‘No Child Left Behind’ is leaving children behind


No child left behind also known as the no detention policy has been one of the reasons why so many of India’s children have been left behind.

Chapter IV, Section 16 of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 reads:

“No child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education.”

This was partially inspired from the ‘No Child Left Behind Act 2001‘ in the United States.

The law clearly states that no school is allowed to detain a child till they finish grade eight. There can be no examination based on which students are asked to leave the school or repeat a grade. If a child doesn’t pass the evaluation, additional help is to be given to that child.

The intention behind it was simple. We don’t want any child to feel like a failure just because they did not meet the bar set for them that year. We don’t them to quit. We don’t want them to drop out of school. We want to ensure that all children stay in school till they are fourteen years old.

There are a lot of problems with this law.

Firstly, there are a lot of teachers who are now complaining that students don’t study in their class anymore because they know that they are going to be bumped to the next grade anyway. There has been a significant drop in learning outcomes and academic levels.

A sub-committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education on no-detention was constituted in 2012 under then Haryana Education Minister Geeta Bhukkal. The committee pitched for the return of detention in a phased manner. “We need to stop, re-assess and then move forward. At this stage, it would be prudent to reiterate the need for assessment of the learning outcomes, and make it consequential by linking it to promotion or otherwise to the next class beyond grade 5,” the committee said in its report. The committee argued that this had led to a decline in learning outcomes. It said, “Rather, the LLOs (Learning Level Outcomes) have steeply come down right from the academic sessions 2010-11 to 2013-14. The declining LLOs clearly reflect that there is something drastically wrong with the policy and system, which need to be remedied.” There was broad consensus that the policy should be scraped.

Secondly, students who are ‘pushed’ to a higher grade are supposed to be given extra support after school and through the summer break. Most of the schools are not providing it. There is no system to check whether a child who could not meet the bar is getting any extra support from the teacher or the school. Schools have expressed that they don’t have the resources in terms of extra teachers who can do this.

Thirdly, when students reach grade nine, they are so far behind on their learning curve that they either fail miserably or drop out of school. This is definitely not good for their confidence and neither is it good for the country. The resources spent on ‘teaching’ these children are all wasted if they end up dropping out anyways. This also makes them feel like school doesn’t add any value and this plays out when they have children of their own.

Fourthly, Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation was supposed to assess the student through the year so that their entire academic year is not dependent on one annual exam. The implementation of this system has been lackluster and even when implemented properly, the support given to the ‘weak’ students has been negligible if any. It ends up becoming administrative work that teachers have to fill in.

Fifthly, schools have started screening students through the years and then in grade nine, asked the ‘weaker’ students to leave so that the school’s resources can be concentrated on the ‘stronger’ students who are more likely to get them better results in the board exams. There is anyways a lack of secondary schools in the country and no school would want to take in a student who has been thrown out from another school because of his/her academic record. This leads to a lot of students writing exams as private students. There is an entire industry which makes money off of these students.

The thing is, all these problems are not new. They have surfaced when other countries have tried to implement ‘No child left behind’ type policies. These are countries which have more resources than we do and they still couldn’t make this policy work. We haven’t learnt anything from them.

What is the solution?

  • Scrap the no child left behind policy. Detain students who don’t make the grade. There have been talks of different states writing to the MHRD to revoke the law.
  • Some states [for example West Bengal] have started their own small projects to ensure that all students learn in school.
  • Providing additional support to students who don’t make the grade.
  • Giving them an option to cover up for lost time once they get into the habit of learning.
  • If the student feels like the school is not adding any value and decides to drop out, it is the school’s fault. It is criminal to force the child to come to school everyday and make them sit through class when it doesn’t add any value. It is the duty of the school staff and the school system to ensure that every child sees value in learning and that every child learns. Forcing children to sit in classrooms where there is no value addition is just not done.

If we truly believe that no child should be left behind, we should work towards ensuring that everyone who comes to class learns. Everyone learns at their own pace but everyone learns. It is our duty to ensure that in case a student falls behind, he/she is not treated like a failure and is well supported to do well in the future. It is our duty to provide them with the opportunity to make up for lost time in case they have to re-do a year.

Before we push kids to attend school for so many years, let us ensure that our schools teach them something valuable. If we take care of that, we will see that students will come to class on their own. Everyone wants to learn. The question is, are you teaching?

Update [29th June 2016]

The Draft National Education Policy proposes that the no detention rule be applied only till Grade 5. There are certain other changes that have been proposed to the No Detention policy. They can be found here in Point 4.4 in Chapter 4.

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