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Jalandhar: In December 2021, when the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) campaign for the Punjab assembly elections was gaining ground, Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia had reached ex-chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s constituency of Chamkaur Sahib and paid a visit to a dilapidated government school building, raising questions of the state of education in Punjab.
Cornering the Congress, Sisodia had promised a complete facelift of Punjab’s government schools along the lines of the AAP’s ‘Delhi Model’; a key poll promise which ensured a clean sweep for the party in Punjab. AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal’s election campaign was primarily focussed on revamping government schools and hospitals in Punjab and the publicity of the ‘Delhi Model’ in polls.
However, six months after Sisodia’s visit, Punjab emerged as a frontrunner in terms of educational outcomes in the country in the National Achievement Survey (NAS), 2021, hence bringing the ‘Delhi Model’ versus ‘Punjab Model’ debate back into the public discourse.
What is the NAS, 2021?
The NAS, 2021 was conducted by the Union Ministry of Education in November, 2021 testing students of classes III, V, VIII and X from across the country in a variety of subjects. It covered nearly 34 lakh students from around 1.12 lakh schools.
The survey is a national-level, large-scale assessment of the learning achievement of students of classes III, V, VIII and X and focussed on competency-based assessment. Students of classes III and V were tested on mathematics, language skills and environmental studies (EVS); for students of class VIII, EVS was replaced with science and social science; and class X students were tested on Math, science, social science, English and modern Indian languages.
As per the NAS, 2021, Punjab has a literacy rate of 75.8% and the child sex ratio (o-6 years) is 846 girls per 1000 boys.
Earlier in 2020, Punjab had bagged the highest score among states (929 out of 1000) in overall rankings of the Performance Grade Index (PGI) report, released in June last year. Yet, at that time, too, Sisodia had indulged in a heated exchange of words with then chief minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, over Punjab’s ranking and its standard of education.
Notably, Punjab shone in the NAS, 2021 following the efforts of Krishan Kumar, a 1997-batch IAS officer of the Punjab cadre who served as principal secretary, higher education in the state’s previous Congress government. An upright officer with a good track record, Kumar had been hand-picked for the job by the Singh-led Congress government in 2017.
Punjab was in the 22nd position when the PGI survey was started in 2017-18, but began to excel within the last five years after witnessing a complete overhaul of government schools in terms of infrastructure and quality of education.
Punjab versus Delhi score
According to the results of the survey, for students of class III, Punjab scored 355 out of a total 500 marks in language, 339 in mathematics and 334 in EVS while Delhi schools scored 302, 282 and 288 marks respectively.
For students of class V, Punjab scored 339 marks in language, 316 in mathematics and 310 in EVS as compared to the 304, 273 and 274 respectively that Delhi schools scored.
Similarly, for students of class VIII, Punjab schools scored 338 marks in language, 297 in mathematics, 287 in science and 288 in social sciences. On the other hand, Delhi schools bagged 316, 253, 257 and 254 marks respectively.
Delhi schools lagged behind those of Punjab in every subject, across classes.
Politicians on ‘Delhi Model vs Punjab Model’:
Recently, Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann held a meeting with government school heads and district education officers in Ludhiana to enhance the level of education in the state. The chief minister had said that the Punjab government would send teachers on educational tours to Delhi, and even abroad to universities like Oxford and Harvard and countries like Switzerland, Finland and Singapore.
Mann had emphasised that the Delhi Model of education would be implemented in Punjab.
But with Punjab topping the list in terms of the NAS, 2021 results, questions were bound to be raised of the AAP’s claims that Punjab is a failed state and a political slugfest over the issue was bound to follow.
Former chief minister Captain Singh, who unceremoniously quit the Congress last year, not only took a dig at the AAP’s Delhi Model, but also cornered the Congress for failing to capitalise on its achievement.
Had the @INCPunjab promoted the works done by my government, instead of harping about their 111 days govt, they wouldn’t have fared so badly and be facing an existential crisis today.
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) May 26, 2022
In a series of tweets, Singh claimed that the NAS, 2021 results had “exposed the lies and deceit” of the AAP government while also criticising the Congress, which he claims is facing an “existential crisis”.
Meanwhile, senior journalist and former AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu also took to Twitter, saying that the two state need to improve parameters, not “emulate each other.
Punjab versus Delhi school education debate misplaced. One is an urban hub, other is primarily rural. Improve parameters, not emulate one another. Punjab’s infrastructure unmatched. Needs trained, motivated manpower push.@AAPPunjab @BhagwantMann @INCPunjab @BJPPunjab @Akali_Dal_
— Kanwar Sandhu (@SandhuKanwar) May 27, 2022
Former Punjab Education Minister and Jalandhar Cantonment MLA Pargat Singh, who remained at the centre of political attacks during elections also tweeted about the issue, saying that Mann and Kejriwal spend lots of money to celebrate “minor achievements” but said nothing to Punjab’s students and teachers on the NAs result.
