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A Case For The No Detention Policy (NDP)

During my initial field visits of the Induction training of the India Fellow Social Leadership Program, I visited a few schools to learn from the teachers about the poor levels of education amongst the primary school children of our country. One of the first reasons they gave me was “we are not allowed to fail (detain) any student up to Class VII, and are to promote all the students irrespective of their grades”, also called the No Detention Policy or NDP. This happened over and over in the number of schools that I visited. When I joined my organisation PRAYOG, which works to improve the learning outcomes of the students in some of the Govt. schools in the Gopalganj district of Bihar, I got a chance to interact with the teachers in the schools which had our presence. Again, the teachers repeated that as they were not allowed to detain students, there was ‘no fear of exams’ amongst the students and hence they did not study.

Before I took my stand on the NDP, I had to look-up on why this provision was included in the policy document in the first place. While, looking at the Right to Education Act (RTE), 2009, it makes provisions for free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. Section 16 and 30 (1) of the RTE Act, provides that no child shall be expelled and no child shall be required to pass any Board examination till completion of elementary education i.e., Class 8. the  Modi Sarkaar is also considering towards scrapping this policy.

Some of the argument placed forward by the teachers whom I interacted with were,

There was no fear of examination amongst the students, and hence they don’t study

The reason for studying is not a means to pass the examination, but an end in itself. Moreover, if studying is merely reduced to doing it for the fear of the impending examinations, the whole point of education is lost. It reiterates the misplaced view we as a country have on education. A child is to be educated not for the purpose of passing the examination, but for their holistic development as the individual, to build their critical thinking faculties, to be able to reason, to provide a means of accessing and sifting through knowledge and be able to generate new ideas, to provide a platform to enhance his natural athletic, artistic, creative and intellectual abilities, to be emotionally capable of taking care of oneself and take a step towards building a society where a person’s fundamental human rights are safeguarded and duties fulfilled, to take a step towards a Humanist society.

“What is the point of exams if we can’t detain them

The examinations are not a means to promote or detain the students, but for their assessment. Examinations in primary schools are administered for the teacher to understand the kids who need attention and support and the kids who are doing well. The results from these evaluations are to be used then provide a support structure for the students so that they are able to learn the things they have missed.

This policy promotes the students even though they haven’t studied anything in the lower classes

This is where the role of the headmaster (autonomy) comes in. The school administration is supposed to make sure that the teachers are teaching the students and are not pushing the kids to a higher class. The one thing that the teachers can and should ensure is that, the child has learnt before the class ends. I agree that all the students cannot learn at the same level and pace, and Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) is a provision that is required. Not a detention policy.

The prompt for this blog post was when I saw the recently held examinations in one of the random schools. The teachers were absent from the classrooms and the examination hall was a group-discussion hall. When the teacher collected the papers and was arranging it, he said “What’s the point of these exams? We can’t fail them but have to promote them. So, instead of administering a re-test, we let them pass”. The teachers let the students cheat in the examinations to clear them, rather than giving the remedial classes re-testing them and doing the job for the hefty pay by the taxpayers’ money.

Now, keeping the entire system constant and reversing the NDP – a perspective.

  1. A detention policy gives the right to the teachers to keep the student in a class until he/she passes an examination. This makes the parents and the child focus on the end examination in order to get promoted, rather than studying. Education becomes exam-centric and not learning-centric.
  2. The teachers now escape the pressure of making sure the students learn before going to the next class by letting the students cheat in the examination. With a detention policy, they will not have any pressure at all. It will be the responsibility of the parent/child to get education from private tuitions or elsewhere so that they clear the examination. In the current system, the salary of the teachers will not be affected based on whether the child has learnt in the school or not.
  3. This can also open the gates for corruption. Corruption arises from the way the system is designed. If the proper checks and balances are not in place, the loopholes will be inevitably exploited. Indulging in corruption is not a judgement on the moral character of the individuals involved. In the current system with all the lack of transparency and accountability, the promotion of the student rests in the hands of the teachers, and such concentration of power inevitably leads to corruption.

The intention of this blog is only to show the intention of NDP and effects of an isolated reversal of the NDP.

Without making the teachers accountable for the learning outcomes of the students, without making the school answerable to the concerns of the parents, without incentivizing the teachers and schools to perform better and improve, there cannot be a sustainable school system that could go on to improve itself while also delivering the outcomes expected from it. For this to happen in India, we require a major over-haul of the system.

I want to conclude by saying – a child, as he/she grows up is incredibly curious. The natural affinity of the child is to question and learn the things that are happening around him. It should be our responsibility as teachers and adults to feed this curiosity and not encourage rote-learning of textbooks and dogma. We should focus on teaching the child to venture out into knowing the world around him, question it and try to improve the world we live in, and not be stuck in the menial rhetoric of passing examinations, scoring high marks and getting a job.

*Picture Credits: “RTE Act: Claiming education for every child” by Oxfam India.

Alston D'Souza

2016 fellow, placed with Prayog in Gopalgunj, Bihar as part of his fellowship. Working on strengthening the various projects undertaken by the organization to improve the public primary education. Alston says, "I believe the closest you can come to being happy is by simply controlling your inner experiences."

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