Fault in revoking the no-detention policy of RTE Act

Fault in revoking the no-detention policy of RTE Act

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 Photo for representation , Thinkstock

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Updated: Jul 24, 2018, 06:10 AM IST

Why do children fail? 

“They fail because they are afraid, bored and confused” (John Holt, How Children Fail)
The Lok Sabha on Saturday, passed an amendment to the Right to Education Act, revoking the no-detention policy. It is likely that given the support across parties, it will pass through the Rajya Sabha too. Even so, it is necessary to continue this conversation and inform both the public and policy-makers about the potential damage of this reversal. 
Section 16 of the RTE Act that earlier prohibited from holding back a child in any class cannot be read in isolation, and no detention did not ever mean no assessment. Section 16 should have been read in conjunction with Section 29 that talks about Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation and “making the child free of fear, trauma and anxiety”. 
The revised Section 16 has the provision for having examinations in classes 5 and 8, and sub-section 3 also allows “schools to hold back a child… if he fails in the re-examination”. Going by ASER data, roughly half of the children in classes 5 and 8 are a few classes lower in terms of learning outcomes than the class they study in, and hence, would fail their exams. Re-examination is an important element of the amendment. The additional instruction will have some associated costs too – it may require additional training, special curricula, and if regular teachers are not available during the two-month window, some honorarium for part-time or volunteer teachers may need to disbursed. Additional remedial interventions like these can cost Rs 800 – 1,000 per child, but even the most cost-efficient program will have an average cost of Rs 2501. Assuming 30 per cent of children in classes 5 and 8 fail their first attempt and have to undergo the additional instruction. This would translate to 61 lakh children in rural government schools, and the cost of providing such programs would be Rs 150 crore.
Now, this does not seem much given the scale of the public education system in India. But while some children may pass this re-examination and some may drop-out, others will repeat the same class. Let us say 25 per cent of the 61 lakh children have to repeat a year. Assuming an average expenditure of Rs 12,700 per child, this would mean an additional financial burden of over Rs 1,900 crore. To put this in perspective, this equates to 8 per cent of the Rs 26,129 crore Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) budget for 2018-19. 
The question is wouldn’t it be better to invest in Early Childhood Development (more Anganwadis, better training) to ensure that children have the right start before class 1? 
The author is an IIM(A) alumnus and has worked with many NGOs

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