Media of 3 June and later, reported the Union HRD Minister announcing that the No Detention Policy pertaining to school education up to the end of class VIII, would be discussed in the coming 2018 monsoon session of Parliament. He added that the states would have the choice of fixing from which class they would like to reintroduce pass-fail. Prior to this announcement in July, 2017 the same Union HRDM said that the Union government was going to introduce examinations only in Classes V and VIII. This decision was not going to act in any way to change and improve the general ambience in schools totally apathetic to teaching-learning which has been created by the No Detention Policy. Rather creating confusion it will only foil any movement for reintroduction of the pass- fail system right from class I. And above all, it will ultimately lead failed students to drop out at these two stages, thus acting as a powerful prong towards curtailment of education for common students from poorer families who study in government- run and government- aided schools. We will come to details later. Here it is only added that taken together, all this turn out to be a hoax to cover-up the motive of not withdrawing the policy.
No Detention Policy : brief lookback into a far-reaching design
Mooted and implemented nearly thirty seven years back by the CPI(M), known as the big left party leading the then Front government in the state of West Bengal, the No-Detention Policy (alternatively called: automatic promotion or abolition of pass-fail system) was clamped in the primary stage (that is from class I to class IV) of school education. It was argued that in our examination oriented education system students do not learn, they only cram. For kids in primary, fear of failure and the cost of repeating in the same class lead to large scale drop-outs. Taking up the cue from this in the National Policy on Education (NPE’86) framed by the Congress a few years later, abolition of pass- fail system was prescribed for the primary stage in one of its sections and up to class VIII in another. So from behind the deliberate ambiguity, primary or secondary, abolition of pass-fail was endorsed. The motive became clear when in 2009 the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre introduced the RTE Act with much fanfare to make education compulsory along with compulsory No Detention Policy till class VIII, for government-run and government –aided schools. The situation turned from bad to worse and continues to remain in the same shape even with the BJP-led government taking over in 2014. The latest position is given at the beginning.
No Detention Policy inalienable part of capitalist design of all-out attack on education
At this stage it must first be understood that the No Detention Policy is never an isolated issue. It is an inalienable part of the so-called educational reforms that the governments , irrespective of their political brand and banner, have tried to implement since independence, obviously at the behest of the ruling capitalist class, who they serve to remain in power and enjoy pelf. Whatever be the verbiage, these so-called reforms have primarily and in essence been directed towards curtailment of education for the vast masses of poor and middle class people, ostensibly to keep educated unemployed at minimum. Dearth of adequate number of educational institutions and of adequate number of seats in them for eligible students, the government openly disowning its responsibility towards education, instead opening scope for private investment which like investment in health provided a unique opportunity to bring desired returns in an otherwise faltering economy, resulting in exorbitant rise in cost of education: all these factors have only made it difficult for poorer masses to avail of a decent education. Added to these, the recent trends towards destruction of secular, scientific education, instead promoting bigotry, prejudice, superstition etc., unscientific subjective view of history and even overt and covert communal tinge in education are robbing education of its man-making character- building role which helps students grow into rational courageous humans. And to prevent any resistance from growing, the governments are relentlessly curbing autonomy of education, educational institutions and students-teachers and employees bodies.
The No Detention Policy adds fuel to the fire, serving the same game plan as other so-called reforms do in this all-out attack on education. In the nearly four decade-long tenure of the tottering policy, the CPI(M) set the ball rolling in West Bengal, the Congress brought it at the level of the entire country and now the BJP is carrying the mantle. Even the state governments under other parties do not fail to follow suit. The present TMC government West Bengal was a vehement critic of the No Detention Policy introduced by the CPI(M). But saddled in power it extended no pass –fail up to class VIII on the plea of following the RTE Act 2009. Now, under criticism it agrees to bring back pass- fail from class I. At the next breath it changes its stand to raise the level to class III and then to class V. Hence the No Detention Policy must be recognized as the policy brought in the interest of the rulers which acts clearly against the interest of common people.
People protested, governments admitted policy was wrong, yet it remained in vogue
Since introduced 37 years back the No Detention Policy has always remained at the centre of controversy. The rulers and policymakers have continuously tried to keep the policy in operation. They do have a section of intellectuals who try in vain to hold brief for the policy. Super-rich, rich and affluent sections of population whose children study in private schools at high costs, remain unattached, the policy being no concern for them. But the guardians coming from poor and middle class families, their children who study in government-run or government aided schools, an overwhelmingly large section of teachers with minimum conscience, and lastly, anybody and everybody with the minimum concern for education of the country and its people, are struck by the devastating effects the policy has brought about since its introduction. It has virtually ravaged what is known as the teaching-learning processes in the said schools which form an overwhelmingly large section of schools of the country. Vocal or silent, they have only wanted immediate withdrawl of the policy and reintroduction of the traditional examination system accompanied by pass-fail system right from class I which was now and then expressed in their protest movements.
