The Basis for No-detention in RTE?

The RTE Act mandates ‘no-detention’ policy for all students up to Grade 8. This policy is also known as the ‘social promotion’ policy as against ‘grade-retention’ followed otherwise.

A brief description of the two are as follows.

Social Promotion: is the practice of promoting a student (usually a general education student, rather than a special education student) to the next grade after the current school year, regardless of when or whether they didn’t learn the necessary materials.

Grade-retention:  is the process of having a student repeat a grade, because in the previous year, the student experienced developmental delays which made the student fail the grade and/or grade-level class.

There is considerable research material available on the pros and cons of each of these methods. But overall, the tilt is in favor of grade-retention, rather than social promotion.

The main concerns around social promotion are as below.

  • Decreases interest of students in studies
  • Students face further failure as they move up without a good grounding in the basics
  • Teachers find it difficult to handle a group with a sprinkling of under-prepared students, amongst performing ones.
  • Parents get a false sense of progress about their kids.

A few countries, such as Japan, Korea, Sweden and Norway use the social promotion methodology.

However, most countries in the world including USA, UK, Australia, Germany, Singapore and France use grade-retention.

From available public material, it is difficult to deduce the basis using which the makers of RTE deemed it appropriate to introduce social promotion.

  • Experts in the field of education in India have expressed their strong dislike for the no-detention policy.
  • Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee for MHRD, in its report on the 2008 Draft RTE Bill, had expressed serious reservations against the no-detention policy.

OTOH, there seems to have been very little research done, within India, to determine the benefits, if any, of no-detention. In fact, available material points to the opposite.

In the 1980s and 1990s, West Bengal, through its West Bengal Primary Education Act, and other policies, had practised no-detention till Class IV.

In 2002, Sri Poromesh Acharya had published a paper titled ” Education: Panchayat and Decentralisation: Myths and Reality” in the “Economic and Political Weekly” Journal. In that Article, the author gives details of an opinion study performed in 6 Panchayats of West Bengal on key aspects of the state of primary education in WB in the last 2 decades of the previous century.

The opinion poll was conducted amongst 1396 people comprising Parents ( and Guardians), Teachers, Attendance Committee members and Panchayat members. As can be clearly seen, the opinion providers were experts and key stake holders in the area of Education. Two of the questions asked (relevant to this post) were as follows

  • What is the best way of assessing students’ achievement?
  • What is the impact of the no-detention policy?

The results were as given below.

Assessing students achievement:

Respondents Old Examination System Present Continuous Evaluation Total
Guardians 765 179 944
Teachers 249 53 302
AC members 65 25 90

As can be seen, 81% of the respondents felt the old examination system was the better instrument to measure students.

(For the above question, the opinion of panchayat members weren’t taken)

Impact of no-detention policy:

Respondents Helps student retention

Decreases interest of students in studies

Increases interest None Don’t Know Total
Guardians 61 751 106 14 12 944
Teachers 28 221 38 15 0 302
AC members 14 60 12 4 0 90
Panchayat members 7 46 5 2 0 60

Here, we see over 77% of respondents opining that no-detention policy actually reduces the interest of students in studies. We must remember, once again, that the respondents to this survey were not random people but key stakeholders in students’ education. And the opinion expressed is based on the experience of several years (no-detention was introduced based on the ‘Prof. Himanshu Bimal Majumdar Committee’ report given in 1978).

Whether the criterion is practice followed in various countries, or the opinion of educational experts, or the feedback from stakeholders on the ground – all point to no-detention being an undesirable instrument in primary education.

It would be interesting to actually know the research, and consequent data, that was relied upon, in arriving at such an important policy decision while framing the RTE Act.

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