The Primary Education in Punjab
– A Summary of the Report of a project of Nishkam Sikh Welfare Council –
A Report Gajinder Singh
The state of Primary education in Punjab, especially in the rural areas in government-run schools has been studied in depth by Nishkam Sikh Welfare Council, New Delhi, taking Patiala Education Block III as a test case. Results of the study bring out the pathetic condition of the rural sector and the inadequacy of proper school infrastructure, with utter lack of facilities like drinking water, toilets, playgrounds or even boundary walls. The teacher-pupil ratio is 1:63. This results in the drop-out rate of 27 % in Classes I to V, which spells a chaotic situation for the upcoming generation. It is so even as the state Government desperately tried to push the problem under the carpet by declaring each and every student of Class V in the state successful and qualified for a certificate. The anomaly was corrected only in the year 2001 when due to press reports on finding the ineptitude of the children along with similar findings of NCERT and PSEB studies undertaken by Sidhu, the Punjab Government withdrew the ‘all pass’ order, reintroducing the ‘pass-fail’ rule. The casual attitude of the teachers towards their duties and responsibilities was fully exposed as those students who were declared successful in Class V were found to be unable to read and write fluently even their mother tongue -Punjabi, nor Hindi or other subjects.
The plight of primary education programme in Punjab is clearly seen as against national average of 5.51%, the Punjab Government has been spending only 3% of the total education budget on Elementary Education for the past several years.
The results were indeed shocking. A carefully selected sampling of 384 students in Class VI from rural and urban secondary schools of Patiala Block III revealed that only 2% boys and 4% girls passed in Mathematics and only 12% boys and 14% girls qualified in Punjabi.
In May 2001, the Punjab Elementary Education Board Project Committee, Patiala working under the aegis of the Nishkam Sikh Welfare Council (Regd.), New Delhi, decided to hold a District Scholarship Test for all children who secured 70 % or more marks in the SCERT conducted Class V Annual examination, 2001 to select 20 students on merit basis for scholarships of the value of Rs. 150/- per month for three years covering Classes VI to VIII. The results were dismal as students who had secured 70% or more in their annual examinations through government schools managed to secure on average mere 4.7% in Punjabi, 2.3% in Hindi, 5% in mathematics, 8% in social Science and as low as 2-3% in general knowledge. The so-called public schools having adequate infra-structure were excluded from this experiment. The study exposed the unreliability of the SCERT conducted Class V examinations. Among the selected 310 ‘candidates who had secured 70 % marks and more in Class V examinations, only 3% to 4% were able to obtain 70% and more in the Scholarship test, giving the overall coefficient ratio of 0.21 in 310 candidates.
In setting the question papers for the Scholarship test, care was taken to include only such questions which were within the reach of average or even below average grade of students and were very similar to the standards of SCERT examinations.
The results revealed that against 78.6% secured by the toppers in the SCERT test, the average on the Scholarship test stood at 28% only. As many as 80% examinees got less than 40% marks. Indeed, the marks ranged between 46 and 76 out of 100.
As the Scholarship test was neither too tough, nor outside the prescribed syllabus, the only conclusion that may be arrived at is that in the SCERT examination, the marking could have been very liberal and casual. Copying on a large scale and the use of unfair means was also reported. The SCERT test was mostly on the pattern of Yes/No, Right/Wrong, True/False and did not involve recall, reasoning or written expression. Resultantly, guessing or thoughtful ticking could easily earn a score of 50% marks.
The above results pertain to government-run schools only as the bright children, by and large, shifted to the non-government/public schools because of shortage of teachers and inadequacy of the desired infrastructure in the rural and urban State-run schools, where pass percentage is 64% against non-government schools averaging 97%.
Much reliance cannot, therefore, be reposed on SCERT held examinations. For nearly 100 days in a year, 80 to 85% teachers are assigned non-academic duties, for which they have to absent themselves from the schools. This accounts for poor performance of children. Further, in the SCERT test system, the answer books are marked internally and the entire exercise of evaluation is completed in 3-4 days and markings are not coordinated by different examiners and there does not exist uniformity of scoring procedure.
The Nishkam Sikh Welfare Council, New Delhi, has offered pertinent recommendations to improve the present unsatisfactory conditions of elementary education in Punjab. The sanctity of the system of examination must be maintained, by strengthening the relative evaluation and teaching, so that the teaching-learning process becomes meaningful by giving training to teachers for setting objectives of teaching different subjects in the syllabus. It is admitted that at the primary level, internal assessment is the only answer.
The present ‘Yes-No’ type of question papers must be discouraged which leads to cramming and guessing, on one hand, and retard development of reasoning or creative ability, on the other. It has resulted in rendering the children unfit to write 3-4 lines coherently and express themselves freely in public examinations. This is the biggest snag in the SCERT test format.
It has been observed in the present method of teaching that average and decimal fractions in mathematics had not been attempted in the tests held showing a resistance to change or improvement. Weightage to Language and Mathematics could be increased by at least 25%
It has been suggested by the Union Minister for Human Resources that before matriculation examination, the external tests of children should be replaced by internal tests and their scope enhanced. The public examinations frighten the students and create anxiety and tension in juvenile minds leading to possible sense of hatred and aversion for studies leading to cheating, copying and other unfair means. Till such time the amended systems are introduced, internal examinations must be made accountable.
They should be given academic freedom for experimentation, and innovations must be encouraged by instituting awards and incentives to enable teachers to use new strategies to motivate the children to become innovative and creative. Good pedagogical practices largely depend upon the emotional relationship between the teacher and the taught. For effective communication with the students, teachers must be given a free hand to decide the syllabus and in organising the schedule of teaching.
Under regimentation, the academic achievements of the bright students also suffer and the standards of education are declining fast. Some apparent causes are (a) inadequate inputs, including teachers, (b) defective syllabus, (c) lack of supervision and guidance, (d) absence of clear-cut education policy, (e) centralisation of authority in the minister, sidelining the education officers, (t) uneven distribution of resources and (g) a parallel system of completely independent public schools. All these causes and prevalent lethargy, de-motivation, lack of will and personal interests, tuitions, absence from duty impinge on the progress of education.
The inflated marking of the SCERT conducted examinations cannot dilute the charge that educational standards are deteriorating. 97-98% marks awarded are a deception, a trick which failed. An important step is to appoint more teachers so that thousands of closed schools are reopened. The teachers’ training must be given priority for which an infrastructure at PSEB level must be created. Sick schools have to be identified and steps taken to stem the rot.