Under pressure of these movements the governments, both at the Centre and in the states, had to admit that the policy had failed. But instead of withdrawing the policy, the governments constantly changed their positions and arguments. When the CPI(M) came under fire of people’s criticism, right from the early eighties of the last century, the then CPI (M) chief minister of West Bengal tried to take refuge behind the argument that they were simply implementing the provisions of the NPE’86 of the Union government, suppressing the fact that it was them who had created the precedence. In 2013 the review report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on HRD during the Congress-led UPA regime categorically recommended the reintroduction of the pass-fail system for students being not ‘motivated to work hard to learn if he/she is aware that promotion to the next grade is guaranteed’. Yet the Policy remained in force.
Later in 2015, during the present BJP-led rule, representatives of different states pleaded with the union HRDM frantically to do away with the no- detention policy till class VIII. They submitted helplessly “We do not fail children till Class VIII and they cannot pass Class IX”. In the August 2015 CABE (Central Advisory Board on Education) meeting attended by Union and state ministers it was unanimously decided that the No Detention Policy should be withdrawn. But then the 64th CABE meeting in 25 October 2016 backtracked to decide ‘that no child will be failed till Class V’. Even in the Draft National Education Policy , the present BJP government clearly maintained that the no-detention policy ‘has seriously affected the academic performance of students’. Yet as mentioned earlier here, the BJP-led Union government is presently toying with the idea of introducing pass-fail only in classes V and VIII, which is clearly a cover-up hoax. So the entire course was full of trickeries and treacheries.
Arguments for and against
Now what is the rationale on which the policy is framed and how far is it tenable? Proponents hold that in our education system with wide-spaced examinations, students have to cram for those. This hampers their learning in real sense. Instead, for fear of failure and resulting detention, they abhor examination, suffer from ‘non-learning’ and finally drop out. Failure of their children adds also a burden to the parents to act as an additional cause of drop-out. The remedy they found in doing away with pass-fail system, instead holding comprehensive continuous evaluation (CCE) method with grade system (instead of number system) as practiced in many foreign countries.
Let us examine their arguments. On the pages of Proletarian Era (15 April 2015) and elsewhere our Party firmly held that notwithstanding its defects, the present examination system is time-tested evaluation method of not just what students have learnt but whether and how far teaching has been successful and effective. So this is a check to find defects and gaps if there is any, and remedies for them in both learning and teaching. Continuous automatic promotion from class I to VIII will take away all chances for identifying deficiencies and rectifying them and in course of time surely wipe out any urge for progress. Teachers denied of the scope to check how far he is successful, will have his initiative dampened and will be himself disheartened to carry on meaningless, purposeless exercise for days, months and years. The less committed members of both the communities, students and teachers, will be the only beneficiaries, finding easy means to evade what they are supposed to do: be it to study or to teach. Certainly it will tell upon the standard and quality of both learning and teaching. This is exactly the countrywide experience of teachers-students-guardians and others concerned, and is reflected in the following observations.
Reality confirms our apprehensions were correct
An article in International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Studies said about the students : “Having progressed through the automatic promotion system up to class VIII, the students develop a carefree and easy-going attitude. In standard IX they are unable to change their attitude suddenly. Naturally they fail to cope up with the academic pressure and collapse. Even in Board Exams they do badly.” [ No Detention Policy: Rationale and Reality—An Appraisal. IJHSSS, vol. II, issue I, pp. 257 -261, July 2015]
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) accumulating data at national level, has repeatedly shown that less than half of Class V students can read a paragraph or do a simple arithmetic sum from a Class II text. It says that one-fourth of class X students turn equivalent to class IV level. (Times of India , 27 September 2015).
The policy documents of the Draft National Education Policy 2016 proposed by the BJP-led Union government recognized that ‘children are not learning the basic skills’ ; even at grade (class) V children ‘cannot read simple texts and cannot do simple arithmetic calculations’. The cause of such seriously affected academic performances is fixed on no detention policy itself.
Coming to teachers, the National Sample Survey Reports 2015 from the Union government’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme implementation, held that : “The No Detention Policy have made the teachers non-serious, if not all, certainly many of them. … they lose all the motivation to teach when they realize that all the students even the one who did not study at all will go to the next class. In a class where the students hardly have any desire to study seriously the teachers cannot do much. Hence they grow unwilling and non-serious.” And the same ASER referred above also says that only 4% of teachers pass the Teacher Eligibility Tests (TETs) and three in four teachers cannot do percentage sums from a Class V text in at least two states.
