January 3, 2019
Nadimul Haque speaks on The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill, 2018
Respected Deputy Chairman Sir, thank you for allowing me to speak on this Bill which amends the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.
Sir, first of all, I have to remind the House that in 1976, ‘education’ by the 42nd amendment was taken out of State List and put in the Concurrent List. Sir, we must think about whether it can be put back in the State List, in the spirit of cooperative federalism.
Standardised testing is part of a bureaucracy that adds layers of surveillance mechanisms and procedures for students to follow. These examinations constrain our youth’s possibilities and freedom. Good students are shown to be smart and successful standardised test-takers, their talents and co-curricular performances are largely ignored. The media, coaching industry and society including peers play a part in perpetuating this pressure, thus creating a self-sustaining cycle.
Under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, no child can be held back in any class until the completion of elementary school (classes 1-8). The Bill amends this provision to empower the central or state government to allow schools to hold back a child in class 5, class 8, or in both classes.
The Bill states that a regular examination will be held in class 5 and class 8 at the end of every academic year. If a child fails in these examinations, he will be given additional instruction and the opportunity for a re-examination, within six months from the declaration of the result. The child may be held back in class 5, class 8, or in both classes if he fails in the reexamination. The central and state government may also decide to not hold back the child in any class till the completion of elementary education. Further, the central or state government will decide the manner and the conditions subject to which a child may be held back.
We have waited for 4 years for the New Education Policy, with no results. Instead, NITI Aayog’s “Strategy for New India @ 75” released on 19th December 2018 has come out with excellent recommendations. It suggests testing teachers tri-annually on the same test designed for students and increasing expenditure on education to 6% of the GDP.
However, we must not only limit the role of education to test-taking. Examinations go beyond impacting children but also changes the nature of teaching, narrows the curriculum, and limits student learning. Teachers’ tasks increase because they take up work related to testing in addition to their regular teaching duties. As a result, teachers have less time for teaching.
Standardised tests also narrow the entire curriculum in many schools, often leaving out subjects such as music, art, sports, and, especially in elementary grades because they are not included in tests. Most importantly, standardised tests limit student learning because they focus only on cognitive dimensions, ignoring many other qualities that are essential to student success. Another limitation on student learning results from the negative perceptions standardised tests can give to students about themselves and their own abilities.
These examinations have different effects on various populations of students, and they usually lead to significant limits on learning among poor and minority students. For example, the scores of poor and minority students are often lower than their peers from better off socio-economic background, and these results can lead to a failure of recognising their potential.
Children primarily undergo stress due to two factors. The first is the hype that surrounds the board examinations. At present, if you see, from the time students enter Class IX, the pressure is relentless, with continual pressure to perform in time for the boards. The Bill has now preponed this stress by another 5 years. Now, the scores in Class V will be held as a certification of the child’s potential.
The second cause of stress is the students’ inherent belief in their own capabilities. Given the hype and pressure created, it is easy to start doubting one’s own capacity. Coupled with immense amounts of peer comparisons, large amounts of curricular material and long, continuous periods of focused study, stress generation is inevitable. Students continually study and memorize large amounts of information.
Careful consideration needs to be given to the students’ mental state throughout the year. Professional help is difficult to find because India endures an acute shortage of mental-health professionals. There are only 898 psychologists against 20,250 required in the country and less than 900 psychiatric social workers against the 37,000 needed. Mental healthcare is a much-neglected arena in our country. To cater to a population of 1.3 billion, India only has about 0.3 mental health professionals and 10 hospital beds per 100,000 people. Most Western countries spend 4 per cent of the budget on mental health while India spends only 0.4 per cent. Failing in exams or inability to cope with academics is the primary reason for student suicides. This step to test children at such a young age calls for mental health and wellness to be added to school curriculum. Student counselling must be made accessible to every child enrolled in school, before another set of board examinations to add to the existing stress on children.
Finland, for example, routinely tops rankings of global education systems and is famous for having no banding systems — all pupils, regardless of ability, are taught in the same classes. Sir, on the front of education, West Bengal has been taking rapid strides in the last seven years, under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. Many of the successes, which have been proven in Bengal, can be duplicated at the national level.
Present system of education and examination in India is a major hindrance for child development. Standardised testing, through board exam in Class V and Class VIII, goes on to institutionalise stress on children even before they are old enough to understand, let alone handle the pressure. The system seeks to categorise some students as ‘unsmart’ as opposed to an ‘ideal, smart’ student.
In an age where multiple literacies and talents are valued more and more, standardised testing acts as a form of social control. The objective of standardised testing has become a normal mechanism to test, monitor and ‘improve’ children’s performance. The idea is to help identify those youth who are not maximizing their potential and may not be productive citizens.
Sir, I would like to add a couplet here:
Hadh se bade jo ilm, toh hain jahal doston,
Sab kuchh jo jaante hain, woh kuchh nahin jaante.
Sir, I support this Bill, but with caution. The Government must therefore, not merely limit its role in taking examinations, but contribute to the holistic development and well-being of the child.