Saturday 12 May 2012

No Child’s Play…

Why the concept of promotions till Standard 8 won’t work...

It is a rare moment when both the Government and the Opposition support a Bill in unison. Hence, it was a welcome change to witness an intelligent debate on the Right to Education to Bill this Parliament session. 

Apart from some valuable comments and deliberations made, an important issue raised was the Government’s resolution to promote all students till Standard 8. I too share the concern of those Members of Parliament who are of the view that the decision to promote all students till standard 8 will prove detrimental to the quality of education and the quality of the students which will ultimately affect the overall output that the country will have to deal with a decade from now. To establish my case I will not resort to statistics and inconsequential rants but instead adopt a more objective and scientific approach. None can understand a child like a Psychologist can. Hence the aim today is to give you a more balanced view as to why a student cannot possibly thrive in this environ. 

Freud defines a child as, “The human infant is a striving organism with but limited capacities for satisfying of needs.” Emphasise on the words ‘striving organism’. A child in poetry has been metaphorically compared to wet mud and clay that can be moulded and shaped, a clear implication that each one must start from point zero. Thus, there is no specific mathematical equation or set blue- print for the development of an infant. In India, unfortunately we expect the blue- print nonetheless. There is extreme dependency on educational procedures which enjoys better reception rather than the holistic approach towards learning. 

As teachers, the two important questions come up in Child Psychology are: 
1. What is the lowest maturational level at which a child can successfully acquire a skill? 
2. Should a particular learning situation be immediately introduced as soon as the child is ready for it or should it be delayed in favour of another learning situation that will better promote his present and long term psychological adjustment?
Human infants grow and develop rapidly which is why these questions are essential while dealing with students especially in their ‘Formative’ years. In the current case the latter is of essence.

Having said that, now apply these two questions practically. In an ordinary scenario, the ideal division of labour would be a combination of the policy makers, and educational philosophers to prepare a proposed outline of the curriculum. This is later practically implemented in the form of lesson plans that the Teacher prepares keeping in mind the immediate and long term needs of the student every year. A child is dependent on various extraneous factors to take his first steps in learning and hence the quality of the syllabus, attitude of the parent and teacher all play equally important roles.

Now take a hypothetical situation where students Y and Z are asked to study the Alphabet and Arithmetic. In due course of time it is made amply clear that there is a visible disinclination for Y towards Arithmetic and Z has distaste for Alphabet. Ordinarily, an under-performer would have the Teacher guide him/her through this problem and IF all fails the child is kept back and asked to repeat the year not to demean or kill  his/her confidence but instead to challenge him/her to be a better performer.

 However, now we are at a stage where the child and the previously neurotic parent are relaxed because they are aware that demotion is not on the Agenda. The teacher may or may not try to boost the child to overcome this impediment because she does not feel the need to. The measurement of anxiety is visibly declined but at what cost? The student’s basic foundation of learning is completely wobbly and chances are that the poor child will not realise his deficiency till he reaches standard eight where he is in for a rude shock. Suddenly he is exposed to the fact that he has not been responsive to the classroom training and there is in fact no one to blame. The entire idea of the system of education for imparting knowledge is lost along the way simply because the student has not been encouraged to work on his strengths and weaknesses thus directly affecting his Creativity and Expression which is a permanent damage for overall growth.

 The point I am driving at is that the ‘Quality’ education that we are aiming at cannot be achieved without a substantive base. And this base lies in the concept of Promotion and Demotion.

The elementary school child’s development has a long term effect on his entire life. All children go through a number of stages but there are differences between children within each stage. There are also differences in the length of time it takes for children to move from stage to stage. On this backdrop the concept of ‘blind- promotions’ is bound to hinder the Education process. Here I introduce the point that a socially mature child’s growth and development may not be stunted in either of the situations described above. However, in a land with a population of 1.2 billion people not everyone who makes it to school has a social, economic or personal background that allows him to mature at the same rate. 

Another major impediment is the practicality of the application of this policy with slow learners. For slow learners the ‘No demotion till standard 8’ may come as a relief but the more important question is, for how long?

It is essential to understand that the ‘maturation’ variable is extremely important when dealing with the experiments dealing with child- development. It sets the ultimate limits of achievement and determines the rate of learning and acculturation.

A systematic analysis of the situation will give you a clear picture that a child’s adequacy in terms of Knowledge and Advancement is severely hampered if he does not know his own strengths and weaknesses. One can only progress when one is given sufficient time to work on personal limitations. With the blind promotions you are hampering the student’s development psychologically for the sake of a policy that is but an experiment.

