Sanjeev Singh Bariana
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, November 23
The most crucial requirement for the growth of a language is a large enough user base. Punjabi may just be losing that, especially as reflected in the figures of students opting for the language in schools as well as in the learning outcomes.
There is a ‘compulsory’ version of the Punjabi language that all students have to take up as a subject till Class 12 under the Punjab School Education Board. But the language is taught in a literary sense only in the ‘elective’ version, for which students may opt after Class 10. There has been a significant drop in the latter.
In 1995, around 40 per cent of the total students taking the Punjab board Class 12 exam opted for Punjabi elective. By 2017, this has dropped to 24 per cent. A major reason is more students going for science or commerce. However, even in the humanities group, there is disappointment. From 46 per cent arts students choosing Punjabi elective as one of the subjects in 1995, it is down to 35 per cent in 2017.
But the challenge begins early, as a significant proportion of Punjabi students come from the rural background, where the teaching standards in government schools are disturbingly poor. The Annual Status of Education (Rural) report prepared by Pratham, a reputed NGO working for quality education for the underprivileged, found that at least 46 per cent of the students of Class 4 could not read books (in Punjabi) of Class 2. As many as 4.4 per cent students did not even know the alphabet till Class 3, and 20 per cent of them could not read the text of Class 1.
Teaching Punjabi even as a compulsory subject in all streams is a challenge owing to lack of teachers in government schools. Devinder Punia, general secretary of the Democratic Teachers Front, says, “Approximately 1,500 senior secondary schools have only 1,113 Punjabi teachers against the sanctioned strength of 1,700, so they have to manage by using high school teachers.”
The principal of a government school in Ludhiana district, who did not want to be identified, says, “Just the compulsory paper takes up all Punjabi teachers, leaving very little resources to teach elective Punjabi.”
He adds, “Big cities like Ludhiana, Patiala, Jalandhar and Amritsar do not have shortage as these stations are preferred by teachers. But the paucity shows in rural areas, where the demand for Punjabi is higher but it is not offered as an elective subject.”
Harvinder Singh, a Punjabi lecturer, is teaching 12 sections of compulsory Punjabi at Government Senior Secondary School, Amloh, where elective Punjabi is not offered. He says, “Elective Punjabi requires critical appreciation in poetry, stories and drama, besides advanced grammar, and students cannot manage without proper guidance.”
The socio-economic realities of the day have also pushed Punjabi down in students’ priority. A teacher in a public school near Kharar says, “Students nowadays prefer subjects with a greater employment potential, such as engineering and other professional courses.” It is also considered a low-scoring subject. So many students opt for subjects such as physical education to secure a higher percentage to help them in admissions ahead.
Gurbeer Singh, a government school teacher in Ludhiana district, says, “Students in villages at times opt for Punjabi elective believing it to be an easy subject. But without teachers, they find the going tough, and often change the subject midway.”
There are also many students who have had their initial education outside Punjab, besides many families who want their children to excel in languages other than Punjabi. As the principal of a private school in Fazilka says, “We have a large number of students whose parents are serving in the Army, paramilitary or other government services, and they see no point in learning Punjabi. We adopt different ways to accommodate their requirements.
“What is more interesting is that a large number of Punjabi parents also do not want their children to learn the language. Many private schools thus offer French, German, or even Chinese, as many children plan to go abroad.”
Harmit Singh, a senior Punjabi teacher based in Jalandhar district, says, “Children of many Punjabi teachers studying in private schools are also not taking up this language. Punjabi books in libraries have few takers; and there can be no writing without reading. The lack of interest is evident from the fact that many of the young teachers too are not able to name five leading writers in the language.”
As a result, a large number of private schools across the state are not offering Punjabi as an elective subject. “Some are not teaching it at all, and just ‘manage’ the departmental inspections,” revealed the principal of a private school in Bathinda district.
On its part, the Education Department too has not initiated action against any school for failing to offer Punjabi till Class 12. It only issues reminders with “strict warning” from time to time.
Tomorrow: Punjabi in higher education
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