A Blueprint for Educational Resurgence in Modern-Day Punjab
Education, quality education, is the most effective tool to empower the present younger generation of Punjab. As a result of the collapse of the Govt-run Education System, especially the school education segment, several private players have jumped into the field. But these unaided, uncontrolled educational institutes started by some of the unscrupulous players have started these ventures not for serving the society in the educational field, but for earning huge profits. These institutions, from the schools to the university level, have mushroomed all over the State as a result of the businessman-politician nexus which encourages these institutes to charge exhorbitant fees and appoint sub-standard faculty and exploit this faculty and make do with a sub-standard infrastructure. The schools run by certain religious and social organisations are mainly run by the Government grant-in-aid to the extent of 95% which hinders these organisations to pursue any independent quality-oriented educational programmes, both in terms of admissions and faculty appointments. Thus, there are three main players in education in Punjab:
1) The public sector, govt schools colleges, and state-funded universities;
2) Institutes run by religious, social organisations and subsidised by the government; and
3) The purely private, unaided institutions.
Out of these three segments of education, it is the school segment, more especially the rural school segment, which cries for urgent attention of the socially conscious, intellectually enlightened citizens and socio-religious and non-Governmental organisations, like the newly constituted International Sikh Confederation. Rejuvenation of this, once vibrant affordable school system, should, in my opinion, be one of the primary tasks to be taken up by the Confederation. Before suggesting any remedial measures and the ways in which an organisation like ISC can intervene to revitalise this most vital organ of society, it would seem necessary to enlighten the readers with some of the most shocking and horrifying distortions which have crept into the school delivery system in the state of Punjab in order to bring forth the gravity of situation and alarming state of affairs in this most fundamental sector of our society.
A brief perusal of the latest survey report recently submitted by Punjab Human Rights Organisation1, and the thoroughly researched paper on Secondary Education in Punjab, prepared by Dr Sucha Singh Gill2, an eminent economist and his two colleagues, will reveal that in Punjab the entire delivery system of education at the school level, especially in the public sector, has almost totally collapsed because of the state government’s long-term policy to withdraw in phases its public financing of school education and the gross mismanagement of the existing school infrastructure. These two exhaustive studies reveal the yawning gap between the existing Punjab state statistics in the vital sectors of teacher-student ratio, percentage of public/state funding of state education, quality of teachers and state/governmental responsibility of guaranteeing the fundamental right of basic education to state’s citizens and the standards set up by the Prof Yashpal Committee submitted to the Ministry of Human Resource Management, Govt of India after being duly approved by the highest body CABE (Central Advisory Board of Education) The Yashpal Committee3 report envisages the teacher-student ratio of 1.30; public funding of education to the tune of 6% of GDP, appointment of trained qualified teachers selected on merit by a state body with impeccable credentials, adequate infrastructure in the form of classrooms of specified dimensions, separate toilets for boys and girls, uniform academic syllabus based on NCERT curriculum and periodwise division and a credible system of examination by the State Education Boards. To quote the most operative part from this report included in it from National Secondary Education Commission (1952), it states the essential goal and aim of education. It states:
“The Constitution of India guarantees equality of status and opportunity to all citizens. Continued exclusion of vast numbers of children from education and the disparities caused through private and public school systems challenge the efforts towards equality. Education should function as an instrument of social transformation and egalitarian social order.”4 (p. 3)
Against the backdrop of these briefly summed up recommendations of Prof Yashpal Committee, let us have a look at the statistics regarding the school education system in the state of Punjab:
Dr Gill’s Survey
Data presented by Dr Gill’s report on the number of schools in the primary segment, student enrollment and teachers upto year 2001 shows great expansion in quantitative terms but its failure to show 100% enrollment in this segment of government schools as compared to the most literate and educationally advanced states of Kerala and Tamilnadu despite the enactment of compulsory Primary Education Act of 1960 in Punjab. Another distortion that has crept into this segment as reported by PHRO report is that 70% of the students being enrolled into this segment belong to the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes families, who are neither motivated towards education by their family circumstances, nor by the scanty staff in these schools. The teacher enrollment in this segment has been continuously declining during the last one decade as a result of which 30,000 posts are lying vacant, out of which majority of the posts belong to this segment. Belatedly, now on the eve of elections to the State Assembly, the Government is making daily declarations to recruit 12,000 teachers in this year. But seeing the past record of these govts., it seems to be more of an election gimmick rather than an earnest policy of the