TN: Board exams for class 5, 8; activists raise concern

Board exams for class 5, 8 in Tamil Nadu; activists raise concern

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Children as young as 10 years old will be forced to go through the strenuous task of writing a board exam this March-April in Tamil Nadu with the state government making it mandatory for students of class five and eight.

More than 20 lakh students across the state will sit for the public examinations from March 30-April 15 as Tamil Nadu is the first state to implement the amendment to the Right to Education (RTE) Act that scrapped the no-detention policy.

Though the state government maintains that it would continue to follow the no-detention policy despite conducting a board exam for three years till 2022, child rights activists and educationists decry the move and want the AIADMK dispensation to roll back the decision immediately.

Demanding scrapping of the move, activists say forcing children from the age of 10 to 13 to sit through a board exam would not just exert “unnecessary pressure” on them at “tender age” but also lead to heavy dropouts, especially of girl children, from the school at a time when the enrolment rates are quite high in Tamil Nadu.

They also point out such a policy could result in an increase in child labour as “non-performing” or “under-performing” students would be pulled out of the school by parents. Tamil Nadu has been a strong advocate of no-detention policy till 8th standard for long, but the AIADMK changed its stance last year.

“I am clueless as to how the state government invent this idea. It is nothing but throwing the RTE to the dustbin. Even the amendment doesn't say exams should be mandatory. But here is a government which wants to make children in the age group of 10 to 13 to lose their childhood and appear for exams," P.B. Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary of State Platform for Common School System, told DH.

A Devaneyan, Director of Thozhamai an organisation fighting for rights of children, said the government hasn’t realised the impact of its decision 10 to 15 years down the line. “The decision to conduct board exams for 5th and 8th standard will increase pushouts from schools. It would not just lead to an increase in child labour but would also put girl children under threat. Governments must undertake an impact study before coming out with such decisions,” Devaneyan told DH.

However, School Education Minister K A Sengotaiyyan defended the move, saying the exams are being conducted only to assess student’s learning skills. But activists say a public exam is not the only way to asses a child’s skills.

Giving strength to his argument, Babu said the government’s assurance of continuance of no-detention policy for three years does not make any sense as “exam is an exam” and parents would not let children enjoy their free time for the fear of the public exam.

“Children of that age need extra care from everyone and such a pressure would just not help them. The biggest sufferers would be girl children. If they don’t pass the exams, there is a higher chance that parents might pull them out of school and send them for some work or marry them off,” Babu added.

He noted that Tamil Nadu is known for bringing girl children to school in large numbers because of the social reform movements and warned the latest move might just reverse the trend.

P.K. Ilamaran of Tamil Nadu Teachers Association viewed the decision as a “planned move” to snatch the freedom of children and junked the government’s claim that a board exam would help children prepare for competitive exams better in the future.

“The move to conduct board exams would deprive children of the joys that they would enjoy. This is the age when children accompany their parents to marriages and public events where they begin to socialise. But a board exam for 5th and 8th standard would force parents to make them study all the time for the fear of exams,” Ilamaran told DH.

Babu also said the government should concentrate its energy and focus on improving infrastructure in schools run by it and making education accessible to all instead of coming out with such strange ideas. “What is the point in testing the children’s skills when there is no equitable access to education? Government needs to first focus on infrastructure in schools and fill all vacancies before testing students’ skills,” Babu said.

Devaneyan said he was upset at the reaction from political parties to this “most important political issue.”

“It is being dismissed as small issue by politicians as students are not their vote bank. Just like parents take their children for granted on some issues, the political parties are also taking them for granted. This is a major political issue on which there should be more discussion and debate,” he said.