Face to face | Mismanagement under previous govt to blame for rot in education: Aruna Chaudhary
The findings of nationwide surveys done by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) also served as reminders from time to time, but not much was done.punjab Updated: May 29, 2017 08:22 IST
Poor learning achievement levels, teacher shortage, rampant absenteeism of teachers and lack of proper rationalisation – the symptoms have been there for long in Punjab. The findings of nationwide surveys done by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) also served as reminders from time to time, but not much was done. The abysmal exam results for Classes 10 and 12, which saw a sharp dip in pass percentages after the Punjab State Education Board decided to do away with “grace marks”, have brought the sector into sharp focus, spurring the new Congress government into action. HT spoke to minister of state for education Aruna Chaudhary to find out about the steps being taken to stem the rot. Excerpts:
Punjab board exam results have been appalling. What went wrong?
There is no one reason. A number of factors are responsible for the rot in education, but mismanagement under the previous (SAD-BJP) regime is the primary reason. There were serious gaps, especially in teacher deployment. Where there were more students, there were fewer teachers. There were schools with teachers, but not many students. There were so many schools that had just 15 students, but were upgraded, which has created so many problems. Then, the previous government did some recruitment of teachers just before the state elections, but did not give them appointment letters. It has created another set of problems for us. Those who were selected keep coming, but we cannot do anything.
But there is a shortage of teachers.
The state does not have the money to pay them. The previous government left everything in such a poor state. The system has to be overhauled. We have started working on improving the standard of education, but these things cannot be done overnight. They take time.
What areas are you going to focus on?
My focus is on primary education. If we improve primary education, everything else will also start getting better. We are going to take corrective measures at primary level and work on improving learning outcomes of children. Another focus area will be English along with Punjabi. Also, if our children have to compete globally, we need to do this because if we start English in sixth standard, by the time a student reaches 10th or 12th he is not able to cope with competition at that level. To do well in such a competitive environment is difficult for them and they lag behind. We need to pull up our socks and stress on English education. As so many of our students want to go abroad, they need to be encouraged to learn one foreign language such as French, German etc in secondary classes, but it is going to be optional.
Any plans to rationalise teacher deployment?
Yes, we are also going to focus on rationalisation of teacher deployment. I have already cancelled all deputation orders of teachers because this system was being misused to move to schools in urban areas without getting posted there. What is the fault of children studying in rural schools, particularly those located in border areas? This cannot be allowed to go on. We are going to take corrective action. A detail revamp plan is being prepared to improve basic infrastructure and the quality of education in government schools. If the government cannot provide even basic infrastructure, what is the point? I will meet the finance minister to identify things that can be done on priority.
Teacher absenteeism is a huge problem and one of the reasons for poor results. How do you plan to tackle it?
Though there have been suggestions to install biometric attendance system, it has not been very successful elsewhere. Also, it is a costly proposition. I have given a suggestion that a cluster of 15 schools can be created and the senior-most teacher in the cluster deployed to carry out inspection and ensure presence of all other teachers. He or she can be told to send daily report to the department. Nothing is final yet. But we may start this in some secondary schools on a pilot basis.
The central government gives substantial amount of funds under various programmes. Why does the education department fail to utilise these year after year?
The Centre did not give even half the promised funds last year. They did not sanction the money required for the education sector in the state. Also, the state was not able to contribute its share. But it will be a priority with our government.