The recent incident of a promising youth accidently killing himself while recording a video to post on social media provoked me to reflect and write about our society's sorry state of affairs. The overindulgence of youth in social media activities and their engagement in these unrewarding activities consumes a significant amount of their precious time. The question arises that is this distraction a result of a deliberate design to occupy their healthy minds with redundant information leaving them with no stimulating and relevant issues to think about. Whose responsibility do we fix for such an awful state of affairs? Every day lofty promises are being made by the politicians in Punjab especially as the assembly elections are approaching. The policy makers and political leaders of our society do not seem to be concerned about the actual issues or needs and aspirations of the society, especially the youth. The focus of my recent articles has been on the education sector which is backbone of our society. The more I dive into this cesspool, the more distressing the picture emerges.
I reiterate here that purpose of school education is to encourage creative thinking, develop healthy problem solving skills and holistic development of the student. The policy of the government should be based on the current needs of the society and not to suit a particular political ideology. The concept of a school does not only imply a brick and mortar building, a few staff members and some furniture thrown in for good measure but also requires a robust curriculum. The ground reality is that instead of planning for the future we are just carrying on the setup which is more than 50 years old and applying cosmetic changes from time to time in the name of modernization. The focus is on the cup rather than the quality of liqueur in the cup. The mindset of our education needs to grow out of job seekers to job creators, though understandably transformation is easier said than done. The recent proclamation by the current government of upgrading more than 2,000 schools to SMART schools also appears to be a farce. Some cosmetic changes like new signage's proclaiming SMART SCHOOL and newly painted outer boundary walls have been done but there has been no addition to the facilities and infrastructure inside the school. Even the official website of the Punjab School Education Board admits its inability to upgrade its schools and seeks help from private organizations under PPP mode. There are no provisions for small funds even for daily upkeep, sanitation and house-keeping etc. and whenever there is requirement, the School Staff contributes money from their own pockets, for which they have no acknowledgment. If as a principal one is running the school with contributions from one's staff, one can imagine the kind of administrative control one will have on them. The remoter the school premises, the worse is its condition and these facts can be reference checked.
The implementation of the Central Scheme of midday meal has also played havoc with the functioning of the government schools in Punjab. The majority time of the teaching and non-teaching staff goes in the procurement of food grains and other activities related to it. I appreciate the spirit behind this idea but it is affecting the quality of teaching in the schools as most of the time is devoted to catering to it. A lot of corrupt practices have also been identified with the midday meal scheme and governments have turned a blind eye to it. The best practices from other states like Rajasthan and Karnataka among others can be implemented by outsourcing cooked meals or involving wiling NGO's so that the both the objectives of education and nutrition are achieved.
Many voices have been highlighting crucial issues related to the education sector for the last several years, but there has been complete indifference at the top most level of decision makers leading to its downfall. The State is paying dearly for this kind of biased attitude. The new institutes and universities are being opened while existing state colleges are without principals, Universities without regular VCs, and even those who are appointed are solely on the basis of political affiliations.
For the last several years the government is opening new Private Universities and granting affiliations to colleges without any rationale and purely on political considerations. The feasibility and viability of these colleges and most of the courses being offered at these colleges have zero relevance. Most of the staff is untailored for the billets and their appointments on basis of political affiliations. The well laid down norms of UGC are being flouted with great impunity and almost all private universities opened in the last 15 years are either upgraded colleges or business ventures of people with no background in education. Providing quality education seems to be a total non-priority for any administration. Once the richest state of India, Punjab is still waiting the implementation of pay commission report and is perhaps the only state in India still waiting to implement it. Every year when the admission time comes, official letters are written to state institutions to delay their date of admissions so that the private institutes can be favored. The very temples of modern learning which have been built over decades are systematically destroyed so that their private counterparts can replace them. This is a deep rooted conspiracy to make education unaffordable and deny it to a large section of society so that they can be used as unskilled cheap labor. One of the major issues being raised by politicians is to highlight Punjab as a border state and thus create a fear psychosis among masses. Thus, maintaining communal harmony has been a constant rhetoric for the last several decades to cover all other inefficiencies.
Agitating teachers being cane-charged are one of the ugliest scenes of twenty first century. Demonstrators protesting atop mobile-towers and water-tanks for months with no respite from the authorities to address their grievances are a pitiable situation. The State has become a hot-spot for agitations and there has been a lot of discontent among the employees. A large section of Punjab’s school teachers including those on temporary basis have long list of grievances as State govt. has reneged on most of its promises. On the name of rationalizations and by creating the border cadre, things have been confused to such an extent, that the situation has become even more unstable. The state govt. is continuously downsizing teaching positions and outsourcing teacher recruitment to private companies. Around 40 % of staff teaching in Adarsh Schools is ineligible. Private managements were given the criteria for appointing the teachers but they flout norms for selfish monetary benefits. The salary of a teacher in a private college is less than that of a domestic help, which is a matter of great shame. Punjab hired more than 13,000 volunteers to assist in primary teaching and such adhocism gives rise to perpetual agitations which defeats the entire purpose of their recruitment. On account of such confusion and unpredictability, both the teacher and the taught suffer. It is pertinent to mention that many foreign embassies decline to accept students who have graduated from Punjab School Education Board because of their 'moderation policy' thus diminishing their chances of studying abroad.
This trend seems to continue in institutions of higher education. The reader will be shocked to know that the state funding to the universities have been gradually reduced from 92% to currently 18%, thus leaving them to fend for themselves. To cope with this financial crunch, state universities have started to lean on Research Scholars for important assignments, for which they are ill equipped. Such is the scenario in the State Universities that even smallest of the maintenance jobs are ignored and bills keep pending for years. No private contractors are willing to execute any work in these institutions as they are unsure about their payments. Slowly and steadily the State Universities are relying on undergraduate courses to augment their financial resources and the very purpose of their being established is long gone. Similarly, all government colleges are relying on PTA funds for their day to day functioning which was otherwise meant to be used on the student developmental activities. This is not about today but this is about the future and how ready we are to face the challenges of tomorrow. The political interference in the functioning of the Universities have detrimental effect on their contribution toward society-building. As per the opinion of various experts, the expenditure on education should be atleast 6% of the GDP whereas currently it is 2.7%. This clearly shows the priorities of the government and the kind of weight age it gives to education sector.
It is high time that educational affairs of the state are given its due and we owe this to our future generations. The necessity of the hour is to ask pertinent questions of policymakers and stakeholders in order to revamp the existing educational setups and improve curriculum to meet future needs. There is an imperative need to assess society's future needs, take stock of our resources, empower and allocate priorities to develop human resources so that the world once again envies our 'Skill Revolution,' as it did our 'Green Revolution.'
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