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Sikh educational Resurgence and Role of Khalsa in 21st Century

Gurbax Singh Shergill

It is a historical day for us all to collectively think about the role of the Khalsa in 21st century, as a part of our endeavour to celebrate the Khalsa tercentenary. All of us are passing through a spiritual and emotional upsurge while remembering the life and teachings of our great Guru Gobind Singh, the saint, scholar and warrior, who ushered in a new era of hope and rising spirit (charhdi kala) on Vaisakhi day of 1699, not only for the Sikhs but for all humanity. The holy and historic movement started by him to empower the ‘sparrows’ to take over the ‘hawks’, to convert the ‘jackals’ into mighty ‘lions’, and bless his disciples to fight single-handed against millions, was not merely an emotional outburst, but the declaration of a universal message for the whole human race to rise above inherent weakness and cowardice and strive for ever to achieve excellence in various fields of life and keep up the rising spirit for establishing and creating a sovereign human society, wherein no one is subservient to any one and the whole human race becomes equal. He wanted his Sikhs to realise God in themselves and feel His presence always around (;dk nzr ;zr/). He himself set an example of excellence in thought, action and spirit. He was a great thinker and writer, a great soldier and saint. The Khalsa he created was envisaged as a perpetual divine dynamic force to lead the human race to strive for ever to achieve excellence in human relationship to establish a society of equals without any discrimination of caste, creed and country. It is in this context that the Khalsa spirit becomes relevant to the present-day world.

For achieving this aim we will have to educate and train our youth to imbibe the Khalsa spirit and achieve highest levels of excellence in various professional fields. In the present-day world of competition, only ‘men of merit’ who have achieved excellence in their chosen field, will be relevant. The real challenge to be faced in this direction is to give a better deal to our young students and prepare them for their new role. While talking of the 21st century we are talking of the future, which lies with our young students who are still in their formative years. The present scenario of our educational set-up presents a dismal picture. Unless and until we start a dynamic movement for a Sikh educational resurgence, we will not be able to prepare and train them for their role in the 21st century. Before we proceed further, it is of utmost importance to have an analytical look at our present-day educational set-up in Punjab, the homeland of the Sikhs.

For achieving excellence in any field, Sikh students need a wholesome, quality school education to build up a sound base, both for the professional growth and Khalsa spirit. Our present school education set-up in Punjab is facing a serious decline in the teaching–learning process. Starting from Primary and Secondary schools, it has now eroded the qualitative base in the colleges and universities, which should be taken as a danger signal. This tendency of falling standards is more prominent in our government, and aided schools, wherein 70-80% of our Sikh students are studying. In this mainstream there are about 13000 Primary schools, 2550 Middle, 2160 High and about 1140 Senior Secondary schools with more than 38 lakh students, of which 2104000 are in Primary, 973000 in Middle, 493000 in High and 202000 in Senior(+1, +2) classes. There are more than 120 thousand teachers, with a total annual salary of Rs. 1,200 crore and the highest pay scales in the whole of India. In spite of all that Punjab State ranks 17th in India in order of quality and quantitative measures although we are boasting of highest per capita income.

