In passing the RTE amendment, the Indian parliament failed to understand the pedagogical and human rights principles recognised by the Supreme Court in 2012.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE Act) has been criticized right from its inception for many of its serious limitations. Nevertheless, the Act has several child-friendly provisions that would help in the realization of a child’s fundamental right to complete eight years of elementary education. One such provision is Sec. 16 which relates to the prohibition of expulsion and of holding back a child in the same grade. This is popularly known as the no detention policy.
One of the documents circulated by the Ministry of Human Resource Development to explain the rationale of each provision under the RTE Act opined that “the ‘no detention’ provision is made because examinations are often used for eliminating children who obtain poor marks. Once declared ‘fail’, children either repeat grade or leave the school altogether. Compelling a child to repeat class is demoting and discouraging. Repeating the class does not give the child any special resources to deal with the same syllabus requirements for yet another year. Parents and friends of such children also tend to view them as being ‘fit for failure’, thereby reinforcing the perception which the school has already use for declaring a child ‘fail’ ”.
The policy paper to clarify each provision of the Act also suggested that ‘no detention’ does not mean abandoning procedures that assess children’s learning. The Act provides for putting in place a continuous and comprehensive evaluation procedure; a procedure that is non-threatening, makes child free from fear, anxiety and trauma of failure and enables teacher to pay individual attention to improve the child’s learning and performance. A provision to this effect was included under Section 29(2) of the RTE Act.
Further, way back in 2012, the then Chief Justice of India Justice Kapadia in the case of Society for Un-aided Private Schools of Rajasthan v. Union of India observed that:
“challenge was also made to Section 16 of the Act stating that it will lead to indiscipline and also deteriorate the quality of the education, which I find difficult to agree with looking to the object and purpose of the Act. Holding back in a class or expulsion may lead to large number of dropouts from the school, which will defeat the very purpose and object of the Act, which is to strengthen the social fabric of democracy and to create a just and humane society. Provision has been incorporated in the Act to provide for special tuition for the children who are found to be deficient in their studies, the idea is that failing a child is an unjust mortification of the child personality, too young to face the failure in life in his or her early stages of education. Duty is cast on everyone to support the child and the child’s failure is often not due the child’s fault, but several other factors. No legal infirmity is found in that provision, hence the challenge against Section 16 is rejected (Para 132)”.
The irony of our country is that none of the politicians, bureaucrats, educational managers and teachers understood the intended aspiration and rationale of the most significant provision that enables child to complete 8 years of school education in a dignified and joyful manner. The no detention provision (policy) was under criticism right from the beginning under the pretext that it lowers the quality of education and precludes children from working hard. In the meantime, many states while deliberating before the subcommittee constituted by the Central Advisory Board of Education to look into the experiences of implementing the continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) made hue and cry about the no detention policy without understanding the spirit and rationale of the provision.
Unfortunately, the Centre succumbed to the ill-informed and premature demand of the majority states to scrap the no detention policy under the RTE Act and introduced examinations at the end of classes 5 and 8. To this effect, the Central government formally proposed amendments to the RTE Act by introducing a bill in 2017 called the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017.
The amendment bill proposes to introduce a regular examination in the fifth and eighth class at the end of every academic year. A child who fails in the examination will be given additional instruction and granted opportunity for re-examination within a period of two months. If a child fails in the re-examination again, the state governments may allow schools to hold back a child in the fifth class or in the eighth class or in both classes as may be prescribed.
The Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on August 11, 2017 and it was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development on August 22, 2017. Unfortunately, the committee upheld the provisions of the Bill saying that “with the no-detention policy there is no pressure on the children to learn and on the teachers to teach. Therefore, there is a need for policy change.” Interestingly, the committee also noted that the inadequate implementation of CCE under the Act contributed to poor learning outcomes. The Committee recommended that CCE should be implemented effectively. This recommendation is contradictory to the very first recommendation of upholding the Bill.
This heartening truth and reality noted and recommended by the committee should have been the basis for discussions when the Bill was discussed in the Lok Sabha on 18th July 2018. However, our democracy is not matured enough to examine the bill based on the intent and spirit of the legislation by looking at reality and hard facts. Thereby, the Indian parliament failed to understand the pedagogical and human rights principles rooted in international policy and law, the National Curriculum Framework, and above all the no detention policy that was upheld by the honorable Supreme Court in 2012.
The passage of this Bill by the Indian Parliament, in the midst of strong protest from academicians, educationists, and civil society organisations, is a regressive step that will have dire consequences on children.
Dr.Niranjanaradhya.V.P. is a Senior Fellow and Programme Head of the Universalisation of Equitable Quality Education Programme at the Centre for Child and the Law at National Law School of India University