Wrong move? Bringing back the detention policy could severely affect the students who fail the examinations
The clamour to bring back the detentionbased examination system is misguided
Bring back the examination system’! This chant is gaining voice and beginning to receive greater attention within the recent discourse on education in our country. Some states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Maharashtra and Delhi are seeking amendments in the rte Act to enable them to restore the examination system for the assessment of learner achievements. A deeper look, however, reveals that these may not necessarily be informed choices. The reasons being attributed to this demand may sound logical to many, as often only half-truths are shared.
For instance, consider the likely responses, if somebody shares the well-documented fact that the achievement scores of large numbers of Class 8 students indicate that they are performing at a level expected of Class 2, and despite this low level of achievement they continue to be promoted to the next class. Undoubtedly, a wide spread response to such an assertion is likely to be a demand that the ‘no detention’ policy be replaced with the long standing examination system, since the existing practice of ensuring that no child is held back in her/his previous class until class 8, does not seem to be working on the ground. Although the examination system may not necessarily be associated with a detention policy; the demand from the states for restoring the system does seem to be directly linked with the no-detention policy.
Committees and policies such as the Kothari Commission, 1966; the National Policy of Education (npe), 1986 and the Yashpal Committee Report, 1993; have all clearly articulated that the examination system has been found to be problematic since it increases the load and stress on young school children. Further, it tends to be textbook centric and does not capture the wide range of potentials and natural learning behaviours of different types of learners; nor does it make allowances for different learning environments. There are a number of reasons as to why it is so difficult to improve teaching practices in India, but one fundamental stumbling block has been the evaluation framework. Past experience has suggested that the rigid and deeply entrenched framework of end-of-term examinations tend to reward rote memorisation and superficial understanding rather than higher-level comprehension of concepts. It is however a deeply entrenched within a transmission mode of teaching and therefore is slow to shift. As a consequence, attempts to replace examinations with learner centred innovative and progressive pedagogical and assessment practices have proved to be challenging.
Passed in 2009, the Right to Education (rte) Act includes a promising mechanism for improving pedagogical practice which is the mandatory introduction of continuous and comprehensive evaluation (cce). It seeks to replace year-end examinations with a series of ongoing assessments that provide teachers with continuous insights into students’ needs and potentials, throughout the school year. The Act also requires that the schools maintain a complete record of every child during the years of elementary education (grades 1-8). The ‘no detention’ provision in the rte Act does not imply the abandoning of procedures that assess children’s learning. Instead, through the introduction of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (cce), it transfers the onus of learning solely from children to teachers and the education system as well.
There is a famous quote of Frank Smith: “The time bomb in every classroom is that students learn exactly what they are taught”. What children learn depends upon the resources, exposure and the varied opportunities available for learning. Children learn through a process of active engagement with their learning environment. They cannot be examined for what they have not been provided. The cce framework, which puts the accountability of children’s learning on the teachers and education system, goes beyond subject-specific learning. This holistic framework talks about the multidimensional aspects of learning which include conformity with the basic Constitutional values of democracy, equity and social justice. In addition, the CCE framework addresses the all round development of the child. It aims to build upon the child’s knowledge, potential and talent, which includes the development of physical and mental abilities to the fullest extent, thus making the child free of fear, trauma and anxiety; and helping the child to express freely and fully. Inherent within this framework is the setting up of enabling learning environments which are non threatening and motivate children to learn in meaningful and natural ways. CCE also talks about development in the child’s understanding, knowledge level, and her/his ability to apply this knowledge in purposeful ways. But, the question that comes to mind is how the mantle of CCE will encompass the massive and diverse canvas of school education within this country.
Within the current cce system, indicators have been designed to assess the achievements of each child for every aspect of curricula and extra-curricular learning. The process begins with the baseline evaluation so as to identify the learning level and learning needs for each child for each indicator. Based on this baseline assessment, gaps in learning and required grade specific learning needs are identified for each learner for the entire academic year. Accordingly learning inputs are to be provided by the teacher throughout the academic year. In a way this methodology shifts the focus to a child centred pedagogy which is sensitive to the individual learning needs of each child.
Let’s try to understand how CCE works on the ground by tracking learning within a particular subject, say Hindi as a language. While executing CCE for Hindi language, the simplest indicator would be whether the child reads and writes alphabets, simple words, complex word, sentences and paragraphs with understanding. Every child in the class is assessed informally by the class teacher on a four point rating scale and placed into matrix. All children who are put into the ‘yes’ category move to the next level of learning say from the alphabet to words, while the rest of the children continue to learn at the previous level, with the teacher providing inputs accordingly. The framework thus ensures that teachers focus more on children who have not moved to the next category, and motivates them to try learner-centred innovative methods which facilitate quick learning. In some challenging situations where teachers do not succeed in bringing the child to the next level of competencies, the academic coordinators can provide mentoring support. The main academic support structure consists of the Cluster Resource Coordinators (CRC), Block Resource Coordinators (BRC) and District Institute of Teachers’ Education (DITE) whose role is to monitor and support teaching learning processes in schools in their respective areas, and provide need-based training to teachers.
