The 86th Constitution Amendment Act, 2002 requires the state to provide free and compulsory elementary education to all children. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008, seeks to give effect to this Amendment. All children between the ages of six and 14 years shall have the right to free and compulsory elementary education in a neighbourhood school and more importantly, a child shall not be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. A child who completes elementary education shall be awarded a certificate irrespective of whether the student has acquired adequate knowledge or skill.
A lot of effort has been put by academicians to re-introduce the old pass-fail system against the default promotion to the next class, brought in as part of the implementation of the Right to Education Act. This goes against the educational psychology which says that the rate of development in a child up to 10-12 years is not same. But once they attain a certain age, the brain is developed. Hence in elementary education, the examination system should be more case study based and oriented towards practical skills rather than rote learning and no child should be detained.
The central government had asked for written responses from all State governments on the no detention policy, according to news reports. Though, academicians say, “Just by detaining our kids, we cannot transform our students into good learners.” The teachers often complain about ‘no detention’ and ‘no punishment’, seeing exams as the most effective tools of pushing children to learn, and push harder and as we have witnessed, this is seen as a necessary condition for making children learn.
Both claims, it seems, have some truth in them but miss the real issue by a wide margin. In rural parts of our country, especially in public education system, exams have a tendency to become the only source of motivation for learning. All educated Indians are thoroughly conditioned to believe that “no exams means, no learning”. This belief is easily transferred to children in a system that has almost no idea of the joy of learning in itself. The exams are not the only system to ascertain quality. The state should focus on other measures of learning. Central Government in the budget 2017-18 has announced that it will measure the learning outcomes in elementary classes across India, and this would be an excellent step forward.
Lately, state governments such as Rajasthan, have introduced Board exams in Class 5th and 8th to ensure the quality education at elementary level, and it can be seen as a regressive step and shift towards old detention system.
The government should make the necessary amendments by identifying certain skills as parameters for promoting students to next class rather than exams. It will help the teachers to keep track of the academic growth of a student and hence in planning further interventions to fill the void in educational achievements.