A Cop Out

Yet once more the question upon which, we are told, the very quality of our State school system hinges, is on the table. Do we detain children who don’t pass class exams, or do we send them up? Strange. We always thought the quality of education hinged on the motivation and skill of teachers to teach and the willingness of governments to provide infrastructure to enable them to do so. We are talking here about government aided schools, not private schools whose students come from affluent homes and have as many options as money can buy to succeed in life.

My contention is that the question of detention versus no detention turns the mirror away from the source of the problem to its victims; that is to say from the self-satisfied faces of those who have made the system to the little brown faces that are failed by it. Apparently, it’s not the system that needs fixing. It is students. However, even granting that our system of examinations, mugging, storing and reproducing that goes under the name of education is an unchangeable given, the idea that detaining children ensures learning is not supported by any research, anywhere. Rather, research has found that repeaters become the butt of taunts from peers and family, leading to low self-esteem and depression, none of which helps them learn better.   

If the detained child is a girl, our society provides a simple answer. She doesn’t need an education. Keep her at home and put her to housework. If it’s a boy, he is sent to another school. That by itself doesn’t ensure he will pass. He will probably fail again. He and his parents will decide he is uneducable and he will drop out. So what are his prospects now? We must remember that no work-oriented training institute will admit him without an HSC certificate. When the system slams every door on him, a school-age child has nowhere to take his energy and his dreams. Typically then, according to the findings of a recent survey, he begins to smoke, do drugs, hangs around with others like himself and becomes an easy target for exploitation by adults, whether family or criminals. The school on its part is happy to be rid of children who would have spoilt its chances of a 100 per cent result at the Board exams. The State is happy that its policies have ensured glowing results. Parents are photographed stuffing laddoos into the mouths of their high-scoring wards. All is always well when you exclude the weak.  

What’s forgotten in this whole debate is that no-detention was never meant to be a solitary flag fluttering nobly in the breeze. No-detention was to have been supported by other vital clauses in the Right to Education policy. Infrastructure and quality of teaching were to be upgraded. A system of comprehensive and continuous evaluation of students (CCE) was to be instituted. If a child was performing badly despite all this, the reason for his low grades was to be probed and addressed by a counselor.

But schools ask helplessly, where’s the infrastructure? Where are the funds to implement these ideas? The student numbers are overwhelming. The student-teacher ratio is abysmally low. Facilities are minimal. In rural areas they are almost non-existent. A front page headline in a mainline daily on Monday read, “No teachers or roads”. A bunch of 12th standard science students had to trudge to a town 15 km away because their school had no science or math teacher. They had cleared the SSC exam; but only one passed the 12th. Did the others fail or did the system fail?

Schools make a big hoo-ha about the large numbers who fail in the ninth grade because of the no-detention policy. Here’s how a child-centric school I know solved the problem. Instead of making its failed students repeat the class, it suggested they attend private tutorials where the teaching would be more effective; and appear for the Board exams through the school. The girls and boys who attended private classes not only got through their SSC exam but have now sailed through the HSC exam as well. 

The panel of experts appointed to recommend changes to the present policy concede that no-detention is the ideal way; but only in an ideal system. Our system is not. The solution then is not to strain every political and educational nerve to fix it, but to do the easier thing. Cop out. Fix academically weak students instead. 

Published On : 01-06-2016