. So, instead of administering a re-test, we let them pass."

Now, let's look at the other side of this argument:

A detention policy gives teachers the right to hold back students in a class until they clear the examination. For a promotion, the children and their parents focus on clearing the examination. Education becomes exam-centric and not learning-centric.

  1. Currently, the teachers escape the pressure of ensuring learning by letting the students cheat in exams. With a detention policy, they will not have the pressure of teaching. It will be the parent/child's responsibility to get education from private tuitions or elsewhere.
  2. This can also open the gates for corruption. Corruption inevitably arises from the way the system is designed. With the lack of transparency and accountability in the current system, the student's promotion rests in the hands of the teachers.

Without making the teachers accountable for the learning of the students, without making the school answerable to parents, without incentivising the teachers and schools to perform better, there cannot be a sustainable school system that could self-propel while also delivering the expected outcomes.

I want to conclude by saying that most children are incredibly curious by nature. Their natural tendency is to question and learn. It should be our responsibility as teachers and adults to feed this curiosity and not encourage rote-learning of textbooks and dogma. We should focus on teaching the child to want to know the world around him/her, question it and try to improve it. The focus should not be on merely passing examinations, scoring high marks and getting a job.

*About the Author: Alston D'souza, is a fellow from the current batch of the India Fellow Social Leadership Program. With a project focused on education, he talks about the conflicting views shared with him about the RTE's No Detention Policy. Alston works in Gopalganj, Bihar with PRAYOG to improve the learning outcomes of the students in the Government schools.

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