The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed an amendment to the Right to Education Act that does away with the no-detention policy mentioned in the law. The existing policy prohibits schools from detaining students till they complete elementary education. In India, elementary school runs from Class 1 to Class 8.

The amendment says that the states can choose to hold a regular examination either at the end of Classes 5 and 8, or both. Students who fail this test will get additional instruction and the opportunity to appear for a re-examination within two months of the declaration of the result. If the students still do not pass the exam, the state government may decide to detain them.

However, if states choose, they can continue the no-detention policy all the way to Class 8. No child can be expelled from school before they complete elementary education, the amendment bill states.

The proposed amendment was introduced in August 2017 and referred to a Standing Committee of the Rajya Sabha. The committee presented its report to both the Houses of Parliament in February, endorsing the amendment bill “in its present form”.

The Right to Education Forum has condemned the bill. Its national convenor, Ambarish Rai, said detaining students would have “adverse consequences”.

“The consequence of detaining a child in the same class works adversely on the child’s psyche and has an deep impact on his or her self-esteem,” Rai said. “It is a very unfortunate move which will impact all children, particularly those belonging to most marginalised communities.”

The Social Research and Development Foundation, a Bihar-based non-governmental organisation, also criticised the passage of the bill. “If children are not learning at school and the answer of the government is to hold them back and ultimately push them out, that is a very wrong policy decision,” it tweeted. “It can only be hoped that states will not make use of it. Really wondering that you appreciate it.”

The no-detention policy of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, banned the practice of making under-performing children repeat classes in elementary school to ensure they do not drop out. It was meant to reduce the emphasis on year-end examinations and replace it with a form of evaluation that would track students’ progress through the year.