New Delhi: Schools looking to group students according to marks — for example, placing high scorers of a class in ‘section A’ and those who fare poorly in ‘section B’ — are violating pupils’ fundamental rights, the Punjab & Haryana High Court has ruled.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Dr Neetu Kukar, a resident of Faridkot, Punjab, whose daughter studies in Class 8 in a local school.
According to her plea, from Class 6 onwards, the school divides children into sections on the basis of how well they had done in the previous examination.
Issuing a judgment in the petitioner’s favour, a single-judge bench of Justice Sudhir Mittal said Friday Article 21A, which makes elementary education a fundamental right, also requires that a child be given an “atmosphere conducive to all-round development”.
“It is the duty of a school to ensure that children are not subjected to negative inputs which have the effect of inducing a feeling of inferiority,” the court added.
“Classification of children into sections on the basis of their marks has the tendency of creating a feeling of inferiority amongst children securing less marks and, thus, the practice is a violation of fundamental right of elementary education,” it said.
Justice Mittal also observed that the practice violated students’ right to equal opportunity.
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“If an action induces a sense of inferiority in a child, it is being denied the right to development and growth at par with a child who does not suffer from such feeling of inferiority,” the court said. “Under the constitutional scheme, institutions providing elementary education are bound to create a free and open atmosphere that promotes a sense of equality. Any action which promotes inequality cannot be permitted.”
‘Age-old norm’ — school tried to defend practice
According to the court’s judgment, another parent had raised a grievance similar to Kukar’s with the school principal after her daughter tried to harm herself when she did not make it to the “top section”.
The parent had also written to officials of the central government, state government, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), and the Punjab State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Following the letter, the Punjab State Commission for Protection of Child Rights directed the school last August to stop the practice. It also ordered a reshuffle of sections within 10 days.
However, this order was later modified, allowing the school to continue with the practice until the end of the academic session.
In court, the school defended the practice, saying it was an “age-old norm” to bring homogeneity in the class, and alleged that the complaint was “motivated”. It also challenged the commission’s order, demanding that the school be allowed to continue with the practice.
The court rejected the school’s arguments.
It also ruled that the commission could not have modified its order as it did not have the right to review its own directives. The modified order was, therefore, set aside.
Even so, the court noted that school examinations were around the corner and directed the school to end the practice from the next academic session.
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