If there is one development that Congress-led Punjab government can truly celebrate after two years, it is its activity-based ‘Padho Punjab, Padhao Punjab’ programme, which seeks to improve basic reading and learning outcomes at the primary level, and the introduction of pre-primary classes in government schools.
The textbooks may still come at the end of the academic session and uniforms continue to remain in short supply, but the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) shows that our primary schooling is on an upswing.
A committee under the chairmanship of Dr B S Ghuman, vice-chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala, was constituted by the CM last year to frame a school education policy for Punjab and it is yet to submit the report. It has got a three-month extension twice. “The first draft will be ready by April. Then we will go for public consultation. The focus is on providing quality education in government schools,” said Dr Ghuman.
Schools get smart
The state claims to have converted 2,524 government schools — 13 percent of the 19,200 government schools in the state — into ‘smart schools’ with attractive buildings and learning aids like projectors, green boards, et al. However, only 261 (upper-primary) of these schools were revamped with government funding of Rs 29.60 crore, the remaining are ‘self-made’ smart schools, renovated with the help of teachers and community funding by NRIs and alumni.
In a rare grassroots initiative spearheaded by the education department, teachers formed a ‘Smart School Committee’ with four of them designated as ‘core state mentors’. Having converted their schools into smart schools without any government aid, they are now ‘smart school coordinators’ for the entire state with mentors working at the district level.
Calling this a praiseworthy step, Simranpreet Singh Oberoi, co-founder of the Sanjhi Sikhiya Foundation, says a lot can change if a village starts treating its government school as the most important place in the village.
The brainchild of education secretary Krishan Kumar, ‘Padho Punjab, Padhao Punjab’, the learning assessment and enhancement programme, focuses on the basic learning levels of each child.
For the first time, the education department conducted internal baseline tests to gauge the actual learning levels of children. The first baseline report in 2017-18 yielded shocking results with 70 per cent of students in Classes I to V failing the basic test in English, Punjabi and math. The programme was then extended to Classes VI to X, which too showed poor results. This was followed by teachers’ training sessions and workshops by ‘teacher educators’ that taught them to focus on each child and use learning aids to eliminate rote learning.
According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for Rural India-2018 released by the Pratham Foundation in January this year, Punjab’s numbers were better than the national average. However, 60 per cent children from Class III, 28 per cent from Class V and 15 per cent from Class 8 could still not read basic Class II text in Punjabi, a compulsory subject in Punjab.
Prabhsimran Singh, coordinator, ASER, Punjab, says, “The Padho Punjab project has been very beneficial to students, we have observed a positive change in primary and upper-primary classes, especially in mathematics. The results of pre-primary classes started in Punjab government schools will reflect in the coming years.”
Punjab claims to be the first state in the country to have started pre-primary classes in 12,900 primary schools with an enrollment of 1.73 lakh children till now.
These classes have an activity-based ‘Khed Mahal’ curriculum a la private playway schools with a grant of Rs 3,000 per school to buy toys, chairs, et al. Each primary school was also given Rs 2,500 for Activity-Based Learning Aids. E-content has been created for all classes under ‘Padho Punjab’.
Supply chain glitches
Government schools failed to supply free textbooks and uniforms in time during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 sessions. Uniforms for 2018-19 session are being distributed now. The free sanitary napkins promised for the 2018-19 session with a budgetary allocation of Rs 10 crore also never reached them.
Textbooks too failed to reach in time in the past two sessions and students had to get them photo-copied.
Though the government claims that 5,000 schools are now English medium, shortage of English language teachers is a major problem. As many as 89,000 students failed in English in Class X in 2017-18, with the subject recording the lowest pass percentage among compulsory subjects.
The not-so-smart schools are in a shambles, with many students forced to squat on the ground in unsafe buildings. Students of a government primary school in Jahangirpur near Ludhiana, which has been declared unsafe, are now taught in an open shed of a nearby gurdwara.
Though the government has claimed that 1 lakh new benches costing Rs 23 crore are being supplied to schools, teachers say there is still a shortage of at least 2.5 lakh benches, mostly in primary schools.
Meanwhile, the government claims to have spent Rs 20 crore on 267 new classrooms and Rs 7.95 crore on washrooms.
Dearth of teachers
Teacher trouble, the bugbear of the Akali-BJP government, continues to plague this government as well. It recently tried to make peace with protesting teachers by regularising 8,886 SSA/RMSA teachers and 5,178 master-cadre teachers at a monthly salary of Rs 15,300 and a probation of two years, but the teachers continue to be resentful. Meanwhile, 3,582 new master cadre teachers have been recruited and more teachers posted in border districts.
Krishan Kumar, former director, National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), rues that protests by contractual teachers against ‘Padho Punjab’ has affected its implementation.
The government also received much flak when it posted a large number of teachers to the border districts.
In yet another reform, teachers were given extra points in their annual confidential reports if their children were studying in government schools.
The government also initiated the first-ever grading process for high and senior secondary schools to adjudge the top-100 schools based on academics, infrastructure etc. There are many other measures such as orders to celebrate birthdays of children and annual day, self-defence training for female teachers, CCTV cameras to prevent copying during exams, use of powdered milk to prepare kheer in mid-day meals, which have been much appreciated by parents and teachers alike.
But despite these measures, the number of students in government schools fell from 26.41 lakh in 2013-14, to 24.34 lakh students in 2017-18.
The government has now started an enrolment drive ‘Each One, Bring One’ to bolster the strength of government schools in villages.