Let's not fail no fail policy

By Prabhakar Timble
04 June 2013 06:12 IST

A parliamentary standing committee on human resource development headed by Mr. Oscar Fernandes has suggested a rethink of the policy of automatic promotion up to Class VIII. The policy is blamed for consistently declining standards in reading and mathematics across the country. There is a pressure from academicians and parents to reintroduce the pass-fail system as it existed earlier. This means that a positive aspect of the Right to Education (RTE) may be rolled back.

At the same time, it is said that there are record number of enrolments at the Class X exams, the kind not seen for a decade or more.  If it is because of the “no fail policy”, it is a welcome thing.  It means that we were detaining students who had potential to make up as they advance in age. At least, these children are not stamped as failures at a very young age.

Rationale of the policy

This policy was formulated as a response to the high dropout rates, where failing demotivates many students from staying on in school. The policy was also meant to be an enabler for learning a gamut of things which cannot form a part of a formal curriculum. Generally speaking, students are not carefree and tension free. They are overburdened with the rote learning process and the fear of examination. The joy of learning is sucked from the classrooms due to examinations and unhealthy competition.

Students absorb a lot of things which are not taught as a part of the school syllabus. This learning takes place through peer and family interaction, self-learning and introspection. Further, the learning skills get developed and sharpened as a part of the growing up process. A slow learner at the middle school level of education may bloom into an above average learner at the next stage of school learning. Though we theoretically regard that every learner is different, the thought does not get percolated in teaching and evaluation methodologies. This is evident from our compulsory courses, curriculum and testing methods. There is agreement that they are not child-friendly.

Schools tend to take a lot of pride at the performance of their students at public examinations conducted by the State Boards. This sense of belonging with commitment for cent per cent results should exist at the lower levels also.

Divided house

The 'no-fail' provision is regarded as a half-baked vision. Though the idea is rooted in progressive educational thought, it needs to be accompanied by an equally progressive school system in terms of pedagogy and infrastructure. Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation (CCE) has to be internalised by the teacher as a tool to ensure that the student comes to the level of the expected outcomes in learning. The way it is implemented, it would make the students lax as there are no rewards for achievers and absence of punishment for losers.

It’s a divided house whether it is parents, teachers and school managements. Many cannot come to terms with the fact that fear cannot and should not be the motivator of learning. Further, it is assumed that quality, excellence and creativity come through cut-throat competition in schools. It is not appreciated that the preparation for the competitive world in the future would be better by learning wide-ranging and diverse things at the school level in a carefree and non-competitive environment. The commercialisation of education with heavy demands on the child starting from the playschool and pre-primary stage is responsible for such a mind-set.


A few years back, corporal punishment was considered as unavoidable. In fact, it was recognised as the right of a teacher or parent. That a teacher has to be cruel, to be kind was the accepted creed. It was also widely held that sparing the rod means spoiling the child. Regulations and banning of corporal and other forms of punishment were considered as impediments to learning, discipline and good behaviour. With the passage of time, we have successfully crossed this road block.

For the success of the “no fail policy” minus the likely pitfalls we need high levels of both accountability and autonomy. If this policy is viewed as lowering the standards rather than improving the students, we are working to fail the policy. The policy is not meant to reward non-performance or under-performance. The no-fail policy should be taken with the right attitude, if it is to help the students. It should not happen that only students fail, but teachers never fail. It is only if the teachers feel that fail-pass policy at the formative stage of the child is retrograde, anti-child and repulsive to the cause for which the schools should stand for, the no-fail policy would accomplish its purpose. The roll back of this policy would be sad day for progressive academicians and parents. What the child needs is friendly guidance and assistance to grapple the basics so as to come to the minimum levels in education. Injecting fear of failure is the easy road, not the best alternative.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Let me add few more lines on “No-Fail” policy covered in Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act).

The fact is, according to recent reports, the “No-Fail” policy for students up to Class VIII has resulted in a sharp decline in the reading and math standards in schools! A panel, headed by Congress leader Oscar Fernandes, has asked the human resource development ministry to reconsider the policy.

“No-Fail” policy is like barking up the wrong tree. The flaws are built into the so-called Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) itself. Few realize that the schedule of the Act prescribes inferior and discriminatory infrastructural and teacher-related norms and standards. When the Act is fully implemented, two-thirds of the primary schools will be denied a separate teacher/ classroom for each class. More than three-fourth of the primary schools and more than half of the upper primary schools (Class V-VIII) will be without a headmaster. It implies that a single teacher will be simultaneously teaching the syllabus of more than one grade in a single classroom. That very same overstretched teacher will, more often than not, also double up as the headmistress to perform administrative functions. This will be quite a normal feature in government schools for as long as the RTE Act continues to prevail. Further, the Act's Section 27 allows the administration to routinely pull out these teachers for a variety of non-teaching tasks like census, election duties and disaster-related duties (local authorities have been left free to define 'disaster' according to their convenience). The Act has provision for appointing only contract teachers and for denying dignified salaries with social security. This mockery of education won't be a result of failure of implementation as one is misled to believe but, on the contrary, due to its 'successful' implementation! Does one then expect anything other than falling standards?

The 'no-fail' provision (Section 16) is a typical example of the Act's half-baked vision. This idea is indeed rooted in progressive educational thought which holds that "no child ever fails; rather, it is the school system that fails to educate the child". If the school system does not know how to educate the child, it must undergo radical transformation - budgetary, curricular, pedagogical, linguistic, cultural and infrastructural - apart from reviewing its outdated assessment and evaluation norms. This is vital so that we become capable of educating children, particularly the children of the masses. However, this progressive idea can be seeded only in a progressive school system. Another equally half-baked idea is the Act's Section 29(2)(h): Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation (CCE), which means that the teacher will conduct evaluation after she/he has completed a specific unit of syllabus. The idea is to enable the teacher to know how well she/he has taught. If there is lack of expected learning, the unit may be taught again, this time with altered pedagogy. This, too, requires infrastructural and other provisions that are also needed for the success of the 'no-fail' idea. Further, it also demands that the dilapidated and rapidly commercializing education system is radically overhauled. The Act has no provision for this as it will mean overhauling of higher education system as well.

Presently, the education department is thinking of conducting baseline tests every two months to evaluate the students' knowledge. This idea is nothing but a direct copy of United States' 'No Child Left Behind' programme! Its objective was to demolish the well-established public-funded school system. It achieved this by testing children frequently and then labeling the schools as 'non-performing' and weeding them out, rather than supporting them to improve. This widely discredited idea has ready acceptance in our government because this will hasten what the RTE Act is doing, which is demolishing government schools, thereby promoting profit-making schools.

The decision to adopt ‘No Child Left Behind' programme education department is up in arms to get the Act amended! Such decision would be clearly a knee-jerk reaction due to political pressure. The public outrage over the 'no-fail' provision is, in fact, an outrage over the poorly provided for and poorly governed government school system. However, the government is likely to only drop Section 16 of the Act, rather than investigate the reasons for failure of the 'no-fail' provision. One can't expect the government to do otherwise because it is committed to promoting privatization and commercialization of education rather than strengthening a public-funded school system.

The way out could be trying to adopt Finland model! Transform the present school system into a fully public-funded 'Common School System' based on neighborhood schools that are governed in a democratic, decentralized and participative mode. The condition would be to reverse the twin policies of commercialization and shifting public funds to private players under Public Private Participation (PPP). The RTE Act will need to be repealed and a new Act enacted to enable this. The 'no-fail' and Continuous Comparative Evaluation (CCE) provisions will then both make immense sense.

- Uday, Margao | 05 th June 2013 17:07


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