The government’s proposal to amend the Right to Education Act and allow States to drop the no-detention policy at the primary and middle school levels will have far-reaching consequences for the education scenario. The proposal, which will give States the choice to detain children in classes 5 and 8, does not consider socio-economic factors and the state’s limitations in providing education, especially for the weaker sections.
According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the dropout rate in elementary school was about 4% in 2014-2015. Detaining children on the basis of examinations will lead to an increase in the dropout rate. Parents may feel the child will be better off going to work as he/she can help bring additional income to the family and learn a skill for survival. Economically disadvantaged groups do not have access to private tuitions to train their children to perform better the following year in the same class. This will mean more youngsters out of school with no prospects of a productive future.
Detention will become an added disincentive particularly for girls. They face numerous challenges including puberty (many drop out of school because they do not have access to low-cost sanitary napkins and toilets in schools), lack of schools closer home, and the burden of siblings and early marriage. There will be an increase in the number of child marriages and teenage pregnancies. In a society that considers the girl child a burden, and a country which has the second highest number of child marriages, parents will only find another reason to marry the girl off rather than send her to the same class for the second consecutive year. Cutting a girl child’s education short in the name of improving learning levels is certainly not in the best interest of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao.’
The government’s latest proposal goes against the spirit of the RTE, which is a fundamental right guaranteeing free and compulsory education till the age of 14. According to the Right to Education Act: “The overall objective of age appropriate admission for these children is to save them from the humiliation and embarrassment of sitting with younger children. When older children are forced to sit in a class younger than their age, they tend to be teased, taunted, suffer lower self-esteem, and consequently drop out.” This logic also holds good for children who are made to repeat the same class while their classmates are promoted to the next class.
Teacher shortage and quality of teaching and learning continue to be huge challenges in a country that depends on the private sector to deliver on the education front. Given teacher absenteeism and shortage of skilled teachers in many state-run schools, and the level of competition children from disadvantaged groups face in private schools, it is unfair to evaluate children in an examination and deny them promotion based on their performance.
The RTE should not be curtailed for any reason. Many children from weaker sections have benefited from this right. Taking away the guarantee the Act offers up to the middle school level is retrograde.