1.5 lakh kids join lost generations, yet again
More than 40 per cent of the students who trusted the schooling system of their state, Punjab, have nothing to show at the end of 10 years of formal education. That would be 1.5 lakh children – out of nearly 3.7 lakh who took the Punjab School Education Board Class 10 exam – who will not be able to apply for even semi-skilled jobs in the formal sector. It should be a chilling prospect to imagine how this ‘lost generation’ approaches society as it comes of age and realises how it was betrayed. And this burden has been added to the state each year for decades now.For reference, the national failure rate for Class 10 CBSE students was less than 14 per cent. That some would consider an unfair comparison, given the kind of schools the two boards serve, but there is no reason why that should not be the immediate reference point. There are more shocking details – in more than 50 schools in the state, no student crossed the Class 10 barrier; in 150 schools, the pass percentage was less than 10.One convenient explanation given is that government schools make up a large share of the schools affiliated to the PSEB; and that the ‘profile’ of the students there is such that it is hard to achieve great success. That is a completely false, defeatist, and feudal explanation. There is no reason why a child given food and education in school should not do better than failing; her parents’ caste, income, or education level should have no bearing. There are examples of dedicated teachers turning around schools overnight. In Ganga Ablu Ki village in Bathinda, all seven students in Class 12 failed last year, as the school had just one teacher. Following its shift from panchayat control to the Education Department, it received five teachers, who in just five months ensured all 22 appearing this year passed, with 19 getting the first division.The policy of not detaining students till Class 8 is another factor blamed for students as well as teachers not taking early years of schooling seriously, and therefore affecting the later years. That may be true to an extent, but it should not be hard to imagine a few interventions to introduce the required ‘pressure’ without detaining students. A standardised exam conducted for classes 5 and 8 – without detaining the students – to assess the teachers’ work could do the trick.There have been a few indications of innovative ideas being experimented with in the state. The ‘Padho Punjab, Padhao Punjab’ scheme launched last year has shown dramatic improvement in reading and maths skills in junior classes, measured through independent testing of the outcomes. It involves training teachers in creative ways of engaging children, and some new books that trigger imagination. It would be interesting to see how this lot of children performs as they reach senior classes.In contrast, some horrendous failures of the overall governance of the education system have been shown up by the last Class 10 results. The most serious fault appears to be teacher distribution, even as shortage remains an issue. In one school (Khabban Rajputan, Amritsar), all 63 Class 10 students failed because there was no maths teacher. In another (Gidder Pindi, Jalandhar), all 80 failed as the school had a Punjabi teacher teaching science and maths to both Class 10 and 12! At the same time, there are districts in Punjab with overstaffing. This is fundamental misgovernance; and it is universally acknowledged that political intervention is largely responsible for irregular distribution of teachers.