Next, “ From the observed results we can say that No Detention Policy has really created a havoc. …. In terms of quality, students are deteriorating day by day. Government schools are decreasing in importance. ….. are becoming studentless schools….. Teachers are totally against this faulty education policy.” [No Detention Policy An Immediate Threat to Quality Primary Education in Jammu and Kashmir: Kumar Mohd. Haneef, JN Bliya and Mohd. Mayem Lone, International Journal of Social Science and Humanities Research, ISSN 2348-3164 (online), Vol 3, issue 3, pp. 348-352, July-Sept. 2015]. With this we may add that India now has the largest percentage of children in private schools, owing to the fact that more than 150000 government schools are closed over the country in five years time, as a 26 December 2017 report shows. So people are being forced to go for high-cost private schools even going beyond their pecuniary capabilities with the simple dream of getting their children educated. Let us forget bothering about another vast masses of our fellow countrymen to whom eking out two square meals a day is a problem, finding a habitable shelter is a luxury ! Based on MHRD statistics it was noted in a survey by TNN, Kolkata in July 2015 that even six years since the RTE Act, around 60 lakh children between ages 6 and 13 remained unschooled in the country. Even these figures include children marked present in schools but really working as labourers. Obviously, the RTE Act forces the parents to send their children to schools. Teachers, for the sake of keeping their position and livelihood safe, mark these children present. But stark reality drags them out of school to earn for the family and themselves. It may be mentioned here that the CABE made a proposal in early 2018 for punitive measures against guardians whose children fail to attend schools. Even print media, largely controlled by the corporate houses, could not but criticise it on the ground that the major cause of drop out is engaging children to earning or maintaining household with both parents working outdoors. This was the argument, that we had hammered in our earlier discourses in reply to the logic expressed by proponents of the No Detention Policy that students drop-out for fear of examination and failure. That they ignore the pathetic reality of all-pervading poverty forcing parents to engage their children in earning or looking after domestic chores, is once more proved from this admission in the media.
In this regard, one more point needs a few words. If students at large come to abhor examinations, who should be held responsible? Hundreds of teaching posts lie vacant in schools and colleges; to add to it, often on trivial matters teaching is hampered from disruption of class-routines; syllabus is left uncovered. Premises lack enough class rooms, even proper buildings and other facilities, including toilet, particularly for girl students. Libraries and laboratories are ill- equipped and poorly manned. Any resentment on even legitimate grounds is dealt with a heavy hand. And particularly with days passing autonomy, academic or functional, even in day to day affairs is being severely curbed with interventions from the ruling dispensations, whatever be their colour. All these contribute more or less to vitiate the ambience in educational institutions, which in turn shatter the teaching-learning process. So, if there is any fear of examination among students, the cause lies in these for which the government and the authority they appoint, can only be held responsible. The disease must be diagnosed before the patient is condemned.
Unrealistic misleading remedy for condemned patient
The remedy suggested for the condemned patient, is also unrealistic, rather deliberately misleading. It includes Comprehensive Continuous Evaluation (CCE) as it works well in many foreign countries and evaluation on grades fixed on percentiles instead of percentages of marks. In a vast country like ours, with conditions varying widely and students coming from varied social- cultural-even family backgrounds, with most schools running with a miserably low teacher-student ratio, even a single teacher managing a number of classes, measures like CCE or grade systems are not just cosmetic, those are impractical too. Besides, CCE and grades depend on one-to-one relations between teacher and students. Where the system itself is plagued with nepotism and other vices emanating from rampant corruption and political interference, both the palliatives, are sure to turn into miserable flops producing vicious results; pliant students will be rewarded; protesting ones victimized. Without going into more details, we may look at the two following quotes. The first is Indian, and from the Yashpal Committee Report 2009. It says : “In many private educational institutions, the appointment of teachers is made at the lowest possible cost. They are treated with scant dignity … compelling them to award pass marks in the internal examination to the ‘favourites’ and fail marks for students who protest illegal collections and so on.” (p. 33) And in the second a professor, former Chairman of the Academic Council, London University, lamented: ‘Degree standard in many British universities are in danger of collapsing because lecturers are under pressure to ‘provide more marks’ and turn a blind eye to plagiarism; universities have been particularly lenient with overseas students because they rely on them so heavily for fee income – so much so that they turn a blind eye to plagiarism and cheating.’ (Richard Garner, Education Editor, The Independent, London, 17 June, 2008). This is how smooth CCE runs. A decade has passed since. We refrain from making any further comment, excepting that conditions in every capitalist country have only worsened in all respects with the system plunging deeper and deeper into all-out crisis.
Powerful organized sustained movement is the only remedy to wrest demand
Under the circumstances, irrefutable is the fact that the education system is in peril from an all-out attack. The No Detention Policy is meant to drive the last nails in to the coffin. The immediate victims are none but the overwhelming majority of common poorer families and their children. But the all-out attack on education is going to affect the coming generations of the entire country as well. So people are left with a single choice. As it has been proved in West Bengal, it was only the sustained organized movement of people led by the SUCI (C) that forced the then CPI(M) government to ‘unsettle’ what they had taken as settled; a movement for 19 years could bring back English in the primary stage of school education. Now again, it is high time that people of the country decided ‘enough is enough with trickeries and treacheries’ and step out to launch powerful united sustained movement against attacks on education. And most obviously, the No Detention Policy must be set as one of the prime targets of the movements. In unequivocal voice , people need to raise the demand that the policy be immediately withdrawn and pass-fail system reintroduced right from class I. There can be no two words on this.