Even the increasing number of private Public schools have not made much difference. Good public schools are mainly in cities and towns and most of the other schools in rural areas are centres of copying and money making, having no relevance to quality education. The main impact of this dismal picture is on the Sikhs who are in a majority in rural areas. A sample study undertaken by the Quality Education Foundation has shown that 78% Sikh Primary students, 75% of Middle class, 70% of Matric and 65% of +2 classes are studying in Government Schools. The role of Khalsa Schools has gone down, as most of the rural ones were handed over to the government during the sixties in view of their deteriorating conditions on account of mismanagement and infighting of local groups. At present their role is limited to 3% in Senior Secondary, and 8% in other classes. Except for a few good new Public schools being run by Sikh missionary organisations, other private schools are serving the role of drag-lines. Quality Education tests held in district Nawanshahr, Ropar and Fatehgarh Sahib show that about 50% Sikh matriculate students are unable to pass the ordinary qualifying test even for army and police recruitment. Large scale copying in the Board examination and lack of public awareness against this evil, have eroded the whole quality base in schools. Increasing reliance on sifarishbaji (personal clout) and open graft in civil / subordinate service and teacher recruitment have further worsened the situation. An ordinary student in school or college, having no hope of justice on merit, looks to other means or becomes a drop-out. On the basis of my personal knowledge and experience in the last two decades of unrest in Punjab, I can verify that various agencies involved, exploited this left-out / drop-out section of Sikh students of poor families, which resulted in large scale killings of innocents. The Sikh youth is yearning for adventure and action. Unless we direct their energies through quality eduction and moral guidance, there is a fear that they will be used and abused again, or will get into drugs and crime. This is a real warning, let the Sikh intellectuals and scholars understand it, and find ways and means to give proper guidance and education to the Sikh youth. The majority of the Sikh upper and middle class intellectuals and leaders are evasive on this problem and are preoccupied with other ventures which need less effort and give easy publicity. What is more distressing is that in spite of the best intentions and pronouncements by our government, there is little sign of any strong move to improve mainstream Government school education.

Introduction of entrance tests for medical, engineering and other professional courses, although a right step, have further aggravated the problems of Sikh students. A recent study of medical and engineering admissions has revealed that Sikh students’ share is limited only to 25-30%. Some respite given on account of rural reservation in Sikh professional colleges is being abused on account of fake rural admissions.

A comparative study of the Punjab School Board merit list for 8th, 10th and 12th classes for 1996 and 1998 have shown that the share of Sikhs varies from 18% to 30% which is just the reverse of their population ratio. In case of very good Sikh Public Schools, their impact is positive on Sikh way of life but not so good on competitiveness in public examinations. Other good Public Schools have a good impact on the quality of education, but a negative one on Sikh way of life. On the whole, Public School education has an adverse effect on Sikh values, and their contribution to quality of education of Sikh students is limited.

On the basis of above analysis it is clear that the majority of the Sikh students are studying in Government Schools, whose contribution to quality education is negative, although less hostile to Sikh form. Another clear finding is that in general, Public Schools have failed to give any proof of their major contribution to quality. Their impact is good in the beginning but tapers off progressively at the top. In urban areas some Sikh Public Schools are doing well, but their number is very small. Third finding is that there is no well- organised effort by top Sikh organisations like SGPC, Chief Khalsa Dewan and Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee in the field of religious education or missionary work among Sikh students. Even in Khalsa schools and colleges, there is no regular religious teaching although some of them have positive influence on Sikh values. In view of the above findings it becomes clear that an all-out, bold, and brave effort should be made by Sikh organisations to start a mass movement for improving the quality of education given to our Sikh students. Vidya Chetna marches and rallies should be organised to create an awareness among parents, teachers, students and the Sikh public in general. After a long time and acute suffering, we have a government in Punjab from whom we can expect a better deal. Let us all make efforts to influence its policies and make them act in the proper direction. The Education Department and School Board should be thoroughly reorganised so as to make them more relevant to quality education, by shaking off their present mood of complacency and corruption.

Finally, I strongly appeal to Sikh scholars and educationists to give special thought to this problem of declining educational standards of Sikh students and their increasing indifference to the Sikh way of life. I feel that once we understand the nature and gravity of the problem, we will be able to find a solution, which of course lies through voluntary efforts to be made by Sikh organisations. Immediate efforts must be made by Sikh organisations to identify the top, gifted, and brilliant students with Khalsa spirit, so that they may be guided and helped to achieve their highest level of excellence in the profession of their choice, with true Khalsa spirit, and play their historic role in the twenty-first century to uphold and carry forward the holy torch, glowing with our Guru’s message of uVQdh ebk, ;opZs dk Gbk (rising spirit, welfare for all) with strong faith of ;dk nzr ;zr/, (His presence always around).



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