The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Act, 2019: An Analysis

By- Pragya Garg

Education has been the issue of utmost importance for Indian governments since Independence. This has led to various fiscal and social policy changes over the past decades. After 62 years of Independence, the Indian Parliament passed its first Right of Children to free and Compulsory Education Act in 2009. It gave Rights to Children, from age six to fourteen years, of free and compulsory education with a no-detention policy throughout their elementary school, i.e. till Class 8. According to the Ministry of Human Resource and Development, the annual average dropout rate at the primary school level in 2017-18 was 4 percent(1). There is a notion amongst most Indian parents that hard labour rather than education would be more helpful for the family as well as the child. This reflects a lack of awareness and education in the older generation of the country. Chapter IV, Section 16 of the said Act thus declared “No Child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education” (2). The idea behind this clause was to ensure that each and every child gets a proper elementary education without getting demotivated or being pressurized by their parents to drop-out.

There was relentless criticism and debate regarding the new No- Detention Policy enacted by the Parliament. Many argued that it would result in less learning and more lecturing in the country adding that automatic promotion leads to a lack of incentive for children to learn and for teachers to teach. Others argued that detention could lead to dropouts and demotivation among the children, especially in a country like India, where education is not a priority. After years of debate and discussion, in 2019, the Parliament amended the Act. It scraped the No- Detention Policy and added four clauses in Section 16 of the Act.

Section 2 of the Amendment states that In the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, for section 16, the following section shall be substituted:

 (1) There shall be a regular examination in the fifth class and in the eighth class at the end of every academic year.

 (2) If a child fails in the examination, he shall be given additional instruction and granted opportunity for re-examination within a period of two months from the date of declaration of the result.

(3) The appropriate Government may allow schools to hold back a child in the fifth class or in the eighth class or in both classes, in such manner and subject to such conditions as may be prescribed, if he fails in the re-examination, Provided that the appropriate Government may decide not to hold back a child in any class till the completion of elementary education.

(4) No child shall be expelled from a school till the completion of elementary education” (3)

Key Issues and Analysis:

(1)   Provisions regarding the examinations and detention are at variance from what most of the states have demanded. All states have their own requirements as implementation of CCE is different in each state. For example, Delhi suggested detention from class 4 onwards. On the other hand, Punjab and Odisha suggested examinations in every class from 1 to 8.

(2)   The Bill talks about re-examination for the children who fail in the assessment test but is unclear about who will administer them, the Centre, or the state.

The Central Advisory board of Education released a report on Assessment and Implementation of CCE and No-detention in 2015(4). According to their surveys, the No- Detention Policy can only be implemented in an ideal education system, where all resources are optimally available and used. The findings of these surveys revealed that the learning levels in government schools had been declining promoting migration towards private schools.  The main cause of failure of the No-detention policy was its wrong interpretation. Through CCE (Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation) and No detention policy, the government tried to inculcate an attitude of comprehensive learning by removing the fear of failure and making learning joyful. Most of the schools interpreted it as ‘No-Assessments’ or ‘No Relevance of Assessments’ which was not the intention. In 2016, 58% of children in class 3 were unable to read a class 1 level text.  At the national level, 73% of children in class 3 were unable to do basic arithmetic (5). The board suggested that there should be proper training of teachers for the implementation of CCE and No-Detention policy should be implemented in a phased manner.

This Amendment was proposed and later on implemented since many states were concerned that without a proper technique of assessing the knowledge gained by children in a particular class, they cannot be promoted to a higher grade. Learning levels of children remain stagnant as neither the students nor the teachers feel the obligation to dutifully engage in the teaching-learning process as they are going to get promoted anyway. Only six states in India were against the amendment, viz. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, and Telangana(6). These states have significantly higher learning outcomes amongst students as compared to the national average because of their relatively robust implementation of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) paradigm mandated in the RTE Act (7).The main issue was the improper implementation of CCE and not the No-Detention Policy. But, the Policy was targeted and criticized. CCE is a pedagogical tool to ensure learning, with measurable outcomes. It entails a year-long evaluation of students on various parameters without the burden of exams. Due to lack of teacher training and public funds, it is interpreted in a wrong manner and thus, remains ineffective for the system.

The Amendment can be criticized as it failed to understand the pedagogical and human rights principle recognized by Supreme Court in 2012. Section 16 in the Act was added to ensure that the children get a dignified and joyful education till class 8. The No- detention policy was criticized right from the beginning without understanding the spirit and rationale of the provision. The Centre failed to inform the process of CCE, which led to wrongful interpretation and thus made the whole provision counterproductive.

The Act must ensure that the assessment is based on learning outcomes and not age or completion of the syllabus. It is acceptable to have students in lower classes in comparison to their age, as long as they are at par with the expected knowledge of that class. RTE should focus on improving the quality of education and not attendance in schools. Parents should be aware of the curriculum so that they can provide ample support. They can help by filling online forms about their child’s development and give suggestions to the school authority for further improvement. For most of the teachers the concept of CCE is a mystery. There should be proper teacher training programme to ensure proper implementation of the same. There should be a sense of accountability in the minds of the teachers as well as the parents.

India lacks behind in providing a basic level of education to its children, therefore we should first create a culture for education and then try to implement such policies. Overall culture should be changed from ‘teaching’ to ‘learning’. RTE should ensure that children use their initial years of schooling gainfully and productively. A meaningful and joyous school experience that constantly drives children towards merit and excellence will keep them motivated and kindle life. 

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