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Editorial

BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING
– Two Momentous Decisions –

In the present age of rapidly advancing technology, education is the key factor in any meaningful programme for development of a community. The Institute of Sikh Studies recently organized a seminar on the state of education in rural Punjab, which revealed an alarming situation. The education system in the State seems to have virtually collapsed. Education is largely a responsibility of the State Government, which has a vast network of primary and secondary schools in the Punjab, so that nobody can complain of lack of access to school. But look at their performance. As pointed out in our last issue also, the result of 79 senior secondary schools for the 10th and 10+2 classes was 0% and that of 219 similar schools was below 10% according to a PHRO report submitted in 2006. Dropout rate in schools is high and, with about 70% of literacy, Punjab cannot be called an educationally advanced state.

The state of education was discussed in the seminar organized by the IOSS on the 1st and 2nd October, 2006, at Chandigarh. The findings are being published separately, and the state of affairs has been brought to the notice of the State government in a strongly-worded memorandum (reproduced elsewhere in this issue). It would, however, be futile to expect any meaningful action on it in the near future, since, as we all know, most of the politicians who control the government are often unscrupulous and, unfortunately, the official hierarchy controlling the schools and other educational institutions has, too, shown a lamentable lack of concern over the deteriorating standards in the past. The view prevailed in the seminar that since the bulk of the Sikh population lived in the rural areas of the Punjab, where the situation is worst, it would be suicidal to just sit back and wait for things to improve.

Besides the govt schools, there are a large number of private schools, where, with a few exceptions, the situation is only marginally better. A major overhauling of the educational system is, therefore, necessary to ensure quality education for our children and youth. We know the weaknesses. School buildings are inadequate. There are very few libraries, laboratories, play grounds, and other infrastructural facilities required for effective teaching. Abject poverty in rural areas rules out opportunities of higher education to rural youth. Some private organizations have taken the initiative, and shown that given adequate funds, things can be improved. But a much bigger effort is required for a major visible effect.

It is indeed very heartening to know that the ISC has decided to deal with this problem on a priority basis. In the meeting of the Interim Executive Committee held on December 4, 2006, it decided to create atleast one Billion Dollar Sikh Education Fund to virtually revolutionise the education system, so that all impediments are removed and the community can be counted among the front-runners of the most educated and advanced communities of the world.

The target of one billion dollars might appear a bit too ambitious, but it is certainly not unachievable over a period of ten years or so. There is no dearth of philanthropists among Sikhs with plenty of money and a keen desire to do something for humanity at large and the Sikh community in particular. There is no other cause today more sacred than this, and we are sure that liberal contributions will be forthcoming. It is clear from the fact that the moment the resolution was passed, the members present in the meeting started announcing their contribution and a sum of approximately Rs 8 lakhs was collected there and then. We are confident that Sikhs, who aspire to see a better future for our younger generation and an honourable place for our community, will contribute generously.

There are thousands of gurdwaras, deras and other Sikh organizations with an aggregate income running into billions of dollars annually. If they earmark even one tenth of their income, as they should, the target can be achieved in a single year, and the projects envisaged can be launched without further delay.

The ISC must also come out with a comprehensive document giving details of the projects to be undertaken. These should include inter alia:

  • Setting of new model schools. There should be atleast one top class school in each Development Block of Punjab, with features successfully tried in the chain of Kalghidhar Trust Schools under the name Akal Academies launched by Baba Iqbal Singh of Baru Sahib, as well as the Tughalwal model of Sardar Swaran Singh.
  • Provision of buildings, laboratories, libraries, play grounds, computer education facilities, religious instruction, teaching aids to all schools.
  • Training and motivation of teachers with suitable incentives.
  • Incentives to students for excellence in studies and sports.
  • Scholarships to deserving students for higher education to the highest level available in India as well as abroad.
  • Technical training and guidance and placement services for youth seeking employment.

Lack of finances should not stand in the way of aspiring and deserving Sikh youth in the pursuit of highest academic achievements. The govt of India has promised 7 crores of new jobs in the next Five Year Plan. Our young men have to be imparted the necessary training for these jobs. At the moment, they are not qualified to avail of the new opportunities. It is necessary to organize special training programmes and crash courses, particularly in the rural areas to prepare the youth. Otherwise, the employment opportunities will go to people from the other states migrating to Punjab, with attendant social and demographic effects.

Sikh TV Channel
This was the second historic decision adopted by the ISC on the 4th of December, 2006. Reading habit is vanishing, particularly among Sikh youth, so that use of electronic media and TV is the only way of communicating with them. We have a huge network of gurdwaras the world over. Wherever the Sikhs go, the first thing they do is to construct a gurdwara. Unfortunately, it is only the old generation that attends the morning and evening services. The youth is conspicuous by its absence. TV channels or sports have a greater attraction for them. The youth is going astray under the influence of new western and consumerist cultural environment and TV and multimedia programmes. They are completely unaware of their own great cultural and spiritual heritage. They know nothing of their history, the sacrifices made by their ancestors to shed the shackles of slavery and to restore the dignity and honour to the lowly, humble and downtrodden people of India. They do not know that our Gurus gave to the world a practical whole-life universal religion with a positive worldview. They do not know we have a scripture that addresses the whole world, and not followers of a particular faith alone, and is indispensable for bringing different faiths together. Ours is a religion that preaches equality and justice, and decries discrimination on the basis of race, caste, creed, gender or social status. Its ideal is ‘saint-soldier’, i.e., one who lives a peaceful life as a saint, but does not hesitate to take up arms, when injustice to anyone is done. Martyrdom is an essential component of our faith, and a Sikh following his Gurus, is ready to make any sacrifice to defend the right of freedom of faith to everyone, including those belonging to other faiths.

Our youth as well as people of other faiths have to be urgently made aware of such features of our faith, to bring our youth back and for a better understanding of our religion and culture by other communities. This is particularly important, since we have widely been misunderstood as Arabs or followers of Osama bin Laden or some terrorist outfits.

This can be done though a 24-hour TV channel showing our history, exegesis of bani, special discourses on Sikh philosophy, Sikh classics, special programmes for youth, debates, question and answer sessions, kirtan, etc. A lot of activities around the world affecting Sikhs and problems facing the Sikhs in India and abroad need to be highlighted. Even the activities of the ISC itself need to be promoted through the TV medium. Youth is looking for role models and heroes in the Sikh form, which emphasises the need for such films to be screened on the TV.

Thus, there is ample justification for starting a TV channel without further delay. Preliminary estimates indicate that a modest beginning can be made with as little as two crores of Rupees.

We appeal to every member of the Panth to contribute liberally for the cause of the Education Fund as well as the Sikh TV Channel Fund. These projects will run under special Trusts with trustees of impeccable integrity to ensure proper utilization of every penny of donation, under complete transparency. Let each of us contribute our share, however meagre, to these two ambitious projects impacting the destiny of the Khalsa Panth.


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