The implementation of CCE therefore has been conceptualised as the joint responsibility of the teacher and academic support system. In some cases where a child is not able to achieve a particular learning competency, or in the case of false reporting in which there is an inconsistency between the reported CCE record and actual performance of a child, the responsibility for non-performance is jointly shared by the concerned teacher and the support system. In severe cases, which are unfortunately rampant, children are often not engaged in the teaching-learning process at all. In such cases, the manner in which the teacher, CRC, BRC and District Education Officer (DEO) manage the CCE reporting is an area that requires further investigation.
The important point to note is that within the CCE framework the prime responsibility or onus for ensuring learning is on the teachers and academic support system, whereas, in contrast the examination system makes every child responsible for their own learning. This includes the fact that a child may often be tested on unfamiliar learning context which they have not encountered earlier as a part of the curricular content. The teachers and academic support system are often not accountable if children in their class fail or perform poorly; instead it is often the child in question who ‘fails’.
The problems of examinations
The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Govt. of India recognises each child as a potential learner. The gaps in performance are not viewed within a deficit perspective of a ‘slow’ or ‘weak’ learner or a ‘failed’ child who has some inherent drawback, but instead are viewed within a discontinuity perspective with the performance gap being attributed to issues based on learner diversities and the inadequacy in the learning environments. In other words, it is considered as a case of the delivery system being unable to provide ways that enable each child to realise his/her potential. Clearly, the failure is of the system, rather than that of the child and the remedy lies in addressing the qualitative aspects of the system rather than punishing the children through detention. There is no study or research to suggest that the quality of learning of the child improves if she or he is detained. In fact, more often than not failure can be a reason for the child abandoning school-based learning altogether.
Children who fail or pass with poor marks in examination are often stigmatised and have little motivation to continue with school based education. MHRD claims that “examinations are often used for eliminating children who obtain poor marks.” Once declared ‘failed’, children either repeat a grade or leave the school altogether. Compelling a child to repeat a class is demotivating and discouraging and leaves the child with a low self-esteem. Repeating a 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 negative perception which the school has already used for declaring a child ‘failed’.
The probable impact of an examination system with a ‘Detention Policy’
What could happen with children, who fail in the classroom, is a very serious question to be deeply pondered over, especially before revamping the no detention policy. To understand the probable result we should learn from our history by looking at the drop-out rate and the reasons of the same. For this, one needs to look at the trends during the period immediately before the implementation of the RTE Act, i.e., before the year 2009-10.
Table 1 shows the trend of drop-out rate of children during 2006-07 to 2009- 10. The drop rate is showing a decreasing trend except 2008-09 to 2009-10, when there is an increase. Overall, it shows that on average 43 percent children dropped out every year during 2006-07 to 2009- 10. The average dropout rate is higher for children from Schedule Caste (SC), 51 percent, and Schedule Tribe (ST), 60 percent. The drop-out rate for girls among the sc and st is further higher.
Drop-outs and detention are closely interconnected. Some of the major reasons of detentions have been identified as: failure in a class at 54.40 percent; followed by long absenteeism at 29.67 percent, and re-admission at 15.92 percent. The SES data reveals that in Class 8, a majority of the children are detained because of failure, with the figures being as high as 76.53 percent.
According to a report published by UNESCO, school-imposed grade repetition is stressful for students and is associated with reduced self-esteem; impaired peer relationships; alienation from school and a sharply increased likelihood of eventual dropout. Grade repetition has been found to be more common in developing countries than in developed countries and is especially common in remote rural areas
Table 2 shows the grade to grade repetition and drop-out rates. The table clearly shows a positive and consistently contributory pattern of relationship between repetition rate and drop-out rate. From the available data it is evident that the groups most affected by the detention policy have been girls and children from SC and ST communities, as a majority of low achievers who have secured less than 30 percent have been from SC, ST and OBC backgrounds, and there have been high drop-out rates from amongst them. It is imperative to consider the fact that it has been long struggle to put these children into school. In fact, this has been a major factor responsible for the enrolment figures increasing to as high as 97 percent. Against this backdrop, it does seem ironical that we are gearing ourselves for restoring an ill founded examination system, and one whose negative impacts have been welldocumented. The concern is also about the indirect consequences of this move which is likely to manifest as an increase in child labour and incidences of child marriage as well as, perhaps a lost opportunity for many children to have at least one nutritious meal in a day.
