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Rajya Sabha amends RTE bill, scraps no-detention policy

Prashant K. Nanda
States are now empowered to hold back students if they perform poorly from Class V-VIII, said Javadekar

New Delhi: Parliament on Thursday empowered states to detain weak students in the same class if they fail to pass annual exams.

This was not permitted earlier under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act and is expected to impact more than 180 million students across 1.4 million elementary schools.

Once the amended bill gets presidential assent, it will reinstate detention for students of Class V and Class VIII if they fail to pass examinations.

The RTE Amendment Bill 2019, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, had been passed by the Lok Sabha in July. The bill, which also allows the reintroduction of examinations for primary schools, was discussed for more than an hour in the Rajya Sabha and found support from a large section of political leaders, including the Congress.

After the introduction of the RTE Act in April 2010, students between Class I and Class VIII could be detained irrespective of their learning standard. This had been criticized because of the deteriorating standards of education.

In the last few years, 25 states have demanded a reversal of this policy, prompting the centre to amend the Act.

HRD minister Prakash Javadekar said the quality of school learning has been a talking point for years and states were demanding accountability in the school system. With the passage of the bill, states are now empowered to hold back students if they perform poorly in Class V and Class VIII, he said.

The dropout rate at Class IX was 20% as a result of the no-fail policy, which prompted a rethink, the minister said.

Following the amendment, students will get two chances to pass the examination and will be detained if they fail in both attempts.

The bill, however, empowers states to continue with the no-detention policy if they choose to, or conduct examinations at the school, district or state levels.

Though the government found wide support for the move, some leaders such as D. Raja of the Communist Party of India demanded that the bill be sent to a select committee for a thorough examination. Few others, including Prasanna Acharya of the Biju Janata Dal, demanded that education expenditure be enhanced to 6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from the current around 3.7% to improve quality in education. The proportion of all children in Class V who could read a Class II level text book declined from 48.1% in 2014 to 47.8% in 2016, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for rural India published by non-profit organization Pratham. The situation was equally alarming for arithmetic and English comprehension.

Besides, the Rajya Sabha also passed a bill to retrospectively recognize unrecognized teacher education courses in government universities. Javadekar, however, said that hundreds of private colleges under scanner for running teacher training courses without permission are not covered under the present National Council of Teacher Education Amendment Bill.