In Punjab's meritorious schools, 84% seats vacant : The Tribune India

In Punjab's meritorious schools, 84% seats vacant

Teachers say govt ‘apathy’, Covid behind the slump in numbers | Situation will improve this year: Project head



Tribune News Service

Aparna Banerji

Jalandhar, May 8

When meritorious schools were opened in 2014 with much fanfare, they were touted as the most innovative educational scheme of the time. The idea was to tap the meritorious students passing out of Class X and impart them with quality education for the next two years.

Eight years down the line, the situation has come to such a pass that there is not a single student in the Talwara meritorious school. There are 200 seats there.

As for other schools, the numbers, if not dismal, are not encouraging. Just 61 students in Sangrur, 53 in Amritsar and 27 in Gurdaspur.

The only school with close to 50 per cent strength is in Bathinda. In all, 441 students are enrolled there.

Except for Talwara, the student intake of all other schools is 1,000 each. This makes 9,200 seats in all 10 schools. At present, only 1,475 students are enrolled — 16 per cent of the total seats.

All of them are in Class XI; none in Class XII.

Maninder Sarkaria, Project Director, Meritorious Schools, gives the reason for this. “The admissions could not take in 2020 because of Covid. The next year, we had made a special provision for direct admission to Class XII. A few students applied and only 60 of them qualified the entrance test. Too few for 10 schools. Hence, the admission process was cancelled,” he said.

The meritorious school project started by then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is managed by the “Society for Promotion of Quality Education for Poor and Meritorious Students of Punjab”.

Hit by the pandemic and certain controversial decisions, the project has taken a beating in the past two years. Ask parents and teachers and they say delayed admissions in 2021, reduced funding for diet plans and contractual system of hiring teachers are some of the reasons for the sorry state of affairs.

Another reason they cite is that school premises was used as Covid treatment and poll centres. This affected studies, say parents.

With the student strength dwindling, several teachers of meritorious schools have been sent on deputation to other government schools. In Jalandhar alone, of the 35 teachers, 18 are on deputation.

A teacher at one of the meritorious schools told The Tribune, “Government apathy has derailed the project. In October 2021, the diet allocation was reduced from Rs 150 to Rs 75 per student. Initially, students received milk and fruits every day, and eggs and non-vegetarian food twice a week. Later, fruits were restricted to two days, while eggs and non-veg items were taken off the diet plan.”

Kulwinder Singh Bath, a teacher at Bathinda Meritorious School, said: “Qualified teachers are appointed in meritorious schools after having undergone a rigorous recruitment process. However, the government has not regularised their services in spite of several promises.”

Sarkaria does not agree that funding for the diet was reduced. “It was a result of a tendering process. The lowest bidder for the mess contact pegged the rate at Rs 75 to Rs 80. It must not be forgotten that due process was followed while alloting the mess contract.”

He further said, “This year, we have received more than 20,000 applications for Class XI and the response to Class XII admissions is equally good. We plan to get things back on track from this year.”

Education Minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer could not be contacted in spite of repeated attempts.

REASONS FOR DWINDLING NUMBERS

Admission pangs

  • No admission in 2020 because of the Covid pandemic
  • In 2021, the entrance test was delayed because of the pandemic
  • By that time, most of students had opted for private schools
  • Provisional admissions to Class XII received poor response in 2021
  • Only 60 students qualified the test — deemed too few for 10 schools

Other factors

  • Contractual system of hiring teachers
  • Diet allocation per student reduced from Rs 150 to Rs 75 in October 2021
  • School premises used as Covid and poll centres

Started by Akalis

  • The meritorious school project was started in 2014 by then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal
  • It is managed by the “Society for Promotion of Quality Education for Poor and Meritorious Students of Punjab”
  • Initially, the scheme took off with six schools in Amritsar, Bathinda, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Patiala and Mohali
  • In 2016 and 2017, four more schools came up in Gurdaspur, Sangrur, Ferozepur and Talwara

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