The Amendment to RTE — a Grave Mistake?

Education has always been an important social indicator in our country, and a lot of plans and regulations have been rolled out by the government in this regard– the Right to Education Act of 2009 is indicative of an effort in the same direction. With the onset of the new year and the end of the Winter Session of the Parliament, a significant amendment was made to this bill: the second amendment to the bill, it was introduced in 2017, and passed in 2019. It focuses on removing the ‘no detention until completion of elementary education’ provision of the act, thus allowing the respective central and state governments to detain students who are not able to pass classes 5 and 8 even after re-examination.

Here, it is important to understand why the ‘no detention’ clause was incorporated in the Right to Education Act 2009 in the first place. The Clarification of Provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, recognises that allowing detention or expulsion would discourage students and even act as an incentive for them to drop out of school. At the same time, even if a student is made to repeat a class on account of having failed, they will not automatically find themselves equipped with “any special resources to deal with the same syllabus requirements for yet another year.”  This has been further substantiated by the fact that no research has been able to establish any positive impacts of ‘failing’ students due to poor performance.

The RTE also recognised that it is important that a student is not subjected to a fear or trauma of failure and the teachers should focus on the learning and progress of every individual student. The most important point highlighted by the Clarifications of Provisions is that all students, whether considered ‘intelligent’, ‘weak’, ‘slow’ or ‘failed’, are capable of equivalent learning ability. Hence if they are not able to realise their potential, then it is not because of any “inherent drawback in the child, but most often the inadequacy of the learning environment and the delivery system to help the child realise his/her potential.”

The next question that arises is that if the Clarification of Provisions had established the importance of the ‘no detention’ provision in such detail, then why did the current government feel the need to remove this provision? As pointed out by the Human Resource Development Minister of India, Mr. Prakash Javadekar,  the introduction of the 2nd Amendment came forth as a response to the demands of several states for the removal of the ‘no detention’ provision. The rationale behind this is that the ‘no detention’ clause ties the hands of the state governments and prevents from holding back students who are not able to perform well in regular examinations throughout the elementary level of education, which — as per the proposers of the amendment– affects the future learning outcomes of the children. Since the  bill has successfully been passed by the Parliament, it is now the decision of the states as to whether they implement it or not.

The bill had been under scrutiny since 2017, which is indicative of the great importance with which the current government sees the education sector. However, much like previous governments, the NDA too has focused on the same old tenets of the archaic education system instead of emphasising upon changing the basic structure of education in the country.

Several think tanks and NGOs within and outside the country have indicated that the schooling systems in India should not just focus upon maintaining the enrollment rate but also on the actual outcome of education and schooling. Even when students attend schools and pass by the required marks, the existing infrastructure and teachers are unable to get the desired outcome in most cases. Recently, some reports indicated an increase in the number of suicides committed among the students of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas over the past five years. One of the reasons for this has been identified as increased pressure of passing with unrealistically high marks. While the government is still trying to delay responding to this report, it is certain that the new regulation will definitely emerge as an added pressure.

While the ‘no detention’ policy might bring about some difference in learning outcomes in the short run, it is imperative that sooner or later the government comes forth with concrete solutions to improve India’s performance in terms of education indicators.

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