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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

Failure on education front: Punjab govt flunks meritorious school test

Teething pains or troubles ahead: A pet project of the previous SAD-BJP government four years ago, 10 special meritorious schools set up to make quality education available to bright needy students are floundering. 

punjab Updated: Apr 30, 2018 09:20 IST
Deepa Sharma Sood and Avtar Singh
Deepa Sharma Sood and Avtar Singh
Hindustan Times, Ludhiana/Sangrur
Students coming out from the school in Amritsar that is reeling under staff shortage and fund crunch.
Students coming out from the school in Amritsar that is reeling under staff shortage and fund crunch. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

When the then chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal, started designated schools for meritorious students from poor families on the lines of the ‘Super 30’ programme of a Bihar teacher four years ago, it was not just a forward-looking initiative. It also signalled the intent to improve the quality of education.

The Centre, which has shifted its focus from mere access to quality, also took note with Smriti Irani, who was then the human resource development minister, promising to explore the “feasibility” of adopting the model, as set up by the state’s SAD-BJP regime, at the national level by the BJP-led government. These residential special schools give free education to bright needy children of government schools in Classes 11 and 12.

A pending mess bill of Rs 2 crore, no annual maintenance fund, and expired fire extinguishers, are not the only problems faced by the school in Ludhiana.

These 10 schools, run by Society for Promotion of Quality Education for Poor and Meritorious Students under school education department, in Amritsar, Bathinda, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Mohali, Patiala and Sangrur, are grappling with fund crunch, shortage of teachers, dropping enrolment, inadequate infrastructure, and frequent policy shifts.

Though they enrol students through a test, their performance has not been up to the mark. The department has also recently brought down a prime eligibility criterion for registration from 80% to 55% marks in Class 10 for general category students and 50% for those from Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

The promise on which their foundation was laid has been belied, with the change of regime adding to their woes.

Staff shortage in Sangrur

Shortage of teachers is one of the gravest problems facing the meritorious school at Ghabdan village in Sangrur. Started in 2016-17, it has 57 sanctioned posts of teaching staff, including the principal, but is run by just 19 teachers. Lack of residential quarters for teachers is making things worse. It has no hostel for boys nor a playground. Even the post of registrar, whose job is to take care of accounts and some other administrative tasks, is vacant since January.

“Due to shortage of teachers, non-teaching staff takes classes sometimes. Boys have been staying in a part of the girls hostel,” said a teacher, requesting anonymity.

No wonder that the school, which has an approved capacity of 1,000 students with boys and girls in 60:40 ratio, has only 215 students in Class 12, in medical, non-medical and commerce streams.

Last year, the school was also rocked by allegations of sexual harassment of two girls by the then principal, who was removed. Another government school principal was given additional charge of the school, but he did not join either. Vice-principal Deepika Goyal, who holds the charge now, said they are managing classes with the staff available. “Construction of a hostel for boys is underway,” she added.

The meritorious school at Ghabdan village in Sangrur has no hostel for boys.
The meritorious school at Ghabdan village in Sangrur has no hostel for boys. ( HT Photo )

Fund crunch and worse at Ludhiana

A pending mess bill of Rs 2 crore, no annual maintenance fund, and expired fire extinguishers, are not the only problems faced by the school in Ludhiana. Located near Rose Garden, the school has 500 seats for three different streams — 100 each for medical and commerce, and 300 for non-medical. It has 27 teachers for over 420 students with 14 posts lying vacant. The number is set to go down further, as three teachers have been selected for appointment under the master cadre.

Of eight sanctioned posts of chemistry teachers, four are vacant. While five physics teachers are doing the job of eight teachers, the school has only twobiology teachers against a sanctioned strength of four. There is one computer science teacher against the sanctioned three.

No funds have been received for maintenance in the last one year and the school authorities are spending money out of their own pockets for urgent repairs.

Not a single student from the school figured among the top 10 students in the city in the Class 12 board examinations. Former principal Anoop Kumar Passi said these schools were started to provide education to poor and meritorious students, but the change in eligibility criteria would defeat the purpose.

Hardly any takers in Hoshiarpur

The admission scenario in the school for girls at Talwara in Hoshiarpur is discouraging. Only 25 students are enrolled in Class 12 despite introduction of commerce stream a year ago. Admission to Class 11 is to begin next month after declaration of Punjab School Education Board’s Class 10 results. The drop in enrolment is attributed mainly to non-availability of science subjects.

When the school was started in 2015, 96 students applied for admission, of which 86 joined. The number dropped to 34 next year. While introduction of a common entrance test also hit admissions, it is being hoped that with lowering of eligibility marks, this year might attract more students.

“Another reason for low enrolment is that rural families are still hesitant to send their girls to far-off residential schools,” said a teacher who did not want to be named. English as the medium of studies is also keeping away students not well versed with the language, he added.

While only two lecturers have been employed for the school, the principal retired a month ago. Additional charge has been given to principal of another government school. District education officer (secondary) Mohan Singh Lehal said teachers from nearby schools have been deputed to take classes. “More regular staff might join once the admission process for the next session is complete,” he said. The school has a building way better than usual government schools and is well equipped otherwise too.

“Schools are being run smoothly. As for staff shortage, we have called teachers on deputation from govt schools; it will be taken care of.” Parshant Kumar Goyal, director general, school education, Punjab

Similar story in Amritsar

The school at the Attari-Verka bypass in Amritsar is reeling under staff shortage and fund crunch. Set up over 10 acres of land leased by Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) in 2014, it has 320 students in Class 12 against 500 seats. Of these, 100 are for medical, 300 for non-medical and 100 for commerce.

“Of the 42 posts of teachers, only 28 are filled. Another 10 will quit their jobs soon as they have been selected by the education department for master cadre. We will have only 18 teachers for about 1,000 students,” said school principal Daljit Kaur. The school has just one math teachers.

She said it has become difficult to run the school. However, there is a silver lining, as 34 students scored more than 90% and another 124 got above 80% marks in the Class 12 board exams.

Bathinda, Ferozepur institutes in doldrums

Bathinda houses the first of these meritorious schools, established four years ago, but it is facing 30% overall shortage of staff, with teacher shortage at 50%.

The school has 500 seats, but no regular principal, as the two-year contract of Colonel Beant Singh Sandhu (retired), who was appointed by the previous SAD-BJP government, has not been renewed. The additional charge is with the principal of a school in nearby town of Goniana.

School principal Ruby Gulati said staff shortage is a matter of serious concern. The student enrolment in medical stream, having sanctioned strength of 40, has never crossed 50%. The latest batch of Class 12 has just 21 boys. Similarly, the school in Ferozepur has not just low enrolment but also severe shortage of staff.

Yet, Parshant Kumar Goyal, director general of school education (DGSE), claims everything is fine. “The schools are being run smoothly,” he said.

(With inputs from Prabhjit Singh, Anil Sharma, Harpreet Kaur and Parampreet Singh Narula)