The no-fail policy under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which was meant to ease pressure on students, seems to be sending them straight to the psychiatrist’s couch.

Representation pic
Representation pic

A class VI student (name not given to protect the child’s identity) was recently diagnosed with depression. After several sessions with the psychiatrist, it was found that what the child really needed was help with his studies. The boy had started believing he was not good enough as he was unable to grasp even basic maths. He began to feel depressed and disconnected in class.

Another class VIII student kept finding reasons to skip school. When parents and counsellors gently questioned him, it was found that he no longer enjoyed school because classmates mocked his inability to understand what was being taught.

Yet another class VII student was brought to a psychiatrist after he began exhibiting behavioural changes. The once happy child was suddenly avoiding school and refused to study. The psychiatrist found that the boy has started struggling in school after class V as he was unable to understand what was being taught and had started hating school.

This, psychiatrists said, was happening because children are being promoted till class VIII under the RTE policy despite a poor evaluation result in each class, which means children get to the next class without fully understanding what had been taught in the lower class. Psychiatrists said they received at least eight to 10 such cases every month.

‘No-fail policy flawed’
Dr Samir Dalwai, president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, Mumbai, said, “Under RTE, with children being easily promoted to the next class, there is a widening chasm between their ability to grasp and what is being taught in class. If the child has not achieved the level of knowledge that he/she is supposed to in the lower class, the child feels lost and disconnected in the higher class.”

He said, “There could be many reasons for a student’s depression. It could be that he or she is a slow learner or dyslexic, has an attention deficit disorder or even has family issues. This, added to lagging behind in class, makes the child feel dejected. Also, if the child is not fit to have passed class III, he/she will not understand what is being taught in class IV. A classroom cannot be decided based on the age of the child but on his/her academic achievements.”

The no-fail policy under the RTE Act has been an issue of concern for educationists ever since its implementation. This policy was criticised after it was observed that several schools were detaining children in class IX as their learning was not at par with the academic knowledge required at that level.

Uday Nare, language teacher from Hansraj Morarji School in Andheri, said, “Students are promoted till class VIII very easily and then the pressure falls on them in class IX where their lack of understanding of most subjects comes as a shock. A continuous comprehensive evaluation pattern, such as baseline tests, under RTE is good practice.”

Baseline tests, a waste of time
Director of State Council of Educational Research and Training, Govind Nandede, said, “Following the rising number of complaints about how the failure rate in class IX had increased, we conducted a test to gauge the actual levels of understanding in class VIII. Following this, baseline tests were introduced last year by the state at every level from class I. The objective is to provide schools with a benchmark to evaluate children on what they are supposed to know in order to go to the next class. This is done so that teachers can take remedial action with children found lagging behind.”

Last year, the tests conducted on class VIII students threw up alarming statistics. The tests evaluated children on basic reading and mathematics. The report showed that more than 66.2% class VIII students in the state lacked basic maths skills – subtraction and division. Around 80% of these students were unable to read the contents of even class II textbooks.

Parents, however, say the baseline tests are just a sham as the state does not monitor them. This means schools take no steps to help weak students.

‘Regular evaluation a must’
Rohan Bhatt, chairman of the Children’s Academy Group of Schools, said, “Evaluation in any form written, oral or project modules should eventually be relevant. If neither students nor schools take it seriously it becomes a mere formality. It does not decide if the child goes to the next class. Right now, children, teachers and parents have become complacent with the no-fail policy.”

Sudam Kumbhar, principal of Shailendra School, Dahisar, said, “As things stand right now, the entire burden of learning falls on the student in class IX, where we see cases of failure. The teachers and the school then have to put in tremendous effort in class IX to ensure more and more students pass, as within a year, this batch is going to decide the class X results of the school.”

‘RTE Act misinterpreted?’
Explaining the misinterpretation of the RTE Act, educationist Heramb Kulkarni said, “The objective of this act was to encourage continuous comprehensive evaluation of children, which will not only be based on their score in examinations.”

He said, “For schools and parents, too, there is no reality check until class IX. The evaluation patterns under the RTE are appreciable, but the reality of the competitive world has to be accepted too. If a child is not being failed until class IV then the government can take one uniform basic test for class IV students to know if their learning till that class is up to acceptable standards. This competition will keep children, schools, teachers and parents on their toes.”

Vasant Kalpande, former chairperson of the Maharashtra state board, said, “The RTE Act has wonderful provisions. It endorses studying without pressure and that academic achievements do not only depend on what a child is scoring in an examination. It gives importance to the holistic development of the child. This is why several new forms of assessment are brought in, such as project work, activity sheets and so on. The focus is on the child’s learning and understanding. Because if this, there is also a provision in the RTE that schools identify children unable to learn at a regular pace and organise remedial teaching for them. RTE has never stated no examinations.”