Other sections of RTE Act in question once the examination system is reintroduced
Restoring the examination system within the RTE framework will also raise questions on some other important provisions within the rte. For example, age-appropriate admissions followed by special training for such children, whose learning level is below than required level; screening procedures for admission; and anytime admission in schools. With regard to age-appropriate admissions, MHRD has clarified that the overall objective of age-appropriate admission for older children is to save them from the humiliation and embarrassment of sitting with younger children. When older children are forced to sit in a class with children younger than them, they tend to be teased and taunted and so suffer from a low self-esteem, which eventually results in dropping out of school. The Act has made provision for a child admitted to an age-appropriate class to be given special training to enable him or her to be at par with the other children. This provision is based on the underlying thinking within the field of education that recognises the varied life experiences of these children, and that their cognitive capabilities are higher than the entry level 6-year-old children, therefore they are indeed capable of accelerated learning. With regard to admission at any point of time, the mhrd has clarified that the admission of a child in school is a fundamental right and it cannot be denied at any point of time. Ideally, all children should be enrolled in school at the beginning of the academic session. However, in the case of children in difficult circumstances, including children affected by migration, displacement or ill health etc., schools may need to be flexible to allow admission at any point of time during the session. The central RTE rules provide that children admitted after six months of the commencement of a session may be provided special training as determined by the Head teacher of the school to enable her/him to engage successfully with school-based learning.
Prachi Windlass from the Dell Foundation writes that in the states in which they are working, CCE has been looked upon as a pedagogical tool meant to reform the teaching practices in the classroom rather than a point-in-time assessment exercise. Encouraged by the recent results of CCE piloting in Rajasthan, the Foundation invested in three other states: Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The model was similar in all the three states and included the right tools to allow teachers to conduct meaningful assessments in classrooms; teacher training to leverage assessments to identify children’s learning levels/gap areas and remediation techniques, and provide field support to teachers as they introduce these tools in their classrooms.
Interestingly, this has translated to different content for every state, each with its unique educational environment and starting points: Jharkhand follows a very scripted, lesson plan-like approach to assessments, Himachal has a very teacher-driven model with several class based tools like assessments checklists and workbooks, and Gujarat is strengthening its text book-integrated CCE model with more supplementary material and field support for teachers. However, in all cases, the focus has remained sharply on actionable information leading to better teaching and learning in classrooms. Early results in all the three states have shown improvement in children’s learning level outcomes following the introduction of these assessment reforms in the 2013-2014 academic year. Despite the variation of the states’ models and starting points, the results were positive across the board. Third party assessments showed a 10-20 percent improvement over baseline compared to a carefully selected control group.
In the hands of teachers who know how to apply them, both data generated by formative assessments and longitudinal student data can be powerful tools for improving students’ learning. However, such gains depend on the effective implementation of the CCE, and in many states the implementation challenges can be overwhelming. CCE requires a major shift in classroom learning practices. Inherent within the framework are classrooms which have been visualised as active learning spaces. It requires a shift from the one-way teacher driven classroom to interactive and exploratory classrooms in which learners learn from the each other, as well as from teachers, at their own pace and in their own ways. This requires teacher reorientation, so that there can be a deeper engagement of the classroom processes, with ongoing assessment being interwoven into the classroom practice in ways that are meaningful for the teachers and learners.
The biggest challenge is that education departments lack technical, operational and implementational expertise to put the cce mandate into effective practice. They need to be adequately equipped to be able to support teachers with the required mentoring. However, spurred by legal deadlines, many departments are rushing to put in place ad-hoc solutions such as new report cards or quick orientations for teachers. This focus on the short term race to fulfil requirements, however, poses a severe risk that states will miss a rare opportunity: To design and implement meaningful child-level evaluations that provide teachers with the data and insights it is imperative that they understand the spirit of CCE and then drive a qualitatively different level of learning through the setting up of classrooms which are active and meaningful learning spaces.
Conclusion This concept of cce imported from the West is certainly laudable. But it is not new to India. This was recommended by Kothari Commission and also National Policy on Education and National Curriculum Frame Work. Before making knee-jerk reactions and quickly revamping the provision of no-detention, it is essential to introspect thoroughly and examine the learning and insights based on the past experience, so as to build upon and strengthen the cce implementation. While critiquing the cbse Manual for implementation of cce in Classes 6 to 8, Disha Nawani adds a note of caution. She writes, “One must understand that isolated reforms in techniques of measurement will not have much meaning unless accompanied by concomitant changes in classroom culture, where they are no longer seen as places for delivering textbooks… Changes are necessary in the ways in which one views learning, teaching and assessing.”
In conclusion, therefore, it is important to emphasise that the key to improving classroom learning does not lie within the system of assessment or within the policy of “detention” or “nodetention”. Nor will much be achieved by simply training teachers to implement the CCE framework. What is crucial for bringing in quality improvement in learning is to implement the spirit of CCE. This implies empowering teachers by involving them in all aspects of teaching, learning and assessing and understanding and addressing their real challenges, so that they are strengthened to implement cce in the manner in which it has been conceptualised within the RTE Act.
Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) has strongly favoured revocation of no-detention policy up to Class 8, in a meeting called for reviewing detention policy recently. All the states have been asked to respond within 15-30 days. A sub-committee report on no-detention policy, which was prepared under the then Haryana education minister Geeta Bukkal during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, was tabled during the meeting. Although the report recommended restoration of detention policy, its arguments were hardly on concrete grounds. In concluding remarks, the report says “While theory and theoreticians may have strong case for retaining the provision of ‘No Detention’, the practical reality and experiences across the country, across the stakeholders, clearly show that the ground is not ready to receive this positivity. In absence of ground preparation, the intention of the provision has not been met at all”
Written by: Ravi Prakash