government. However, the most horrifying scenario in this segment is the high dropout rate among school children. It was 38% to 39% in 2001-2002 as per Dr Gill’s report both among boys and girls. This “high drop out rate and repetition rates (in the same class) puts a question mark on state’s strategic goal to enable all children upto the age of 14 years to complete elementary education in government schools which has resulted in the mushroom growth in the number of unrecognised privately financed primary schools in every nook and corner of villages and towns of Punjab. Despite their inadequate basic educational infrastructure and sub-standard, poorly paid and least motivated faculty, these so-called English medium schools are attracting more and more students partly due to the paying capacity of middle class families and partly due to their misguided, baseless perception that these schools are better than the government schools. The govt’s indifferent attitude towards the mushroom growth of these schools has resulted in the ruining of the government school system, the exploitation of both parents due to very high fees and of teachers due to shamelessly low salaries without improving the quality of education on the whole. The only beneficiaries are managements of these teaching shops. According to Punjab Government’s own admission published in the The Tribune, March 30, 2006, 10,000 private schools with one lakh students enrolled in these schools and 500 of these schools being recognised schools are running from private residential buildings. The State government has decided to ban these private schools from residential areas from the next academic session. The herd mentality of the gullible people and indifference and absence of any regulatory governmental mechanism are primarily responsible for this wrecking of the government school system and emergence of a remedy worse-than-disease in the form of these privately managed schools.
The other factors responsible for the decline in both quality and quantity of the governmental school system recorded by Dr Gill’s report are shortage of infrastructural facilities (in terms of building, classrooms, playgrounds, toilets, furniture, blackboards), heavily prescribed syllabus, outdated teaching practices, decreased motivation among teachers, shortage of teachers, poor governance and supervisory mechanism, absenteeism among teachers, and lower income of parents sending their children to Punjab state-schools. The latest figures related to the factors as released by PHRO report have brought out these infirmities in the education system in concrete terms with figures which are extremely disturbing and must stir the conscience of the powers that be as well as those who are socially conscious and intellectually sensitive towards the future of Punjab youth and the future generations of our community. To give a few factual statistics from the PHRO report: The standard of education and classroom teaching in 90% of these schools is extremely poor where 70% students come from the disadvantaged sections of society. Almost none of either school teacher’s own wards or any school administrative functionary’s ward is enrolled in these schools.
A total of 36.52 lakh students are enrolled in these govt. schools and 1.13 lakhs teachers are on their payrolls, with 30,000 posts of teachers still lying vacant. The dropout rate in these schools varies from 30 to 40 percent by the time these students cross the middle class. The other disturbing factor about govt schools is that there are 300 schools where the total strength of students is less than 50. These schools are mainly located in the districts of Amritsar, Bathinda, Mansa and Muktsar.
Although 30,000 posts of teachers are lying vacant out of which govt professes to fill 12,000 posts in this year, but the teachers already in service and on the payrolls of schools are also least motivated to teach in their schools. On any given working day, 25% of the teachers are absent from the school duties and 50% out of those present do not prefer to teach on one pretext or the other. Out of the standard 180 teaching days in an academic session, teachers are put on non-academic duties such as preparing voters’ lists, election duties, census data preparations, pulse polio programmes, taking students to political rallies and other odd jobs for 73 days on an average. In some remote and border areas, some ingenious teachers with a political clout have engaged contractual teachers on a salary of Rupees 1000 to 2000 and sublet their teaching jobs on leasehold basis. As per the latest figures published in The Indian Express, dated June 20, 2006, taken from the Education Department, Punjab, there are 84, 57, 54, 38, 36, 31, 23, 19 schools in the district of Ludhiana, Patiala, Muktsar, Ropar, Bhatinda, Moga, Faridkot and Fatehgarh Sahib, respectively, where there no Principals to head these schools.
A sizeable number of serving teachers have been recruited on the basis of false degrees from the UGC blacklisted universities. Despite the detection of their fake degrees by the state vigilance department and their indictment by the Honourable Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Punjab School Education Board is still shielding these tainted teachers and they are continuing in service. The dubious way in which these teachers have been appointed during the last few years is an open secret. Thus, from the point of appointment to the transfer of teachers, the whole process is vitiated. This has resulted in scarcity of teachers in rural schools and surplus teachers in urban schools than the sanctioned posts with the active connivance of political and administrative vested interests. Now with the passing of administrative control of primary and middle schools to the faction-ridden, semi-literate panchayats, the whole govt school system is likely to crumble and collapse totally.
