Constructing meaningful sentences in Tamil is child's play for most of the students in this classroom of a Chennai School in Thirumangalam. But, among them sits S. Mohan Raj struggling to hold his pen, barely able to write alphabets legibly.

Mohan Raj continues to sit in Class V though he has difficulty understanding Class I lessons. “His teachers say that they would promote him even if he does not know the basic concepts, since the government has given them orders not to detain students. They have asked me to teach him at home if required and are least concerned about tutoring him,” says S. Kalaivani, his mother.

The ‘no detention policy' in schools, earlier applicable to students up to Class V, has been extended to cover those in Class VIII. “No child shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education in a school,” according to the policy based on a mandate of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act.

But in certain schools the State policy has raised challenges. Students are promoted without ensuring that they have developed the required aptitude and skills, speakers observed at a consultation on the RTE Actin Chennai recently.

“Around 30 to 40 per cent of the students we prepare for the Class X examination lack basic reading and writing skills,” says G. Sripriya, founder, Goldheart Foundation, an NGO that coaches students. “These students come under pressure to produce results in Class X and ultimately drop out,” she says.

An objective behind the ‘no detention policy' is to reduce the pressure and mental trauma for the students “But this purpose seems to have been defeated. There is a tendency among many students to become lackadaisical and most of them wake up to the importance of studying only when they come to Class IX. We fear a sharp decline in the pass percentage for Class X in our school,” says S. Balasubramani, principal of a government-aided school in Sowcarpet.

According to Aruna Rathnam, education specialist, UNICEF, “Instead of considering examinations as a process to filter out students, teachers should use the tests to help students understand their potential and in the process facilitate children reach the corresponding levels of achievement.”

Most private schools have taken to special coaching for students who lag behind. Experts suggest an attitudinal change among teachers and their role in facilitating learning among students as key.

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