The West Bengal government’s decision to reintroduce the pass/fail system in Classes 5 and 8 from the next academic year starting in January 2020 is an essay towards partial rectification of a “concession” that ought not to have been granted in the first place. This is selective evaluation at best and cutting corners at worst. The “base of a child” cannot be assessed only at selected stages of learning, as education minister, Partha Chatterjee, argues.

It is pretty obvious that evaluation will now be revived when the child graduates from the primary to the middle-school level (rather erroneously referred to as upper primary in this state). To restart the system from Class 8 would mean that middle school students will be assessed before they move up to the senior school and the Plus 2 stage. Evaluation must of necessity be a continual process from Class One to 12, as it always used to be.

Automatic promotion cannot be defended by any logic whatsoever. To argue that it reduces the burden on students is as facile as the reason proffered to abolish the teaching of English at the primary level. It is vital to judge the assimilation of what is taught from Class One to 5, from Class 6 to 8, and finally from Class 9 upwards. Which is the reason why missionary schools strictly follow the scientific system of first and second term exams and annual exams before promotion to the next class is certified by the Principal.

An examination is integral to the search of learning and to scrap the system was disingenuous in the extreme. In the net, Madhyamik or the Class 10 exam conducted by the CBSE or for that matter the Indian Council of Secondary Examination is the first public test that students, most particularly in government schools, have to appear for. No, this isn’t Puducherry where the exam-free school education system is institutionalised in the schools run by Sri Aurobindo Ashram… and with the supporting wherewithal. It is cause for alarm that the state government has received feedback to the effect that academic standards, particularly in the rural areas, have declined considerably over the past few years, specifically after the no-detention system came into effect.

On closer reflection, learning has hit the reefs because of this system of automatic promotions. The government has now admitted that the students’ approach towards examinations has of late been rather casual, assured as they are of promotion every year from Class One to 12. It is fervently to be hoped that revival of exams will improve standards. A dramatic improvement would call for its reintroduction in every class of the child’s school life. It would be presumptuous to imagine that fear of exams would prompt underprivileged students below 14 years to quit studies. The Centre has accordingly introduced an amendment to the Right to Education Act.