arresting drop out rates - government style

A news item aired on a local TV channel caught my attention yesterday and made my almost congealed blood run cold once again: the Delhi Government had decided to pass all children till class VIII, doing away with examinations and marks in order to contain drop out rates and free the children from stress and angst. The children would be graded whatever that meant.

Wow would say many, way to go. Sadly that is not the case and once again we are witness to half baked and politically motivated solutions governments are notorious for. The kind of formula that looks good on paper, replete with supporting statistics but does nothing to address the reality.

My recent post entitled 'equal opportunities' skimmed the tip of the iceberg. The problem is not with having exams or not. If schools continue to run as they do, doing away with exams will simply delay drop out time to class VIII. Statisctics would have been doctored to look better. Every Delhi kid would have passed class VII. Whether he or she would have learned anything at all would remain a million dollar question.

In the present scenario children in class IV or V are barely literate. There is practically no teaching worth its name, let alone learning in most of the municipal and government schools. With no examinations and no failing one wonders what will happen. Another Alice in Wonderland situation!

A no exam system can only work in an enabling environment, where teachers take on the responsibility of imparting knowledge in a wider sense. The best example of these are what is widely known as alternative schools, where learning acquiring a new meaning altogether, where classes are small and teachers many. In Delhi schools, even better ones, classrooms are jammed packed. Over fifty children or more are taught by one teacher.

Exams, no matter how bad and stressful, did ensure that every child's knowledge was tested and remedial measures taken at the appropriate time. With a no exam no failing situation children will just move from class to class with no check or balance. And by the time they reach class VII, it just may be too late for many. One must not forget that most of the children who attend such schools have illiterate parents and hence no way of being assessed or helped at home.

As long as schools remain as they are, such a decision spells disaster.

We need to redefine the society of schools, and turn schools into true temples of learning; a place where children from all walks of life can grow together in a nurturing and enabling environment: a common neighbourhood school that is a true level playing field. It is not just a matter of arresting drop out rates, but giving each child equal opportunities and respecting his or her constitutional right to free and fair education.

Is anyone listening!