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. A school system whose examination system and whose state school board has lost credibility in the eyes of the public and whose students are denied admission in colleges in some of the elite colleges of union territory and other states on one pretext or the other is doing an incaculable harm to the state of Punjab and its younger generation. Alarmed by this extremely high dropout rates, the state government has now decided to make entries of these dropout figures in the teachers annual confidential report (ACRS) and ordered the teachers to go from door to door to make admission to their schools.
The public expenditure on each student in govt schools is projected as Rs 600/- per month, but major budgetary allocation during the years 2001 to 2005 has been shown under the headings of sports, culture, libraries and laboratories, whereas very scanty facilities in these spheres are available.
Private Aided Schools
In the govt-aided private schools, 1000 posts of teachers and 102 posts of principals are lying vacant. The Pension scheme started in these schools has been withdrawn with effect from 31-5-05. PHRO report has found that in some cases, relatives of management trustees are drawing salaries against some of these sanctioned posts.
Private Unaided Schools
Due to the almost collapse of school education in the govt sector, the totally self-financed private schools and their managements are having a field day. Exhorbitant fees in the name of admission fees, school uniforms, building funds, very high tuition fees are being charged without appointing the corresponding qualified faculty and paying them adequate salaries in the absence of any governmental regulatory system in place. Running a school in a ram-shackle residential house has become the most lucrative business these days. To sum up the present school education scenario in the state of Punjab, “a majority of Govt schools exist for squandering away the money from the state exchequer, and private schools exist for robbing the people”5 to quote the exact words from the PHRO report.
In the higher education sector, the situation is slightly less dismal with the exception of professional medical, engineering, law, and education colleges in the private, self-financing category where the fee structure is back-breaking despite the Supreme Court strictures and Justice Majithia Commission recommendations. Paper leakages, tampering with the results, plethora of court cases are evidence that some of our premier institutions lack professional competency to manage their academic affairs. It is in the backdrop of such a discredited education system in the state of Punjab, that the International Sikh Confederation should discuss and debate on this most important tool of human empowerment and suggest ways and means to rejuvenate and revitalise this vital social sector. The following remedial measures are proposed towards the achievement of this goal:
ISC’s Role – An Immediate Task
i) The International Sikh Confederation, being a non-political organisation with its image of being a Sikh body consisting of members with impeccable credentials, integrity and commitment to provide enlightened guidance to the Sikh society, must launch a campaign, rather a crusade against all those vested interests, both political and bureaucratic within the government as well as the purely profit-blinded private players dealing with the most fundamental segment of social and economic empowerment, i.e., education. It must raise its voice against governmental neglect of its primary duty of providing a uniform, affordable education to the rural and urban poor population. Casting itself in the role of a watchdog body capable of pin-pointing the cracks and aberrations which have crept into the social fabric of Punjab and acquiring the image of an intellectually enlightened think tank of the Sikh society, having the tallest moral stature due to the selflessness and moral commitment of its members to uplift the Sikh society, the Confederation must create such a powerful and charged environment and milieu of ideas for empowering the Sikh society for the provision of uniform, affordable school education, so that no political party or government of the state could dare to ignore the voice and viewpoint of this Confederation of the Sikhs. It must make the government realise its criminal neglect, rather wreckage of the school education system of the state, by raising its voice through the available public for a such as press, electronic media, its own institutional journal, symbolic representations, memoranda and even peaceful dignified demonstrations. It must arouse the conscience of the people as well by providing intellectually enlightened guidance so that the people of Punjab must be seen to be holding the powers that be accountable for this mess in the education sector. The Confederation must assume the role of a conscience-keeper of Sikh Society together with its being a think tank whose opinion could be ignored by the vested interests at their own peril. It must create a body of opinion both among the masses as well as its elected representatives that a minimum of 6% of state’s GDP is allocated to education, and all other distortions like recruitment of teachers, their proper training, and postings are set right. The Matriculation and Secondary level examinations must be conducted by a competent professional body. Punjab School Education Board must be divested of the duty of conduct of examinations till this sick and stinking monolith is revamped. Since the next elections are due in a short time, the Confederation must see that revamping of the existing educational school system in the public sector through reasonable budgetary allocations and administrative overhauling is given a top priority in election manifesto of every political party aspiring to seek people’s mandate. It is better to repair the existing government school infrastructure than to disband and privatise it. It is not good to throw the baby with the bath water when this educational baby’s vital organs are still capable of being revitalised. To create a parallel, substitute system of education through the contributions by the Sikhs is too monumental a task at this stage. So, the Confederation, which itself is in its nascent stage, must use its brain power and moral credentials to create a current of public opinion for the restoration of Education System at least to its pre-1980 position as rightly pointed out by the PHRO survey report. This should be the immediate task before the Confederation.
