The Government of India has brought about a legislation to amend the RTE-Act and permit states to retain students if they fail in Classes 3, 5 and 8. There is a deep discourse going on about it, and several reputed dailies have been underlining the so-called attack on the ‘progressive’ nature of this policy. I want to bring a first-hand experience to this case. But before that, I need to ask you some questions:
Before delving into the topic, I need to make it very clear that here I am neither in support of the NRP (No Retention Policy) nor against the same. No retention policy carries a very starving and compromising kind of history. Despite its sophisticated and farsighted concepts, it was mainly brought to the table to ensure higher attendance ratio of children in government schools. It is a well-known fact that on Saturdays, the attendance in government schools remains very low. Why? Because, on Saturdays, the school doesn’t serve any meals. Actually, the Saturdays are not merely a day of the week for them rather it denotes a time period when starvation deviates a certain class of our huge population. This impact of deviation can also be seen in the declining graph of enrolment as the students graduate to higher standards.
NEUPA says that almost 96% of our student population gets enrolled in primary education but only 46% of them get admitted to Class 11. This percentage will reach single digit if we move beyond bachelors. Basically, the point is that with NRP, we have solved the problem of mainstreaming most of our population more than that of educating the same. But, since it has been done in the name of education with whatever support infrastructure and governance we have, it has created a serious impact on the educational and emotional avenues of each person associated. I have come across several parents who are illiterate themselves but harbour the hope of sending their children to school.
Now, the interesting part is the analysis of the development of that child. In junior classes, life goes on like a shuttlecock where the child oscillates between the school and society. But after Class 8, the student can sense the expectations of their family. But despite being part of this education system for 10 long years, one finds oneself as too meagre to cater to increasing expectations. Then the person goes blank and chooses right away to be the part of the bottom of the pyramid as damage control. When all of this happens just before my eyes, it is quite obvious that questions over the progressive aspect of this policy comes into my mind.
This is also highlighted by the data of NAS 2017-18. This is not the first time when the policy was hoped to be implemented in Classes 3, 5 and 8. During 2000 and 2007, the same way was being followed and students of government schools were expected to qualify final exams in Classes 5 and 8. I have personally experienced it and now when I visualise my class 5 examination, it appears like a cheating marathon. Hence I am quite sceptical about the relevance of this policy revision in our contemporary education system! It unfairly puts the whole onus on a student’s ability to pass an exam rather than focusing on learning outcomes.
I have observed that in our education system since the targets are broken down and milestones are delegated to adults, they usually think only about their milestones. Some days ago, I met a research scholar at South Asian University and out of some philosophical curiosity, I just asked him “ Brother, can you tell me that how does your study helps the weakest section of the society?” The response I got was, “We study international affairs only”. This is what is happening with the bureaucracy of India. Instead of looking at the end goal, we have started thinking of milestones and hence stagnating with an ever-changing paradigm. In government schools, students are really not afraid of internal examinations. And the system supports them. This could be because of two reasons:
a) They understand that it is not going to define their future.
b) They are completely unaware of the subject matter and hence the motive is just to be a part of the process for the time being.
In both the cases, I don’t see the contemporary examination style helping our students anyway. With no retention, it was just a ladder from one room to another, but now it will decide whether one will get the opportunity to try the ladder or not. There is an immense possibility that drop out rates may increase after the eradication of NRP but there is an even bigger question. The question of the relevance of our contemporary teaching force, when children won’t be in schools to start with! In contemporary society, nobody can disagree with the increased aspiration of each human being and that is the same with attaining an education.
When NRP allows you to continue without failing (assessments are performed but they didn’t get followed up with decisive action steps), there comes a time when a student starts thinking that regardless of my results I may carry on the way I am doing right now. The same applies to parents. After passing Class 8, in a community where most of the members are illiterate, you acquire a definite position which allows you to be distinguished from others. Students study for their personal development, but when they fail for the first time, they are unable to shake off that feeling of inferiority and immediately put their dreams on a back-burner.
Parents give up on their hopes for their children and assume that they have to live a life of starvation which depresses the children further. We need to understand that development can’t be ensured through compartmentalisation. It needs convergence; not of schemes but of visionary actions for fundamental goals. Politicians can’t keep pushing their personal agendas at the cost of public good. It serves one to understand that if a nation fails to build the character of its citizen, it won’t be able to administer any other thing. That’s what happening with India right now. We are desperate to start flying but we are also not ready to untie our own feathers. Here are a few ideas for the road ahead:
Schools for entrepreneurship:
With the no retention policy, students will prefer to leave school and pursue their skills and needs. They will be honing their skills and earning a desired livelihood for sure. For formal sectors, there are enough platforms which can be availed with the help of technology. Hence, for schools to remain relevant, there is only way ahead i.e. as schools for entrepreneurship. They now either have to fall in the line or by the line.
Skilled illiterate professionals:
If a cheating marathon is the key to passing board exams for many students, in India, a plethora of skilled programmes could spearhead a commendable workforce. The fierce speed of internet is changing the speed of people’s thoughts and can empower young people to pursue their interests. It will be thrilling to see how sophisticated technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain will ensure a less corrupt and more accountable system. With a more generous executive cohort, if we succeed to ensure a leakproof self-governance of citizens, I think we are capable of achieving anything in the world. It’s time for us to reinvent education and empower the youth of our country, in the best way we can.