They have not congratulated Punjab students ,teachers officials and people for their achievement.Their are no tweets,press conferences or full page advertisements. Is it because the fake Delhi model is now exposed once for all ? @msisodia (2/2)
— Pargat Singh (@PargatSOfficial) May 27, 2022
Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring also tweeted, asking in Hindi, “Why is Punjab silent today? Won’t you congratulate Punjab?” tagging Kejriwal and Mann.
आज @AAPPunjab पे इतना सनाटा क्यों है भाई ??
क्या बात पंजाब को बधाई नहीं देंगे @BhagwantMann जी और @ArvindKejriwal जी.. https://t.co/Oz1ChoPM1b
— Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (@RajaBrar_INC) May 27, 2022
Education minister alleges that record is ‘fudged’
Interestingly, Punjab Education Minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, who initially remained silent on this achievement, alleged that the results of the NAS, 2021 report were not true.
In a report published in The Tribune, Hayer said, “The NAS-2021 survey showing Punjab as the leader is based on fudged figures. It does not speak the truth and the ground reality is totally different.”
The education minister also said, “We have actually met some students who could read just one line, but had been awarded 60% marks and even more. The government does not have an authentic report on the ground realities in schools. The process to reassess has already commenced and we will know the reality soon.”
Warring responded to Hayer’s comments, calling it a “colonial slave mindset”.
Colonial slave mindset.
Shocking. Edu Min @meet_hayer slavishly dismissed NAS recognising Punjab Education superiority over Delhi.
Fanactic slavish attitude of seeing everything bad in Punjab is self defeating
Trying to be more loyal than their colonial master, @ArvindKejriwal pic.twitter.com/kVYEnaHD83
— Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (@RajaBrar_INC) May 28, 2022
What teachers had to say
Talking to The Wire, Parmod Bharti, former spokesperson of the Punjab Education Department and a retired lecturer at the Government Senior Secondary School, Daulatpur village in the Nawanshahr district, said, “The scope of improvement is always there but there is no denying the fact that Punjab outshined in NAS, 2021, following a clear vision, planning, implementation and daily monitoring of government schools by the education department. The teachers were motivated to perform and explore their hidden skills.”
According to Bharti, the NAS success was also based on how teachers taught students even during COVID lockdowns.
“During lockdown, the education department implemented the ‘Punjab Educare App’, which provided a single platform for study material. We also started ‘English Booster Clubs’ to hone the English reading, writing, comprehension and speaking skills of the students,” Bharti said, adding that the schools considered for the survey were selected at random by the Union education ministry.
Bharti also suggested that perhaps Punjab is the only state where they had been advertising government school admissions at the local level in villages and even cities.
“We started the ‘Each one, bring one’ scheme for admissions in government schools. The teachers held door-to door campaigns to motivate people to send their children to government schools with state-of-the-art infrastructure, put up stalls in villages, religious places and local fairs to publicise the schools,” he said.
“We also held special weekly education programs on Doordarshan (DD) Punjabi to publicise government schools, teaching modules and achievement of students,” Bharti added.
Punjab has 13,800 smart schools out of the total 19,176 schools. These smart schools were being developed on different parameters, like having projectors, LED screens, e-content, furniture, parks, computer and science labs, libraries, CCTV cameras and sports infrastructure.
Salinder Singh, principal of the Government Senior Secondary School. Dhadde Fateh Singh village in the Hoshiarpur district and assistant director, Smart Schools in Punjab, said that his school was among the first to convert into a ‘smart school’ in 2018.
“Around five years ago, the Punjab Education Department held a meeting with some 500 principals in Chandigarh, where we were given the task to improve school infrastructure. We roped in NRIs, NGOs, teachers, good Samaritans, and the community in this project and the result is that we have shone in the NAS, 2021 in the country. Even in our school, NRIs constructed three class rooms, toilets for teachers and installed swings for students,” Salinder Singh said.
It is pertinent to mention here that NRIs have always remained the backbone of various development projects in their villages, especially in the NRI-rich Doaba belt of Punjab. Among others, the government school in the Takarla village in the Nawanshahr district has been constructed largely with support from NRIs. Similarly, an NRI spent Rs 1.5 crore on the reconstruction and infrastructure of Government Middle School, Khusropur village in the Jalandhar district.
Another success model in Punjab was the Government Primary School, Chanan Wala village in the Fazilka district, situated 2.5 km from Indo-Pak border.
Head teacher of the school, Lavjit Grewal, said, “Despite being situated in a remote area, we outshined the private schools of the region. Our school is fully air-conditioned, equipped with smart classes, projectors and LED screens. Ours is the first school which has an auditorium and free bus service too.”
Grewal pointed out that the improved infrastructure gave a boost to children’s learning standards. He said that at present students, from Fazilka were also coming to their school to study.
“Last month, Education Minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer visited our school for its annual function and lauded our initiatives. He also promised to extend the free school bus service for next five years,” Grewal added.