Why should 'no-detention' policy be removed

A few years after implementing no-detention up to Class VIII, there’s pressure now to repeal the policy and hence, the Human Resource Development Ministry has gone into a ‘what-next’ huddle! There is great concern because the unpalatable reality, especially in the government sector, is that most teachers no longer teach, most pupils do not care to learn and most parents are unable to help.

How did we get into this lose-lose state of affairs? Well, after several years of debate of the no-detention hot potato, our ‘educrats’ finally implemented it up to Class VIII. This seemed very learner-friendly and also made good economic sense in a poor country where taxpayers’ money needs to spread over as many children as possible (not repeatedly over the same child at the same level)!

So what went wrong? I’m convinced that these ‘educrats’ seemed to have behaved like ostriches toward a couple of hard facts, that is: a)Oranges and apples can’t grow on the same tree! While no detention may have worked in Finland, replication in India where the educational soil is completely different, was a non-starter. Near-primitive facilities especially in government schools and near-total corruption amongst staff ensure that neither teaching nor learning happens at anywhere near satisfactory levels; b) Pupil and learning centricity hasn’t happened yet in India. It’s still only about teachers and teaching – an archaic approach that over-emphasises tests and exams making a mockery of sustainable learning for life.

Talk to heads of government schools and they will be happy to tell you how a poor system got worse with the no-detention policy. In a nutshell, teacher absenteeism rocketed while pupil discipline plummeted.

Everyone knows pupils have no incentive to study. So much so that millions of children in public schools now languish at two class levels lower than the one in which they sit (if they haven’t dropped out). Secondary school teachers have told me that too many pupils come to them without being able to read, write or compute coherently even in their own mother tongue. Disastrous outcome remains inevitable at the end of Class X.

Will the return of detention improve this harsh reality? As a knee-jerk response, one might be tempted to think so. But great care needs to be exercised at this particular crossroad if we are not to go from the frying pan into the fire. The following is a suggested modification of the policy in a more India-friendly manner that may hasten a better win-win consequence . These modifications are offered along with a few complementary conditions that will help support them.

KG to Class II: Retain the ‘no-detention policy’ until the end of Class II; Complementary Conditions: Correct implementation of Continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE), that is, assessment is clearly referenced to learning objectives and standards to ensure steady progress; Teachers are accountable for pupils attaining at least the minimum learning level. It is taxpayers’ money that pays salaries, isn’t it?

Teacher accountability

There is the need to implement diagnostic assessment at the start of each academic year to check whether the previous year’s content has been mastered at the minimum level to help teachers remain on course; At-risk pupils are supported additionally right from the start of the academic year so that minimum learning levels are achieved.

Class III to V: Begin detention from the end of Class III. However, make retests available after a short period of focused preparation in weak areas to facilitate slightly delayed promotion wherever possible. Complementary conditions: Continuation of diagnostic assessment – teacher accountability is a must; Classroom approach continues to be ‘what is it that children can do with what they know and understand?’; Assessment is a mixture of formative assessment and summative evaluation (with emphasis on the former), and also clearly referenced to learning objectives and standards.

Regularly scheduled, traditional short paper and pencil tests – initially for 10 marks in Class III, eventually increasing to 25 marks by Class V so that pupils begin to deal with them gradually, gaining confidence in their ability to take them successfully; Support of at-risk pupils right from the start of the academic year so that minimum learning levels are achieved;

Class VI to Class VIII: Re-introduce detention from the end of Class VI if minimum levels are not reached (no retest/delayed promotion under any circumstance). Again, complementary conditions are: Classroom practices are such that pupils’ ‘thinking is made visible’ through various exercises to facilitate development of higher levels of intellectual ability; Once again, teachers’ guiding principle can be ‘what is it that children can do with what they know and understand?’; Assessment is a mixture of formative assessment and summative evaluation but with a gradual, greater emphasis on the latter; Regularly scheduled traditional summative tests with a clear scheme that requires pupils to demonstrate their ability in different ways i.e. recall, application, analytical skills, creativity etc; Continue diagnostic assessment – teacher accountability remains a must.

Thus, classroom teaching-learning-assessment-promotion practices will gradually extend as children mature and simultaneously embed greater systemic integrity. I appeal to our HRD ministry mandarins whose own children attend leading, private schools, to revise the policy smartly and quickly.

Or better still, let’s end the party and make it mandatory for all government employees at every level of service to send their children to government schools. ‘Bacchon ke liye acche din jaldi aayenge’!

(The writer is a freelance education consultant)

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