V. VENKATESAN in New Delhi THE HINDU
The Supreme Court refuses to intervene and allow a dyslexic boy to use a calculator in his Class XII CBSE examination.
A supreme Court Bench, comprising Justices Markandey Katju and R.M. Lodha, has deplored the court’s practice of admitting all sorts of appeals against judgments delivered by High Courts. This, it said, led to mounting arrears and put undue pressure on judges to compromise quality for the sake of quick delivery of judgments. The Bench, which was disposing of a special leave petition (SLP) on March 21, referred to a Constitution Bench the question of determining guidelines for admitting SLPs.
Frivolous SLPs, which do not raise a constitutional question, seem to have played havoc with the liberties of underprivileged citizens and also tied the hands of High Courts and the Supreme Court in providing timely relief in cases that brought up genuine issues. On March 19 the Supreme Court was confronted with the case of a dyslexic student from Panchkula, Haryana, who sought immediate relief. The student, Pranjay Jain, approached the court through his father, Nitin Jain, after the Punjab and Haryana High Court rejected his prayer for permission to use a calculator in the Class XII examinations conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education. Jain wanted to use the calculator especially for the mathematics paper, scheduled for March 22.
Pranjay Jain was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 10. The medical certificate issued by the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, notes that he has a difficulty in arithmetic and that he has a poor concept of fractions, and he has been advised the use of a calculator. He claimed protection of his rights on account of natural disability under the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, and related laws. He sought the High Court’s direction to the CBSE to permit him to use a calculator for the Class XII examinations and for the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) scheduled to be held in April (also conducted by the CBSE), besides granting him additional time and a scribe to write the paper.
The High Court was constrained to reject his prayer on March 2 in view of the stay granted by the Supreme Court on April 2, 2007, on the operation of a Bombay High Court order in an SLP filed by the CBSE against the High Court’s order in Sushil Kumar vs Kendriya Vidyalaya. Sushil Kumar, also suffering from dyslexia, had requested that he be permitted to use a calculator for the Class XII examinations in mathematics, physics and chemistry. He also wanted parity with dyslexic students of the HSC Board, Maharashtra, who are permitted to use calculators in the examinations. The High Court accepted his contention in its order on February 26, 2007.
The CBSE argued before the High Court that students suffering from dyslexia should not opt for mathematics. The High Court described the CBSE’s approach as unfair and directed it to permit Sushil Kumar and other students with similar disability to use ordinary calculators for writing the mathematics paper if they apply for such permission. The Supreme Court admitted the CBSE’s appeal against this judgment and granted a stay on its operation. However, before the CBSE could secure the stay, it had to permit the use of calculators by such students for the mathematics examination held on March 22, 2007, in compliance with the Bombay High Court order. The stay granted by the Supreme Court, therefore, was misconceived. The Bombay High Court had also relied on a 2006 order of a Division Bench of the High Court directing the HSC Board, Maharashtra, to permit learning-disabled students to use calculators in the Class XII mathematics, bookkeeping and accountancy examinations of the Board. This Bench disagreed with the Board’s view that if even after using a calculator the performance of learning-disabled children did not improve, they might get more frustrated and dispirited. More important, this Division Bench decided the case after considering the report of an expert committee that studied the issue.
Policy for disabled
In his petition, Pranjay Jain pointed out that the National Policy for Persons with Disability, announced in February 2006, contained provisions for facilities for persons suffering from dyslexia, which, among other things, included the use of a calculator. The policy recommended the following:
“Examination system will be modified to make it disabled-friendly by exemptions such as learning mathematics, learning only one language, etc. Further, facilities like extra time, use of calculators, use of Clarke’s tables, scribes, etc., would be provided based on the requirement.” Pranjay Jain was allowed to use a calculator for mathematics and the science subjects in his Class X Board examination by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE). Because of this concession, he could score 92 marks in mathematics and 83 marks in science. He was also granted extra time, which helped him to secure good marks in other subjects. However, the CBSE used his good performance in the Class X examination to suggest that he was a normal student. Pranjay Jain submitted to the High Court enough proof to show that whenever such facilities were withdrawn, as in the Class IX and XI examinations, he scored average marks.
The CBSE claimed that Class X and XII were basically of secondary-level standard, where the primary ability of calculation was adjudged. In reply, Pranjay Jain argued that these examinations in mathematics, physics and chemistry tested and evaluated the conceptual ability of a child and not merely the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide. The primary ability of calculation was adjudged in classes 2, 3 and 4, he added. Pranjay Jain submitted before the Supreme Court that the state had the duty to make adequate arrangements and provide appropriate facilities to children with special needs and disabilities. He had a right to pursue higher education, which, in his special case, was possible only if he was allowed extra time and the use of a scribe and a calculator in the examinations. He challenged the CBSE’s decision as violative of his fundamental right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution.
