Separate but equal

Last Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 - 16:48

Segregating students into different divisions based on academic performance, used to be the norm in many schools. Such groupings however, have fallen out of favour of late. Gauri Rane and Patricia Mascarenhas examine why?

It was once common for schools to slot their students into classrooms based on their academic performance, placing achievers in one cluster, and the average performers and non-achievers in another. Such grouping, in which children are given special training based on their proficiency levels, however have fallen out of favour of late. Critics of this system charged that they perpetuated inequality by trapping non-achievers in low-level groups.

“It sows the seeds of class distinction amongst children at a very young age,” says Aparna Das, lawyer. A first class student through out her academic years, Das detests such academic segregation. Child psychologist, Gregory Lobo, agrees, “Students learn to compare themselves and feel they`re not good enough if they fail to cope with this pressure.

It is at this very stage that children learn to differentiate. Those in A division tend to avoid the ones in a B or a C class. Swati Popat Vats, director, Podar Jumbo Kids points out that many schools segregate students on the basis of gender and even learning ability, etc. “We must remember that this segregation creates a negative impact not only on the students but also the parents,” she observes.

Linda Mascarenhas, head-misteress, Father Agnel School, agrees. “Often parents request that their wards be assigned A or B divisions as it is assumed that good teachers are assigned to those classes,” she says. Shweta Tiwari, whose daughter goes to a high profile school in New Delhi also stresses that parents are equally responsible for such disparity.
The practice it seems is now slowly being discontinued. Many schools, parents and psychologists reject it because they feel it is unfair and may cause damage to the students’ self-esteem. “Such a practice may impact the overall growth of a child, since other aspects like extra curricular and co curricular activities get neglected,” says Lobo. This seems to be true in case of a creatively inclined student. Pallavi Gupte’s son’s talent lies in sports and not academics. “I do wish his teachers would encourage him in what is his innate quality,” says the anxious mother.

Popat adds another point of view. Some schools use division because they lack quality-teaching staff, she says. Novices are assigned to a bright class, as it would be easier for them to mange the “disciplined” students. “This could lead to favouritism as some teachers may always choose the bright divisions over the not so bright.”
While the debate on ‘class division’ rages on, some are not even aware of the logic behind such segregation. “I assumed that students are assigned divisions randomly. However it is a mystery how a topper always ends up in division A,” says Karen Pereira, parent.

Das says being ‘A’ class student is a tough spot to be in. Many students detest such clubbing. For one there is cutthroat competition and the pressure to perform is also immense. A mere distinction is not enough and borderline marks or a red line on your report card is a strict no. Besides, you may be separated from your friends and clubbed with strangers. “I was left friendless for a year,” Das says and adds, “Friends call you a nerd as you do not have time to hang out with them.”

A society can never be balanced with any sort of disparity. Our education system needs to realise that. Schools are the foundation and every child has the right to grow in the best possible way for him/ her. Education should be an empowering tool where academicians look at a class as one unit, but at the same time, encourage innate qualities of each child.

First Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014 - 16:48

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