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ISC : Education Fund for Scholarships

Amarjit Singh

I was pleased to read in the Tribune of December 6, 2006 that the International Sikh Confederation (ISC) at its meeting held in Chandigarh approved unanimously to set up an education fund worth Rs 4,500 crore for giving “scholarships, incentives and other necessary support to Sikh youth to improve their education standards and make them fit for employment in the national and international companies”. This is a very good decision and the ISC is to be applauded. I extend my congratulations for this decision and wish you all success.

The fact that Dr Gurcharan Singh Kalkat’s son was unable to find a single employable boy from Punjab’s countryside for the American company is proof enough, although the proof is already overwhelming, that education system, as it is, is not working. It seems clear that the education system will not achieve the necessary standards simply by doing more of the same order. A new approach is required.

In addition to giving scholarships and other support to Sikh Youths, the ISC could also look at the ways of improving the standards of teaching and learning, first in rural primary schools, and then expanding to include rural secondary schools. I have taken the liberty of making a few suggestions for raising such standards of achievement for children in all phases and settings at primary level based on my involvement in research on improving the quality of learning and teaching in both primary and secondary schools before my retirement from the University of Reading.

It is primary education which is the critical stage in children’s development. It shapes them for life. Primary education gives children essential tools for learning, solving problems, being creative in writing, art, music and sports as well as developing their self-confidence as learners, and maturing them socially and emotionally.

For this, the goal of ISC for Primary Education could be to combine excellence in teaching with enjoyment of learning. “When children are excited and engaged, they learn better. What excites and engages them best is excellent teaching, which challenges them and shows them what they can do. When there is joy in what they are doing, they learn to love learning.” (Former Secretary of State for Education and Work, UK, David Blunkett in 1999)

Thus, in order to achieve this goal, there is a need to develop policies and programmes which transform village primary schools in challenging circumstances.

The overall aim of such policies and programmes will be to raise standards of achievement for children in primary schools in all phases and settings. Specifically, this will involve improving the quality of teaching and learning, and the effectiveness of the management and leadership of schools in order to deliver the best possible outcomes for learners.

Development of Policy Documents
In collaboration with educationalists, social scientists, head teachers, teachers, SGPC educationists, university teachers of Mathematics, Punjabi, English, Science and other specialists, the ISC could firstly develop policy documents focusing on:

1. The production of a useful and acceptable set of recommendations for planning, managing and coordinating the teaching and learning activities for pupils aged 5-11, and for devising key objectives and planning grids which would assist teaching staff in trial primary schools to teach their subject lessons (Punjabi, Mathematics, Science, English and other subjects) as outlined in the grids;

2. The production of proposals such as the provision and suggested delivery of in-service training, the nomination of a teacher within each school as a coordinator for each subject and continuous support within and outside the school. The purpose of training is to provide teachers with sufficient understanding and knowledge to make professional sense of the demands for change being made on them, and sufficient support to enable them to step beyond understanding into action in their schools. This is not easy, for, schools as organisations are often resistant to change, and teachers as individuals are often full of inconsistencies between their educational philosophy and their practice;

3. The agreed outcomes of teaching and learning, as set out by the working party in Punjabi, Mathematics, Science, English and other subjects. Eighty percent of all pupils in their last year of schooling in the primary school should achieve the level set out in the proposed document;

4. A framework for learning and teaching for primary years, which assists teachers in helping pupils improve their performance in a progressive developmental manner and identifying critical stages;

5. The production of training programmes for head teachers responsible for managing change in schools. Little can be achieved without the active support of those with power to make key decisions. In addition, it enables the head teacher, at whatever stage of their development, to reflect on their role and impact, and to determine how they will develop collectively;

6. Suggestions on how to teach various subjects across the school curriculum;

7. Suggestions on teaching personal, social and health education (PSHE) to help children develop their personal, social and emotional skills. These skills are vital in today’s work force, where the ability to communicate, integrate and engage is essential. These are the skills which private sectors increasingly look for first;

8. Suggestions for improving the physical environment of the school (e.g., building, furniture, equipments, play ground, etc);

9. Development of a whole school policy for Healthy eating;

10. A schools programme of support for school improvement. It outlines funding and additional human resources available to schools for developing the leadership capacity, running in-service training for teachers, appointing a teacher of English in participating schools in order to improve the quality of learning and teaching, and to raise further children’s progress and attainment.

In addition, the ISC could develop plans to give the brightest and underachieving pupils extra lessons paid for by the ISC. These lessons can be given at weekend and summer schools at universities and out of hour tuition. The rural schools should prove that they can stretch themselves and challenge the reputation of schools in urban areas for being better at doing so. The brightest pupils could attend extra English or start French lessons in summer schools or on Saturdays. Such summer and weekend schools for late developers and underachievers, because of social disadvantage, will enable them to improve their attainment and narrow the attainment gaps between them and their counterparts. Local rich individuals could be approached to make their cash donations to local schools matched by the ISC. These funds can be used to support extra tuitions to underachievers.

This should not be a finished or definitive document, but a source of suggestions for individual schools wishing to develop their own initiative appropriate to their pupil’s level of ability, but keeping the target set by the working party in view.

Once such policies have been developed, a five year trial demonstration project (perhaps named Excellence in Village Primary Schools) needs to be set up in 10-12 Khalsa primary schools which are currently managed by a local body or by SGPC in a rural area from one district of Punjab with the primary aim of implementing and evaluating these policies and programmes of good practice in primary education. The intention will be that these policies should focus on improving management and coordination of teaching and learning in primary village schools, aiming to demonstrate that, with the right support, almost all children can reach age appropriate levels of literacy in Punjabi and English, Mathematics, Science, Information Technology by the end of primary schooling.

The results of the study could then be used as a basis for making recommendations about how such policies can be implemented effectively and economically by other primary schools in rural areas and will have the following outs:

1. A written policy (or policies) of good practice of teaching in primary schools to act as a model for all primary schools;

2. A description in report form of the implementation process to show how such a policy can effectively and economically be implemented by schools;

3. A report or reports describing the research evidence on the relationship between the policies as implemented in trial schools, programme adoption and operating costs and pupils’ progress and attainment.

In conclusion, the aim of schools should be to turn out rounded, socially adept pupils and not just focus on the academic. Time should be spent on children doing sports, music and drama. This helps children develop not just academic and vocational skills but social skills, confidence and team working as well. There is a need to teach young rural people vital attributes such as teamwork and communication skills, which are increasingly important in the job market.

What we need is to transform the delivery of education so that every pupil has the opportunity to reach his or her true potential. We need an excellent education system offering education opportunities to all children in rural areas. Education should be seen to be about merit, ability and talent, and to be for everyone and not exclusively for elites getting better opportunities than others. What is going to give people higher standards of living is going to be education. So education should be the priority; it should have pride of place. Everybody knows that in order to face world-class competition whether it’s in America or whether it’s in Asia, we need to do much better in our schools.

There should therefore be a shared determination between the pilot schools, local settings, district education department and ISC that all children are appropriately supported to make the progress of which they are capable.
Our village children deserve appropriate learning challenges, to be taught well and given the opportunity to learn in ways that maximize their chances of success and to have adults working with them to tackle the specific barriers to progress they face. The proposed policies for primary education in village schools need to be designed to help educationists, teachers and schools achieve this ambition.

 

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