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Posted at: Sep 14, 2017, 1:53 AM; last updated: Sep 14, 2017, 1:53 AM (IST)

State schools set to fail all over again

After record low of 57% Class X pass percentage this year, little has changed on ground

Fact file

  • 19,500: Total govt schools
  • 6,000: Private schools(including CBSE)
State schools set to fail all over again

Sanjeev Singh Bariana

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 13

Class X pass percentage in the result declared in May this year was a shocking 57 per cent, a 14 percentage-point drop from the average of 71 per cent over the previous four years. Will the result for the current session be any better, or do things in the crucial education sector remain unchanged?

Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had found the result “very disturbing” and “issued strict instructions” to the Education Minister to make a blueprint to revamp the entire education set-up. Halfway through the current academic year, The Tribune examined the specific reasons for the poor performance and checked to see if any action had been taken to address those deficiencies. The evidence was anything but encouraging, and there is every chance the next result will be no better.

According to the Punjab School Education Board, 1.9 lakh students of the 3.3 lakh who took the exam failed (including 94,271 “reappear”) because the evaluation norms this year were not “relaxed” as earlier.

Over the years, claims have been made regarding teacher recruitment, upgrade of labs, introduction of computers, and assessment of teachers. However, that has failed to show results. Official figures indicate that the number of students in government schools has been on the decline. On the other hand, a sizeable number of private schools do not have qualified teachers or other infrastructure. But there are other challenges too:

NO EVALUATION

In the absence of any evaluation for a student till Class IX under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, teachers in Class X often end up teaching them basics such as grammar. Ashok Chichra, who retired recently as principal from Government Senior Secondary School for Boys, Fazilka, says: “Earlier a student was evaluated before he entered Class VI. Now teachers are struggling to teach mathematics and science basics as if the students were in primary classes.” It was reported in 2016 that the board had given 27 grace marks to at least 1.12 lakh students, all of who had failed in one or more subjects.

Action taken: Quoting his communication with the Union HRD Ministry, former state education minister Dr Daljit Cheema had announced in August 2015 that board exams for classes V and VIII would restart from 2016. However, that has not happened thus far.

Officialspeak: DPI (Secondary Education) Paramjit Singh says a parliamentary committee is learnt to have recommended restarting the Class V and VIII exams, though the policy will have to be passed by Parliament. It will help improve the quality of education, he adds.

MISSING TEACHERS

There is a major mismatch between teachers required and the number available in government schools. Elementary schools in Mehtabgarh in Patiala; Daulowal, Dehli and Attar Daboor in Ropar; Atapur in Fatehgarh Sahib; and Phedran in Nawanshahr have just one teacher each. It is worse in the border areas of Tarn Taran, Fazilka and Ferozepur. “There are many principals like me who are holding charge of three or even more schools,” says the principal of a school in Tarn Taran who did not want to be identified. On the other hand, certain schools near major cities such as Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Amritsar and Jalandhar have surplus teachers. Many principals and department officials say if political intervention in postings could be stopped, at least 50 per cent of the teacher shortage would be addressed.

Action taken: The department did initiate postings of teachers to schools that had vacancies, particularly when making fresh appointments. However, preferential postings for wives of officers and politicians continue.

Officialspeak: The DPI claims the shortage of teachers is only about 10 per cent. Recruitments are also currently going on. But he admitted there is shortage in certain schools owing to uneven distribution of staff. More transfers are on the cards, which should address that problem.

FACULTY STANDARDS

Between 1997 and 2002, teachers with suspect qualifications were alleged to have been recruited for motives other than merit. A senior principal says, “It is a well known fact that they cannot teach, but continue to be in service.” A teacher’s post on a “complaint page” on a board website demonstrates the exasperation: “Want to make a complaint against a teacher of Thakhanwadh in Moga district. She doesn’t even know the name of the President of our country. She also carries her two-year-old son to school daily, and asks students to look after him. She is a disgrace to other government teachers also.”

Action taken: Recruitments after 2002 are largely understood to have been on merit. It has helped improve the quality of teaching, says a principal from a school in Jalandhar district, but adding that non-performers also continue, and nothing can be done about them.

Officialspeak: Paramjit Singh says he would not know about recruitments made before he took charge, but the recruitments now are as per the highest standards of education in the country.

POOR FOLLOW-UP

The exercise of calling and seeking explanations from teachers who show poor results is often not followed up with a reassessment of their performance. For example, in January 2016, the Education Minister had called a meeting of teachers who had delivered a result of less than 20 per cent. At least 35 of these teachers were those who had all their students scoring zero. However, nothing is known of what became of these teachers later.

Action taken: Except warnings, the department has not taken any step towards improving the standard of classroom teaching or evaluation of teachers.

Officialspeak: The DPI says teachers are being made more accountable with a clear message that performance was being recorded in their service books. Good teachers will be commended for their work.

LOW FAMILY PRIORITY

Kanwaljit Singh Majitha, Principal of Government Senior Secondary School, Jethuwal (Amritsar), raises another crucial factor: “Once I sent a teacher to the house of a boy who had stopped coming to school. The teacher returned empty-handed as the father demanded Rs 200 for each day of his son in school as that was the wage the boy was earning during the harvest season.” The immediate need to earn a livelihood among the poor pushes education down on their priority list. Many such children come to school only for the mid-day meal.

Action taken: District authorities seek reports from schools about cases of child labour, which is banned under the Constitution. However, there is no change on ground as the practice continues unabated.

Officialspeak: DPI Paramjit Singh says except a very small number of students who go for work during the harvest season, children rarely miss classes to earn money.

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