The School Education Department of Tamil Nadu is mulling introducing board exams for classes five and eight. Though the State Minister for School Education KA Sengottaiyan has made it clear that the examinations will not be implemented in the ongoing academic year, the news has started a debate on the need for such examinations for students as young as 10 years old.
The debate surrounding the latest proposal began when an amendment to the Right to Education (RTE) Act was introduced in the Parliament in 2017. Until this, the RTE Act, which was founded on the basic concept of uninterrupted education till the age of 14, prohibited the detention of students till they completed class eight. This meant that students between class 1 and class 8 could go to the next grade without having to pass the exams.
With the cancellation of the âno-detentionâ policy in Indian schools, administrators could detain students between class 5 and 8 if they fail their exams.
The Amendment sought to introduce exams in class 5 and 8 and re-exams for students who failed to pass those exams. While the state governments were given an option to adopt detention policy or uphold to the no-detention policy, Tamil Nadu chose the latter.
The amendment was referred to a standing committee and then finally passed in Lok Sabha in July 2018.
Detention a last-ditch measure: National Education Policy
The National Education Policy 2016 (NEP2016) also discusses the no-detention policy in detail, weighing the pros and cons of it.
The argument in favour of the no-detention policy considered the following: The self-esteem issues that students could face, given the social stigma associated with failing; the idea of âfear of failingâ being detrimental to the overall wellbeing of the child; and an opportunity to address the rate of dropouts, thereby giving the students a chance to education.
Those against the no-detention policy pointed to the lack of incentive for students to learn since promotion is assured and that the teachers will eventually lose interest in teaching the disinterested students. It also calls into question the level of competence, knowledge and skill of the students who are promoted simply based on a rule rather than their own achievement. Further, voices against the policy also stated that automatic promotion does not address the issue of school dropouts, but will only protract it.
NEP2016 then advised detaining students whose academic standards were below the minimum requirements. However, it also stated that detention must be a last-ditch measure after giving remedial coaching for the student and two more chances to clear the exams.
An added burden: Parents, associations
Ashish*, a member of editorial board in National Council Of Educational Research And Training (NCERT), tells TNM that the move to introduce board exams in classes five and eight will prove detrimental to the end goal of education. âThis move has the potential to increase the dropout rates, thereby increasing child-marriages and child-labourers. If the proposal is implemented, it will first affect the children from SC/ST and other working-class communities,â he says.
Maintaining a similar view, S Arumainathan, State President, Tamil Nadu Students Parents Welfare Association, a day after KA Sengottaiyan clarified that the decision was not final yet, said that the move will put unwanted pressure in children.
He also added that the association has made a representation to Pradeep Yadav, the secretary of School Education Department, to reconsider the decision. âThe Secretary told us that the point of contention, which is still under deliberation, was indeed the no-detention policy. This is the reason for the delay in introducing examinations,â Arumainathan told TNM.
Meanwhile, parents at large are quite happy with the state of affairs. Clement Williams, the father of a class 4 student in a school in Chennai, says that the proposal is overkill. âContinuous assessment with internal tests ensure children are studying regularly and not such exams. With this system in place, what will be the intended benefit of the (proposed) scheme is puzzling,â he says, adding that the current system of continuous assessment in a systematic manner does not eliminate stress but keeps it to a minimum level.
âWill help students prepare for class 10 examsâ: Teachers
However, there are voices in support of the move, too. Lakshmi*, a teacher working in a government school in Tamil Nadu, tells TNM that board exams for class 8 will help filter students who can tackle the pressure that comes with class 10 exams.
Concurring with the proposal of public examinations for class 5 and class 8, she says, âBoard exams in class 8 will help us identify students who need extra attention because it is a huge jump. In Tamil Nadu, with automatic promotion till class eight, students have just one year in between to mentally prepare themselves to face the pressure that comes with class 10.â
However, she expressed hope with the new syllabus introduced by Tamil Nadu government. âThis year, we are following a new syllabus for class 9. In this, the students are tested on concepts and content from within the chapter and not just based on the questions at the end of the lesson. There is a ray of hope that this will help students and teachers focus on what is imbibed in a classroom and not just out of memory. Moving forward, this will help decide the need for board exams,â she explains.
The way forward
Ashish points out that textbooks should be designed to promote learning and not rote-learning. âThe government schools in Tamil Nadu probably have the best foundation for activity-based learning. But, we are not taking full advantage of it, starting with the way textbooks are designed,â he rues.
âTextbooks show the amount of unwanted information we dump on children. Most of the syllabus is aimed at preparing the child for higher education -- calculus, ancient history etc. A child, at best, uses 10-15 per cent of what he learns in school in his real life. Similarly, what a student in the USA or Europe learns in classes 6 or 7, a student in India learns it in class 3 or 4. That is the amount of overload we are giving our children. In such cases, moves like bringing in board exams will only pull the children backwards,â he adds.
Explaining that a complete overhaul of school education is inevitable at this given point, Ashish recommends more attention be given to help the students grasp the concept and learn its practical applications than burdening them with more barriers.
*Names changed on request