ii) For the long-term revamping of Education system, efforts must be made by the Confederation to create a Sikh Educational Fund (SEF) to the tune of one billion dollars on the lines of a Jewish Education Fund (JEF) as suggested by the distinguished Professor at Berkeley (USA) Dr Sukhmandar Singh at the two day international Sikh Conclave held in November 2005 at the Institute of Sikh Studies. This is not an impossible task given the prosperity of the Sikhs all over the world, provided the image and credibility of ISC members is trusted by the Sikh society. For that purpose, the proposed five member presidium of the ISC must consist of persons who command the universal respect of the Sikh society. With this fund, the ISC can aspire to educate every Sikh child and empower the Sikh society, as well as propagate the Sikh ethos in the younger generation. The Confederation should also try to rope in the services of cash rich Sikh Sant Babas and diaspora NRI Sikhs under the auspices of a registered body of ISC. A detailed survey of Punjab villages, even by a professional agency, be made and a chain of primary, middle and secondary schools in a proportional ratio in the identified cluster of villages be started. The services of eminent educational experts and socially motivated retired, experienced as well as well-known educationists like Dr Inderpal Singh, Dr T.R. Sharma and D.S. Bedi can be utilised for preparing a blueprint for this long-term educational plan.
In College education segment in the rural areas, a selective approach should be adopted. Meritorious, deserving students should be given financial incentives to make their career.
At the university level, ISC should put on its website, the financial incentives as well as the checks and balances, terms and conditions riders for eligibility of availing those financial incentives for the meritorious and deserving students with a provise that such students as avail of these incentives will contribute to the ISC funds after getting into a successful career.
Since the ISC has been conceived and started by a group of individual visionaries with the motive of preserving, promoting and propagating the Sikh philosophy and Sikh heritage and legacy, their dream can be fulfilled only by working selflessly day and night by sacrificing personal comforts of leisure and family obligations. The very fact that this dream has been conceived is an indication that Waheguru Akal Purakh’s Will is working behind this noble and lofty dream. The organisers need to cast themselves in the mould of divine instruments of this Guru’s design and respond to this great challenge. The immediate challenge and task is not as radical as to build a new pyramid overnight in place of an existing crumbling pyramid as to prick the conscience of those who are consciously and deliberately demolishing the once pre-1980 considerably sound educational pyramid through a reprimand, a censure and a gentle rap on the knuckles from those who decidedly possess a higher moral stature. We have often heard it said “Neros were fiddling when Rome was burning.” The ISC needs to send a stern reminder to the modern day Neros of the state of Punjab to stop fiddling and fidgeting while our motherland is sinking fast into the quagmire of educational, intellectual and moral bankruptcy under the pressure of market forces of commercialisation of education. To conclude in the words of Lawrence Summers, President, Harvard University (USA), “We have a saying that Science is too important to leave to the scientists and war is too important to leave to the generals. Education is too important to leave to the educators (alone).”
Hence the need for ISC’s intervention.
1. Punjab State Human Rights Organisation Report dated 19-1-06, submitted to Chief Minister, Punjab.
2. Education Development, Public Expenditure and Financing of Secondary Education in Punjab — By Dr Sucha Singh Gill, Sukhwinder Singh, Jaswinder Singh Brar — Journal of Educational Planning and Administration, Vol. XIX, No. 3, July 2005, pp. 335-374. Department of Economics, Punjabi University, Patiala 470 002.
3. National Curriculum Framework – 2005
4. PHRO Report, p. 4