“We are men of the land of five rivers…” goes the SAS Nagar-based Armed Forces Preparatory Institute (AFPI) song. A Punjab government venture named after Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the institute has won accolades for having brought back Punjabi boys for permanent commission into the armed forces through the National Defence Academy (NDA).
From seven students from the first batch of 48 students, who made it to the NDA in 2013, to over 20 cadets every year since then, the institute has become one of the most sought-after preparatory schools for the NDA in the state.
“The number of those who appeared in the first entrance test in 2011 was about 400. Last year, we had 2,500 applicants,” says institute director Major General BS Grewal (retd).
POOR IN ENGLISH, MATHS
Contrary to a popular belief that Punjabi boys are not making it to the armed forces and the police due to high prevalence of drugs in the state, poor performance in English and mathematics is hampering their way to reach the top.
“It’s a struggle to get our students to speak good English. That’s the toughest challenge. They are fit physically and drugs are not an issue. They also score low in mathematics,” says Grewal.
SPECIALISED 2-YEAR TRAINING
The institute spread over eight acres in SAS Nagar admits 48 to 50 matriculates every year from Punjab to Class 11 while imparting specialised two-year training for their entry into the NDA. The boarding school routine includes regular classes in a school the institute has tied up in SAS Nagar coupled with rigorous physical training, personality development and focused coaching for the NDA entrance test.
Interestingly, the institute which has trained over 300 students, (51 of which have made it to the NDA and the naval academy) is yet to have a single student who did his Class 10 from the Punjab School Education Board.
ONLY FOR PUNJAB DOMICILE STUDENTS
A pet project of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, the institute caters only to Punjab domicile students. Even students of Chandigarh are not allowed to appear in the entrance test. “The idea is to give necessary skills to Punjabi boys to get into the higher ranks of the army,” says Grewal.
The students who are making it to the now very tough entrance test for the AFPI are those who passed out from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) or Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE). “I wrote to the state education minister Dr DS Cheema about the board not being able to produce students good enough to crack the entrance test. The education minister was prompt enough to send a team of the board here. The team went through our question papers and said the students would be trained in a better way,” adds Grewal.
But it may take a long time before the academy starts getting students from the rural heartland of the state. Proficiency in English and mathematics among the Punjab board students in government schools is poor. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for 2014 for Punjab found that in Class 7, only 18% students could recognise the numbers up to 99, but couldn’t do subtraction, 18.5% could subtract but couldn’t do division. In English, only 77.9% students in Class 8 could comprehend a sentence written in English.
“This year, we got a batch of students from good public schools and they are much better in maths and English,” says Grewal.
FAIR CHANCE OF MAKING IT TO NDA
Those who do make it to the institute have a fair chance of making it to the NDA. The training is professional and tough, but students term it very useful. Even those who cannot make it to the NDA feel the difference and come back to the institute to get guidance to prepare for the Combined Defence Service Examination.
“Physical training starts early in the morning followed by school. After school, the students play games and go for swimming and obstacle training. There is no vacation for Class 12 students as they have to prepare for the NDA. They stay back for more physical training and specialised coaching. Unlike other boarding schools, the students have no complaints about food and lodging here. Every cadet is given a separate room with an attached bathroom,” says Grewal.
A total of 40 of the 51 cadets of the AFPI who made it to the NDA and the naval academy gathered for the first alumni lunch in SAS Nagar on Wednesday. HT caught up with the young officers in the making.
I am from Morinda. When I was in school, I had never imagined that I would top the NDA entrance and my course in the academy. But the institute here made it happen. I wish the institute works towards giving more exposure to students through participation in state sports events.
Gurvansh Singh Ghosal, ranked all-India No 2, NDA entrance
I always wanted to join the army. When I was in Class 3, I developed a passion to become an army officer. I did my schooling from army public schools. At the AFPI, they train you not just to clear the NDA, but also to shine in the course.
Armanjit Singh Dhaliwal, ranked all-India No 14, NDA entrance
“I am from Patiala. The faculty at the AFPI is fabulous and the environment here is fit for training. In NDA, the physical fitness levels are tougher and we should have taken the sports and physical training seriously when we were here. It would have made things easier at the NDA.
AS Waraich, from AFPI first batch, fifth termer at NDA
We already have our AFPI seniors in the NDA and that makes us feel comfortable. We have someone to guide us. Soon, the AFPI will have a large presence in the NDA and we will beat the other national institutes.
Peeyush Jain, ranked all-India No 21, NDA entrance
“Whatever is taught here is useful to us in the NDA. It is tough out there, but we are much better prepared to handle the pressure. I am glad that I made it to the NDA and it feels good to come back and motivate the youngsters.
Mohit Sharma, from AFPI first batch, now in the naval academy
When I joined the AFPI, my weight was 115kg and everyone said I would never make it to the NDA. But I did not give up. My wait is 75kg now, thanks to the rigorous regime at the institute.
Vishavdeep Singh, AFPI alumni, now in NDA