In the process of redesigning the national education policy in India, the question of whether the No-Detention Policy (NDP) should be revoked is also being debated. According to the NDP, first given in 2009 under the Right to Education Act, no student can be asked to repeat a grade until the 8th grade. I am of the opinion that the NDP is inherently valuable to our education system, and needs to be retained.
Detaining students in the same grade has been considered an effective source of motivation by many policy-makers in the past, and is being reconsidered presently. As Sahlberg, Finnish educator and scholar, has stated, implicit in this kind of thinking is the assumption that students do not put sufficient effort into their schooling without the fear of being detained, and hence revoking the no-detention policy would encourage students to toil hard and achieve better learning outcomes. However, whether having this fear truly makes students concentrate more and learn better in school is questionable. Another implicit assumption in the argument for detention is that students who are not learning at grade-appropriate levels will learn simply by repeating the grade. This assumption does not allow for the possibility that different students learn differently, and that the reason some students are falling behind is because their individual needs are not being recognised or met by the teachers.
One of the reasons behind the success of the Finnish education system has been their recognition of the need for early intervention. “Minimizing grade repetition has been possible primarily because special education has become (an) integral part of each and every school in Finland”, (Sahlberg, 2008). Recognising that students need individualised support and, thus, making policies that shift the focus of education towards a child-centred school system needs to be the way ahead.
Numerous challenges that currently plague the Indian education system need to be tackled en route. Adequate and frequent professional training of teachers that aims to help the teachers in addressing the challenges they are facing in the classroom needs to be given priority. Further, school leaders need to be supported in their efforts to engage parents and community members in the pursuit of enhancing learning outcomes for their children. Maintaining a pupil-teacher ratio that is conducive to learning in the classroom needs to become a primary goal of the government.
Another reality of present-day India is that 32.7% of the Indian population lives below the International Poverty Line. Children living in poverty and in the lower socio-economic strata do not have the privilege of focusing their time and energy solely on their education, and hence often fall behind the rest of the class. In the circumstance that the NDP is revoked, if children of such populations are detained in class, they are likely to drop out of school altogether. A child who is detained at school only seems to get farther away from the promised economic mobility that education would one day bring; hence, understandably, for parents who are already struggling to make ends meet, it makes economical sense to put their detained child into the labour market.
In such a socio-economic context, we must recognize that even if a child’s learning outcomes in school are low, the NDP at least ensures that the child is spending 6 hours of the day in a safe environment, is provided a nutritious meal, and has access to academic engagement. If our goal is the academic success of all our children, and not just a few, the education system and the teacher must be held responsible. I’m afraid that revoking the no-detention policy will herein make the mistake by placing the burden of success and failure entirely on the students’ shoulders.
Article by Vrinda Loiwal