Millennium Post

Banking on grade banks

Aparajita Gupta proposes an alternative to limit no detention policy

With CBSE Class XII, Class X, ISC, and ICSE result declared, some students were ecstatic, some relieved, and some unhappy. Well, exam scores in India can make or break one's immediate course of life. This feeling is not restricted to students of Classes X and XII. Bad scores in any class are enough to shatter our dreams. They make us feel low on motivation and confidence. In such a situation if someone told us that we could take marks on loan, work hard, and repay in future, we would laugh it away as a joke. This can happen only in fiction, not reality. Well, not really. Recent reports have confirmed that a Chinese school is conducting a pilot for a "grade bank" system in Class X. It allows those who fail an exam to borrow marks to pass. In return, they have to repay by scoring higher in a later exam. Repayment can also be done by lab experiments or through public presentations. Moreover, one has to pay interest. By the end of the semester, if students have not repaid their full debt, they get a red mark on their record.

While this innovative experiment is taking place in our neighbourhood, India is increasingly seeing reports criticising the No Detention Policy. Therefore, this article seeks to study issues with this Policy and see if our neighbour's experiment, though catering to a different class, can be of any help.
To begin with, No Detention Policy was statutorily introduced at the Central level through the historic Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act). This is not to say that it did not exist before that. Many Indian states followed it even prior to 2009. Now, what does one mean by no detention? Section 16 of the RTE Act codifies it as follows: "No child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education." Elementary education is "education from first class to eighth class" [Section 2(f)]. In short, a child cannot be failed or expelled till completion of Class VIII.
So, what is the idea behind it? Before its introduction, students had to repeat their class on failing. The HRD Ministry felt that this would demotivate them from continuing schooling. Thus, No Detention Policy was introduced. The rationale was to ensure that students complete elementary education without worrying about failing. Consequently, this would help realise the fundamental right to education (Article 21A).
Other arguments in favour of this Policy have been highlighted in the 'Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy' (2016) under T.S.R Subramanian. First, since this Policy resulted in children staying in school, it prevented them from getting into juvenile delinquency. Second, it protected them from social problems like child marriage. Third, it helped students in rural areas and those belonging to below poverty line families. These children often missed school for different reasons like illness, poverty, child labour, or even parents lacking awareness. Hence, such students scored poorly. If they were detained, it would only heighten chances of dropping out. Thus, the Policy aims to check this. Fourth, it revealed that Gross Enrolment Ratio at elementary level had risen as a result of the Policy.
While motives behind this Policy were bonafide, people from different quarters have criticised it. The first criticism, as emphasised by Subramanian Committee, stems from the fact that the Policy leads to automatic promotion. This completely erodes incentives for students to attend classes and learn and reduces the incentive for teachers to teach. The HRD Ministry has stated that Section 16 is leading to undisciplined students in absence of the fear of failure. Second, the Committee points out that students, who are promoted without attaining minimum education level in a class, enter a vicious cycle where they always find the next class difficult. Moreover, this affects other students of the class as academic progress is "dragged down to the level of the lowest common denominator". Third, many students fail in Class IX as that is when they need to pass exams. At a broader level, the Committee mourns that quality of education hardly sees an improvement, even if enrollment is not affected.
In light of these criticisms, many states had sought a policy review. In a Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) meeting, it was decided to seek views of States/ UTs. 23 States wanted the Policy to be modified out of the 28 who replied.
But what can possibly be the way out? Subramanian Committee recommended that No Detention Policy should only continue up to Class V. After that detention should be allowed provided that students are given at least two extra chances to improve. Based on these recommendations, HRD Ministry recently wrote to Law Ministry seeking to revive the pass-fail system from Class VI.
Modifying this recommendation and learning from our neighbour, I propose an alternative where we limit No Detention Policy to Class V and complement this by introducing grade banks from Class VI. Though our neighbour is doing it for Class X, this concept is not class specific. So there is nothing stopping us from applying it to lower classes.
By limiting the Policy, we can ensure that students are protected up to Class V. After that, students should be allowed to face real competition and not be artificially protected. They should be made to appear in exams. But here is the twist. They should have an opportunity to use grade banks. This will help them borrow marks to pass an exam and repay by scoring a more in a future exam. In this way, it would be a win-win situation for students, teachers and society.
We now explore some benefits of the grade bank system. The foremost benefit would be that students would compete with themselves. This was highlighted as a goal worth pursuing by our Prime Minister during his Mann Ki Baat on 29 January 2017. Next, since there are no free lunches in this world, students will be expected to repay with an interest. This will motivate them to work hard and improve their performance in future. Further, borrowing of marks would only be to pass exams. Hence, there would be no artificial increase in marks otherwise. Another advantage is that everything will not depend on one final exam. Students will have the chance to improve even if they do not perform well on the final exam day. The greatest advantage would be making students feel more responsible. This is because the no detention provision has statutory backing. Therefore, the law is artificially changing the scenario. The student is only at the receiving end and a passive one at that. But if you think of a grade bank system, students would be active participants and not only be at the receiving end. So the entire dynamic will change.
But the road will not be as easy as. First of all, one would need to devise a workable and simple system. Simultaneously, one would need to build in flexibility to allow students to get marks for activities like practical exercises and presentations to name a few. Next, it would be imperative to explain the system to students (the key stakeholders) and teachers. In this digital age, one can think of having a digital setup to operate the bank and keep track of "loan" recovery. The most difficult part would be ensuring strict compliance.
Based on this theoretical cost-benefit analysis, it may be worthwhile to explore this concept in India. To begin with, it could be done on a pilot basis. Based on how it pans out, it may be rolled out on a larger scale.
Since marks mean a great deal, it is the time we deal with marks differently.

(Aparajita Gupta is a lawyer from National Law University, Delhi and is currently with NITI Aayog. The views expressed are strictly personal.)
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