It is interesting to note that the top-level advisory body in education, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), has decided to review the no-detention policy up to Class VIII, a decision taken at the instance of then HRD minister Kapil Sibal four years ago. The CABE has over 35 experts nominated by the HRD minister, and others are ex-officio members numbering well over 100. One could be sure, if Sibal was still heading the MHRD, CABE would not have taken this step. A study of the MHRD has stated the obvious: the commitment of students to education has declined after no detention up to Class VIII was introduced. The committee finds that this provision has made students lackadaisical and teachers ‘non-serious’.
It is easy to blame learners for their non-achievements; no one blames the deplorable conditions under which they are supposed to acquire knowledge and skills. Think of children who study in schools with absentee and unqualified teachers, leaking roofs, no electricity, not even drinking water and toilets. How could they be expected to stand on equal footing with those who study in air-conditioned schools, with qualified teachers in the right teacher-taught ratio? May 2009 onwards, Sibal was more interested in hogging the media space instead of initiating the process of reforms. Two of his actions have done greatest damage to the children of weaker sections who depend mostly on the ill-equipped and ill-staffed government schools. Without ensuring maintenance of the prescribed teacher-taught ratio, he announced the introduction of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). Simultaneously, the provision for non-detention became a part of the RTE Act. The CCE has become a farce in schools where teacher-taught ratios may range from 1:50 to 1:150; where schools are being run by para teachers and regular teachers visit only at their convenience. Why shouldn’t they, if the district-level officers know about it, wink at it for obvious reasons and no one is worried about the learning outcomes of the students who automatically move to the next grade.
Pedagogically, no detention is acceptable provided the teacher is professionally equipped, committed, works in a congenial environment, is not over-burdened and is looking after only a stipulated number of learners. She should be in a position to assess individual learning needs, appreciate individual differences and be committed to provide remedial inputs to each learner as per his/her requirement. The teacher is also responsible to ensure that at no stage does the learner come under undue stress. It is futile to expect this from a teacher who is assigned duties in elections at each stage, does the cattle-head counting and is part of any sample or census survey! The consequences of the ill-conceived decisions and the bureaucratic orders to implement these are destined to fall flat. It would not be out of place to mention that the abolition of Class X examination has also accentuated non-learning at the elementary stage. Children from rural areas who have to migrate to another city for Plus-II courses without passing the Class X examination face ridicule and are often shown the door. It is no problem for the children of the prestigious ‘public schools’.
One must appreciate that the move to review the no-detention policy has been initiated by CABE under young minister Jitin Prasada. The scope of the committee could be extended to examine how the board exam results have jumped to touch the near-100 per cent mark.
India needs an HRD minister who can dare to assure the nation that within three years, he shall ensure adequately equipped and functional elementary schools for every child and that he would quit if he fails to do so. That could bring about a revolution in education and the seed to multiply India’s cognitive capital manifold would be sown by him.