Failing Children

A rough meaning of the word ‘Fail’ is to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved. Following this definition, in the Indian education system any child who has not learnt a desired amount or level within an approved period of time and during a one-time assessment is considered to have failed and is thereby detained for another year in the same class having. The assumption made is that with a little more time i.e. an extra year in this case the child will cope and learn and so not fail.
In the year 2009, educators and policy makers came together to introduce non-detention coupled with the idea of Continuous comprehensive evaluation as part of the RTE Act. The premise of this two sided policy was that if what a child is learning is evaluated continuously (i.e at regular points of time with the scope of changing methods deployed to teach, learn and engage if required )and comprehensively (i.e to be able to point out that the child is a fast learner probably in Maths and Science but not in the languages or has developed critical thinking skills but not social skills) such an evaluation would allow the teacher and the system a better idea and understanding of where the child stood in the learning curve, what more the child required in terms of support and resources that the system needed to deploy to further learning. The assumption here is that with such techniques there would be little and in fact no chances of the child being detained since learning was being monitored continuously and it was not a one time assessment.
Several research studies have already proved that detaining a child doesn’t necessarily lead to improved learning but what it definitely does is it lead to a sense of loss, shame and in many cases drop outs.
Unfortunately the introduction of this policy came with little or no preparedness from those implementing it barring making the announcement of Non Detention loud and clear. Teachers were made to understand that they can’t fail children and children understood that they cannot be detained. However the operational terms of learning, assessment and evaluation of and for learning were missing. Also the law doesn’t allow examination but it doesn’t not allow assessment.
Hence it wasn’t clear what ‘success of the policy’ looked like. Would the policy be successful if no teacher detained and no child was child was detained, or if learning outcomes increased, or children were visibly happier learning or that diverse strategies were employed by teachers to engage children in the process of learning. It is not clear.
With no clarity on what the success of the policy would look like – a review of it would has would naturally result in the same – no clarity. And hence a review of the half implemented policy over the last 7 years is now resulting in its withdrawal as recommended by the drafting committee of the NEP 2015.
Following is a brief summary of points raised by a set of school leaders and assessors about what the policy of non detention and CCE needs to address to be successful.
1. Professional Development of School leaders and teachers
a. The philosophical basis for this policy is that children come to school to learn, not to be branded as failures. If children are not able to pass tests, the teachers need to attend to them through a variety of strategies that make it possible for them to succeed. The reason schools have not supported the no detention policy is because it requires several inputs for it to be successful. One of the first being professional development of leaders and teachers which the policy has not addressed
b. In most institutions, the management tends to see the success of a teacher purely in terms of academic results ( no. of children scoring above ninety percent, no. of first divisions, no. of failures etc etc) Doing anything out of fear is not driven by motivation. It is mere compliance. Studies have shown that students who feel threatened by their teachers’ messages on failure left them more often feeling less motivated. On the other hand if fewer fear tactics were used the students feel less threatened and are motivated intrinsically. But sadly most institutions believe in fear appeals and stress on the need of avoiding failure rather than the possibility of success.
2. Rethinking what learning means, comprises and how it takes place
a. The whole idea of horizontal grouping of children may need to be rethought and replaced it with grouping by learning interest or requirement? While it may be a timetabling nightmare, at least there is no “failure” or pressure to learn at the same pace and rate as the rest of the class.
b. Most of our schools are not fit for 21st century purpose. Almost none of our children leave school able to think critically, to problem solve and to work collaboratively. Our central focus over the next two years should be to begin the challenging task of building the capacity of our leaders and teachers to promote and develop 21st century independent thinking young citizens.
c. It is time to shift mindset to effort and success and not complacency and mediocrity
3. Assessment and Evaluation
a. The teacher fraternity need to be retrained to create such opportunities. The system needs a paradigm shift of what they should prioritise- marks or independent learners, seekers, problem solvers…So if Government policy focuses on exams and failure, how do we advocate mindset shift so that it becomes part of the NEP
b. The purpose of education is to prepare grounded and rooted people, effort, success, failure are part of life, why do we assess and give grades? So too individuals need to confront reality and educate them to face reality in life, or else we form a group of people who will not be able to face realty of life.
Some overarching questions that such a policy must consider are should fear of failure be an acceptable motivator for learning ? Should innate curiosity and love for learning be the desired motivator? If it is not so, should we reintroduce fear of failure or should we reorganise our delivery to support love for learning? What does failure do to self-esteem and to parent child relationships? How is it that failures have been able to succeed when given a different teacher and different teaching?
So the ultimate question is with half implemented and thought out policies do children fail or do we fail children ?