The shockingly poor language and basic arithmetic competence among school students in India that successive ASER studies talk about isn’t going to go away until, among other measures, the Right to Education Act is amended to drop the ‘no-detention’ policy. Even though no-detention was meant to ensure children didn’t get demoralised by poor performance in examinations, it has ended up doing great damage. Students get promoted without ensuring that they develop commensurate competence, and in the higher classes, when detention kicks in, those whose need for greater academic nurturing was glossed over start feeling the pressure—a case-control study of a sample of IX-XII graders in Tamil Nadu, published in the journal, Indian Pediatrics, found academic stress was closely linked with depression, in turn linked to greater suicidal tendencies, among adolescents.
The government would do well to heed the recommendation of a sub-committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) to review the policy, apart from reintroducing independent exams at the V and VIII grades. The matter, however, is a complicated one as there is no consensus amongst states. To be sure, the states had unanimously agreed to scrapping of the policy at the last CABE meeting, but upon being asked to send their final opinion on the matter to the HRD ministry, only half the states eventually submitted their views, and, more important, even this lot differed significantly with each other. Even though the Act is not amended to scrap the policy, there is a strong case to limit no-detention to the primary school level. Measures such as more remedial classes for under-performing students, pre-primary preparatory classes, greater use of audio-visual aids in classrooms, summer schools for students identified as needing greater help with bringing academic calibre on a par with peers will be better for students’ morale than a ‘sweep it under the carpet’ no-detention approach.