The No- Detention Policy and the fate of education for the marginalized in India

The No-Detention Policy is likely to be dropped at the elementary school level according to a recent government proposal. In a cultural milieu where educational opportunities are already scarce for the marginalized in general and for the girl child in particular, the repercussions that this is likely to have are drastic.

Naresh Kumar is a research scholar, working in the field of education. He lives in Dehradun.

The government has recently proposed to amend the Right to Education Act and let the states drop the no-detention policy at the elementary level and this is sure to have far-reaching repercussions for the education scenario. The proposal, which will imply that the states will now have the choice to detain children in classes 5 and 8, is not considerate about the socio-economic factors involved and the state’s limitations in providing education, especially for the weaker/marginalized sections of the society.

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The Ministry of Human Resource Development has established the fact that the dropout rate in elementary school was approximately 4% in 2014-2015. What is worth understanding here is that the flexibility of detaining children based on their performance in examinations will lead to an increase in the dropout rate by a considerable rate.  In a society like ours, it is likely that the guardians may feel the child will be better off working and contributing to an additional income for the family and learning the tactics of survival than spending years in a school. It is needless to add that economically marginalized/disadvantaged groups do not have access to any special help/guidance be they private tuition’s or coaching classes to train them to perform better the following year in the same class. This will result in the fact that each year more youngsters will be out of school with hardly any opportunity for a meaningful future.

Detention will certainly be a higher disadvantage for the economically backward but for the female children enrolled in schools it will become an unprecedented disadvantage. They already face numerous challenges and several hindrances in the process of their schooling including inadequate access to basic conditions and necessities including challenges of puberty (many girls continue to drop out of schools as they do not have access to subsidized sanitary hygiene or toilets in schools), lack of neighborhood schools, the responsibility of taking care of younger siblings and the pressure for early marriage. The permission to detain children at such an early age will mean both the increase in the number of child marriages as well as the resultant teenage pregnancies and associated health disorders. In a cultural milieu in which the girl child is considered a burden, and a country which has the second highest number of child marriages in the world, parents will only find another added reason to marry off their daughters at an even earlier age rather than have her sent to study in the same class for the second time. Cutting short the girl child’s education is certainly quite in contradictions to the claims of the famous campaign ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao.’

The government’s proposal is therefore in many significant ways against the spirit of the RTE, which is a fundamental right guaranteeing free and compulsory education till the age of 14.  The Right to Education Act states that:
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 is also true for children who are compelled to repeat the same class while their classmates are promoted to the next higher class.

 The added problems of teacher shortage and poor quality of teaching and learning continue to be huge problem towards inclusive education more so at a time when the country depends on the private sector to deliver on the education front.  What adds to the seriousness of the matter is the problem of teacher absenteeism and the absence/lack of skilled teachers in most state-run schools, and the hardcore competition that children from disadvantaged groups have to face in private schools amidst these conditions that are not only unfair and unjust but also discouraging and demeaning it is extremely unfair to evaluate children in an examination and deny them promotion based on their performance especially at such an elementary stage in their educational journey. The RTE is an act that is the backbone of India and it has the potential to liberate it from the backlogs and burdens of the past.

The RTE should not be compromised upon for any reason or logic no matter how brilliantly placed. Many children from the marginalized rungs of society have had an access to education only because of the act and when this act is compromised upon it will deny lakhs of children their only chance towards a bright future.

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