Will Fear of ‘Failing’ Make India Literate?

Will Fear of ‘Failing’ Make India Literate?

With the largest population of illiterate adults in the world one wonders where we are headed as a growing economy. While India’s national literacy rate is 74.04%, it is estimated that India can achieve the goal of primary education only by 2050. Simply put, even if we do achieve our goals, we will be half a century late.

Right to Education Act and other education schemes have helped India increase primary enrolments in schools. However, issues of poor quality of education and low learning outcomes (basic skills in reading, writing and numeracy) of students have fueled the criticism of this Act. 

Under the RTE Act, the No Detention Policy (NDP) has been one of the most controversial and debated provision. The Policy was introduced to do away with the traditional pass-fail system and to ensure compulsory education till 14 years of age. It also aimed at preventing dropout rates in schools for reasons including the fear of detention and examinations.

NDP did not abolish assessments but replaced the one-time final examination with Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (through project work and unit tests). This process was to promote non- threatening, joyful and a stress free learning environment for students from diverse homes and situations.


Recently, the union cabinet without credible analysis approved the roll back of this policy. The cabinet’s decision endorses the argument that automatic promotion of students to the next grade, until Class VIII, is major contributor to poor learning outcomes at elementary education level.

This removal has also re-introduced the dreaded broad-examinations. The state governments can now hold back promotions of students in 5th &8th standards.

There are strong economic, psychological and rights-based arguments against government’s decision to go back to the traditional pass-fail system. By scrapping the policy, there are increased chances that children will be denied their fundamental right to complete elementary education. Also, every student who leaves school at elementary level represents a lost opportunity—economically and socially.

The other myth is that grade repetition and introducing the board examinations would ensure better learning achievement of students. There is no study or research that suggests that detaining a child improves the quality of learning. In fact, more often than not the child abandons school and sometimes learning altogether.


Detention leads to more push outs from the system, especially the girl child and children from other marginalized communities. It is adversely impacts child’s psychological, physical & cognitive development.The government’s own data has shown that detaining students is one of the significant reasons for school dropouts in India. According to the National Family Health Survey 3 (NFHS) data, one of the top five reasons for school drop outs was “repeated failure” with 6 percent of the cases at the national level. Repeated failure in school was ranked higher than reasons like “required for care of sibling”, “got married” and “required for work on farm/family business”.


Studies show that grade repetition leads to increased direct cost within the education system in order to provide one additional year of education. Also, there is an increased opportunity cost of delaying students’ entry into the labour market by additional years. According to UNESCO, each year of real additional schooling (not due to repetition) could, on average, increase individual earnings by 10% and lift annual GDP growth globally by 0.37%.


Resources spent on repeating elementary grades should instead be utilized for enrolling new students, ensuring quality teacher trainings, improving the teaching learning environment and school infrastructure along with better implementation of continuous evaluation rather than one-time examination.

Moreover, in the current climate of financial austerity and reduced education budgets, it is essential to evaluate how efficiently the government delivers resources to students rather than holding students responsible for poor learning outcomes.

If the parliament approves the cabinet’s decision to re-introduce grade repetition, it will lead to an increased number of children forced out of our school system and universal literacy will be a distant dream.


The article featured in The Quint on 08/09/2017: https://www.thequint.com/voices/blogs/international-literacy-day-indian-education-system-no-detention-policy


See the transformative stories of change from Oxfam's education partners in India. 




Let's work together to make education a basic right for all children in India. Sign the petition on withdrawal of scrapping of No Detention Policy here and make your voice count.


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