Pranjay Jain further brought to the notice of the court that the CBSE, in its circulars to schools affiliated to it, specifically advised them “to provide support through assistive devices”, while explaining its policy decision with regard to inclusive education for children with disabilities. The CBSE’s latest circular to schools, sent on December 24, 2009, reiterates this advice in Guideline 3 of the annexure to the circular. In a circular dated August 22, 2006, addressed to the heads of all affiliated schools, regarding concessions to be given to disabled students, the CBSE mentioned, under Clause 19, that “it is not mandatory for the candidates to do the calculations themselves”.
Further, Clause 49 of the national policy states that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) will be the nodal Ministry to coordinate all matters relating to the education of persons with disabilities. Yet, in response to a query on this, the MHRD denied that it had any policy on the use of calculators by dyslexic students in Board examinations. Pranjay Jain, in his petition, also highlighted the fact that the prospectus of the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), run by the MHRD, permitted the use of calculators by children suffering from dyscalculia, which is a form of dyslexia. As the NIOS is recognised by the CBSE, its denial of his plea amounted to a violation of Article 14 (equality before the law and equal protection of the laws) and also infringed his right to education as granted by Article 21 and 21-A of the Constitution, Pranjay Jain submitted to the Supreme Court.
‘Arbitrary & unreasonable’
The State Education Boards in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala allow dyslexic students to use calculators in examinations. The CBSE’s refusal to do so was, therefore, arbitrary and unreasonable, Pranjay Jain said in his petition. He contended that the use of calculator would in no way put him in any unfairly advantageous position as compared with a normal child. He apprehended that he was bound to fail in mathematics, physics and chemistry if he was not provided a calculator. He justified the use of a calculator by dyslexic students thus:
*Since most of the mathematical calculations require a flow of the process of calculation, even a small error in any step can spoil the flow and disrupt the calculation, and thus, the whole answer.
*Difficulties like not recognising + and – signs can change the answer of a question.
*The affected child would lose interest in solving a problem if, owing to some small error, the problem becomes unsolvable.
*Many values have to be transposed to various positions in a sequence, and since the dyslexic’s problem is with the written word, he might lose the sequence and not be able to transpose values where required. For example, values of x, y, z have to be transposed so many times to reach the solution of the problem.
*The use of a scientific calculator in trigonometry, factorial calculation, use of under-root, calculations in decimal places and numerical calculations in mathematics, physics and chemistry examinations will help this child suffering from learning disability in maintaining the flow of calculations, being accurate to content, and give him the ability to check the sequence of calculations through the calculation check button of the calculator.
The CBSE’s response to Pranjay Jain’s petition was contradictory both in the High Court and in the Supreme Court. The Board disputed his status as a dyslexia patient. However, it claimed it had permitted him an additional one hour and a scribe for the ensuing examination in terms of bye-laws 24 and 25 framed by the Board for spastic, visually challenged, physically handicapped and dyslexic students. If the Board accepted him as a dyslexic student for the purpose of these bye-laws, why did it not consider him as a dyslexic student for the purpose of permitting the use of a calculator? If the bye-laws stood in the way, nothing prevented the CBSE from amending them. In its reply filed in the High Court, the CBSE claimed that Pranjay Jain was a normal student. In his counter, Pranjay argued that an intelligence quotient with average range, and adequate attention and concentration levels with good memory and no perceptomotor dysfunction are not enough to conclude that a child is not suffering from dyslexia. On the contrary, a dyslexic child, like the petitioner, is quite intelligent like any other normal child and has a good understanding of concepts. The difficulty a dyslexic child faces is in reading and writing. The medical certificate issued by the PGIMER shows that Pranjay Jain suffers from dyslexia. The medical board, which had assembled at the office of the Principal Medical Officer, Government Multi Speciality Hospital, Sector 16, Chandigarh, to examine him, also stated in its report that he suffered from dyslexia. The admission card issued by the CBSE to Pranjay Jain also shows that he suffers from dyslexia.
Before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the CBSE reiterated its view that students suffering from dyslexia are not capable of studying tough subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry and technology. Pranjay Jain wondered whether the CBSE understood properly the problem of dyslexia. The CBSE’s contention that such students should opt for music, painting, home science and introductory information technology flew in the face of its own claim of promoting inclusive education, besides demoralising dyslexic children. Pranjay Jain insisted that he was able to understand the concepts of mathematics, physics and chemistry, and that he had no interest in music or painting. He pointed out that great personalities like Thomas Alva Edison, Albert Einstein and Walt Disney had dyslexia. Pranjay Jain’s petition filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court is notable for its long list of famous personalities who had dyslexia and excelled in life. It mentions 62 such names and includes, apart from those mentioned above, Alexander Graham Bell, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci and Abhishek Bachchan.
At the hearing held on March 19, the Supreme Court Bench of Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices Deepak Verma and C.K. Prasad dismissed Pranjay’s petition as withdrawn with liberty to him to approach the Division Bench of the High Court. When the Single Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court (Justice Permod Kohli) has pleaded helplessness in view of the Supreme Court’s stay on the Bombay High Court matter, it is not clear how Pranjay Jain can hope to get relief from the Division Bench of the same High Court.