Adhimoolam Vetrivel Murugan vadhimoolam at gmail.com
Thu Apr 15 18:49:57 EDT 2010

Vol:27 Iss:08 URL: http://www.flonnet.com/fl2708/stories/20100423270809400.htm


Counted out

in New Delhi

The Supreme Court refuses to intervene and allow a dyslexic boy to use
a calculator in his Class XII CBSE examination.


A file picture of a dyslexic boy, studying in a school in Tamil Nadu,
taking his SSLC examination with the help of a scribe.

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

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

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.



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