One more academic year comes to a close for most school students. Unlike my childhood days, when we would be on tenterhooks until the progress report came, children seem much more care-free today. Back then, it was common to see at least half a dozen “weak” students repeating a year so they could perform better the following year. Today, children have to go through very little of such anxiety. A week or two after the exams, most schools communicate to parents through post that their ward has been promoted to the next class. A majority of them know that till class VIII, students cannot be held back.
The ‘no detention policy', under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, is one clause that a majority of the teachers resent. It states that until class VIII, no child can be held back or expelled from school. It is common to hear teachers complain that students have developed a lackadaisical attitude — ‘why study when there is no fear of failing?' There is no differentiation between intelligent, average and poor students, say teachers. Private schools were directed, well in advance, to ensure that no student is detained. A large number of private schools screen ‘academically weak' students so they can concentrate on just the good performers to attain a centum in the Board examination.
A school teacher tells me that she was told to promote some students who did not even appear for the final examination. Teachers like her have a reason to be upset as the same set of non-performing students, when promoted to higher classes, give them a hard time. And some of them perform badly in the Board examinations if no extra coaching is given.
Many teachers seem to be forgetting the fact that the larger purpose of this blanket rule is to ensure compulsory education up to the age of 14 years, and prevent dropout rate in schools. The latter is at a high in schools in the rural districts.
However, blindly following the ‘no detention policy' will not help. Schools must offer bridge course for slow learners, but there is little focus on that. Classes with large student strength also make it difficult for teachers to offer extra care and attention to slow learners.
Rashtriya Madhymik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) introduced a programme to help slow learners but that hardly helps as it is just a three-month programme offered for students of class IX before the final exams.
Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation promises to address this issue to a good extent. It emphasises on evaluating a child through the year and not just based on performance in one or two term exams. Conducting unit tests, for fewer marks, could also be help to make students accountable without adding to the stress.
The responsibility of ensuring student performance lies with schools, students and parents too. For instance, DAV International School in Mumbai makes parents sign an undertaking that they are responsible for the child's performance even after additional help is given. Re-tests are given to students who fail in any examination. The school has counsellors who monitor the performance of not just weak students but also that of bright students if found under-performing. This happens round the year. Quite a few schools engage with NGOs for this purpose.
In the UK, a student is promoted to the next grade irrespective of his level of progress. If students underperform, their assessment grades are compared with national data of progress levels and a ‘targeted intervention' is made. The teachers analyse the reason for poor performance and find solutions to help the child perform better in the future. It is time our schools and teachers took some steps in this direction. After all, doesn't it give greater happiness to see a ‘weak' shine and blossom?