ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Back to the 'Fail-Pass' System?

The call to rescind the no-detention and continuous evaluation policies in schools is misguided .

The no-detention policy (NDP) and the provision for continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) under the Right to Education (RTE) Act have both led to criticism as well as approval from educationists and parents, with the fault-finders dominating the discourse. This led to a subcommittee of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) being set up in 2012 to look into how the CCE had been doing. Its report, received in July 2014, throws its weight behind the naysayers, calling for examination to assess learning-level outcomes and for the reintroduction of detention for low achievers. The central government has pointed to a number of states wanting the NDP to be abolished and to the CABE’s unanimous agreement with this demand. This implies that the promotion of school students up to Class VIII, irrespective of their academic results, may now be stopped.

The National Curriculum Framework 2005, which itself was based on the much earlier “Learning without Burden” report, had recommended that the assessment system needed fundamental changes. The traditional end-of-the-year exam equated a strong memory with learning, discounting comprehension and understanding. The CCE, in response, aimed at assessing the child’s understanding of what was being taught in class at periodic intervals.

But there is no law, unfortunately, that decrees that well-intentioned policies should lead to good consequences. The Indian school system is a Byzantine one, compounded by the disparate socio-economic situation of its students as well as the endemic shortcomings in infrastructure and resources, including pedagogic. The NDP was being followed in various states and up to different classes even before the RTE came into force. However, not many parents were enamoured of it. The traditional exam and report card gave them an estimate of their child’s performance and thus a sense of whether or not the child was “progressing.” Its absence led to uncomfortable ambiguity. Now, the learning outcomes have declined according to the National Survey report, especially in rural government schools. Sadly, a policy meant to ensure that the student did not feel demotivated and leave the school altogether has been so badly mauled in its implementation that it is now in danger of being thrown out.

As a number of educationists and teachers have pointed out, the NDP was wrongly assumed to mean that there was no need for assessment of any kind or that assessments really had no significance. The CCE implementation has had even more problems. For starters, the already overloaded teachers had little to no training to undertake this massive reform; where training was present, it was reported to be unhelpful. There were different interpretations of CCE and therefore the means of implementation too varied. The paperwork and administrative tasks required of teachers increased, while parents now had to participate in the children’s “project work,” leading to parental resentment. Most Indian parents find themselves more comfortable with exams at the end of each term which pressurises the child to “study.” The NDP was seen as giving children too much latitude while the CCE only seemed to drive the teachers to breaking point. In short, given the way the two were implemented there seemed to be no winners.

 The central point in this debate should be, will detaining children whose academic results are considered poor help them to do better academically and not drop out of school? How will simply repeating a class in the same learning/teaching environment help the child? Again, if the CCE is seen as burdensome by teachers, there should be consistent attempts to clarify this concept to them and help them improve the teacher–student relationship. What also needs to be considered is that the other provisions in the RTE regarding the amenities, teacher–student ratio, facilities that enhance learning, etc, cannot happen overnight. The issue of teacher-training and qualification is an extremely fraught one that needs sharper policy focus and more creative solutions. The NDP and the CCE cannot have satisfactory results in an inadequate environment, as the past few years have shown. It is only fair then to evaluate these two important ideas only after their implementation is fine-tuned to address these issues. It would be hasty to assume that NDP and CCE are solely responsible for the low learning outcome levels of recent years.

There is now sufficient evidence to suggest that the end-of-term-exam system leads to tremendous strain and stress on students, and the emphasis on marks is at the cost of the student’s all-round development. It also skews the playing field in favour of the privileged who can afford teaching aids outside the school and help their children memorise by rote.

The government has announced plans for an all-India consultation on the new education policy soon and wants to bring out the first draft report by the end of this year. Notwithstanding the clamour of many states and the CABE subcommittee’s report, if the NDP and the CCE are repealed, what exactly will the schools go back to?

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