Before I conclude I stress on the need on the need for two important additions to the current system; firstly, the need for more child psychologist teams to work with the Education Department. Secondly, it will be appreciated if the curriculum prescribed is a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical application rather than one solely based on textbook rote learning. Maturation and learning are inextricably inter- woven. An Educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to evade the basics and focus on it in a later stage of his or her life where chances are higher that the yearning for knowledge will have perished.  

In conclusion I quote Peter Marshall who wrote, "Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for, because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything." We must ensure that the idea of ‘Knowledge for all’ is the essence of the rubric of the education system. With the introduction of this No-Failing/ Blind promotion policy one can only envision a Mirage of Quality Education and nothing more.  

Katherine. Abraham
@katie_abraham on Twitter

The Writer is a Law student and an aspiring U.N diplomat.


  1. First of all I would like to congratulate you on expressing this perspective. It sure is worrying that how detrimental the blind promotion policy can be to a child's development. As you said, it's an experimental policy, the basic objective of the policy is to assure 100% primary and secondary education. This step seems to conform that objective. But the side effects as you've mentioned are worrisome.

    Now that this policy is already implemented in our country, I would suggest that once over a period of time we have achieved the primary objective of absolute literacy or closer we can then have this policy go through a revision to address the concerns mentioned in your blog and more.

    Great job yet again, Katherine.

  2. Thank you Nitish! I am glad we share views. Unfortunately the long term effects of the blind promotion policy is something the Ministry has forgotten to take into account. I hope they will reconsider their stance sooner rather than later...

  3. Firstly, a very thoughtful take on the subject.Blind promotions till middle school is the reason why we are still ranked under third world countries, seeing as the education of the masses is deemed as a country's wealth.
    Having said that, i find some of your arguments/suggestions a bit too warped into a bubble of perfection.We forget that our education system is based on mediocracy rather than meritocracy.

    There is no uniformity in institutions, hence the idea of child psychologists and counsellors would seem absurd to those in power.
    Although to avoid this corrosion at the basic level, the ministry really needs to see address this basic concern of blind promotion.

    I dont know if I made any sense, but you really did :)
    Great job Katherine :) hope to see more from you.

    1. Hi Devyani you made perfect sense but I reiterate here that the reason behind this blog is to create an awareness and initiate a public dialogue on the issue. The reason I try to "warp" the whole idea into a near - perfect state is precisely because I am only giving you the Model based on which the concerned authorities can work on a working model for India. The Point is to change the view that it is absurd to have child psychologists on the Team. I hope that convinces you!

  4. Devyani, I don't totally agree with you when you say that our system is based on mediocracy and not meritocracy. Actually, I think, it's not possible to describe it on the basis of these two factors. It's more of a blend of a lot of different approaches and our own tradition. It's the kind which is still evolving by the day. The current RTE looks at increasing the literacy rate but the question is, at what cost? The question is, what parameters do we define to measure literacy? Here, I would like to bring to your attention an interesting fact which I've witnesses myself. The way they certify one as a literate in a village is by giving the person a couple of lines to read and bam you're considered to be a literate member of the society. Now can we really assume that an education which just makes you capable enough to read can be all that fulfilling and productive?. I guess, No.

    The policies regarding the education system are not compelling. It does have a lot to do with the economy. Katherine is right when she points out the defects. Devyani, You're right about child Psychologists and councillors. But the first imperative step to be taken is to improve the number of admissions in primary schools especially of those kids who belong from a underdeveloped background.

    PS: Devyani, I suggest you should write something on issues related to our society and post on this blog. All of us can really use a perspective of a Sociology student. You can talk to Katie about it if you want.


    1. Yes I agree with Nitish. Devyani do share your thoughts with us on Issues you think pertinent and send them to

  5. Your thoughts MAKES COMPLETE SENSE in reality.

    I totally agree on what you've expressed

    1) Every child needs his/her own time to understand the facts or the subjects. Some kids are fast and some are slow.

    2) Every kid needs to be assessed individually and its the responsibility of the teachers.

    3) Our education should focus more on project or practical based system than the text book / theory based system.

    4) These BLIND PROMOTIONS TILL CLASS 8 will paralyse kids and they will fall straight in to the well when they suddenly discover their weakness and they might never recover.

    One more thing I want to add after I went through some opinions expressed in the comments. I don't believe/agree that Indian education system is based on mediocracy and not meritocracy. Indian education system is all about meritocracy and I believe it is till date.

    1. I am glad that you have connected with the Blog so well Krishnam. Hope that this post will help the Ministry to get their policy straightened out soon. If you have thoughts on issues India faces please do write in to Katie