State of School Education in Rural Punjab
About three quarters of the Sikh population lives in rural area of the Punjab. Future of any community is in the hands of its youth and children of today. While we celebrate shatabdis, it is necessary to have a look at the state of education available to our children in the villages, which, according to Dr S S Johl, Deputy Chairman, Punjab State Planning Board, is alarming. He says, “The present situation is quite alarming. Majority of the Sikh population in Punjab lives in villages. Educational facilities in villages are worth nothing. There are very few higher secondary schools in the rural areas that have science subjects. Those that have science or commerce subjects, have very poor teaching infrastructure. Teachers do not stay in these schools and absenteeism is rampant. As a consequence, students do not opt for science or commerce subjects. They are not, therefore, able to compete for professional higher education. Surprisingly, even the Punjab Agriculture University does not have many students from rural areas or farming families. This agriculture university has almost all the students from urban non-farming families. Further, it is the girls from the urban families that excel and capture top academic positions and win medals. Concern is not that students from these non-farming urban families get this education; the concern is that agricultural/rural youth is being left behind and majority of these youth in the villages are from the Sikh families. If this is the situation in the subjects of agricultural stream, one can well imagine the situation in respect of engineering, medical and other professional subjects.”
The data on school results submitted by PHRO report in 2006 mentioned that the results of 79 senior secondary schools for 10th and 10+2 classes was 0%, of 219 similar schools was less than 10%, of 40 schools 10% for the last 10 years. These results have emerged despite the mass scale copying in these examinations in majority of centres in Punjab schools.
The findings of two studies conducted in Patiala Block III by the Nishkam Sikh Welfare Council (Regd.), New Delhi, were also shocking. A carefully selected sample of 384 students in Class VI from rural and urban secondary schools 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 decided to hold a District Scholarship Test for all such children as secured 70 % or more marks in the SCERT conducted Class V Annual examination, 2001, to select 20 students on merit basis for award of 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 marks 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.
Things could not be worse, and if this state of affairs continues, the day is not far, when Punjab will be reduced to a mere breeding ground for illiterate or semi-literate low paid labourers to work in factories or farms owned by others. One shudders to think of such a prospect. The IOSS has been sounding the alarm bell earlier also. In order to focus attention on this problem, the Institute is holding this seminar on the theme “School Education in Rural Punjab”, today at its headquarters in Chandigarh, to which eminent educationists and the public agencies engaged in education have been invited. It is hoped that their deliberations will yield practical suggestions for improvement. Side by side with long-term plans to provide quality education in rural areas, through better infrastructure, increased and motivated teaching staff, liberal allocation of funds, effective supervision, etc, it is necessary to provide crash courses in rural areas to prepare selected students for competitive exams for admissions to universities and for recruitment to coveted services in the public and private sector.
It is heartening that the Punjab Govt has decided to set up an Education Commission to deal with the problem. All the Vice-Chancellors in the State universities have been nominated as its members. This has raised the expectations of the people, which, we are sure, will not be belied by these eminent personalities. They are all dealing with higher education. It may be advisable to add some members with experience of School Education also, since it is at this level that the rot has taken deep roots. We want to believe that the government is serious, that this is not just a pre-election platitude, and that the recommendations of the Commission will be implemented, unlike some earlier reports gathering dust in secretarial shelves.
Before I conclude, I wish to list a few specific point that demand serious consideration of this august seminar:
a) How to stem the rapidly growing decay in rural schools, particularly the govt-run schools.
b) How to introduce moral education based on the values preached in the Guru Granth Sahib.
c) The need for new schools to impart quality education in rural areas.
d) Study of existing models of school education and selection of one or more models to cater to the needs of different strata of rural population.
e) How to impart technical education to rural youth to enable them to take advantage of the emerging employment opportunities for skilled or semi-skilled workers.
f) Setting up of special academies or crash courses in existing institutions to prepare selected students for admission to technical institutions or recruitment to public and private services.
g) Setting up of an Education Fund to provide financial assistance to deserving students for higher education upto any level.
h) Role of existing institutions in educational programs.
I hope the scholars assembled here will discuss all these points, and many more. I wish you every success.