He lamented that Punjab was not getting its legitimate share of the RDF (Rural Development Fund) despite meeting all the criteria.
Chandigarh: At 10, if a class V student can’t do simple math or read simple passages in Punjabi, the mother tongue of the child, his natural instinct is to pick up the vocabulary of his parents – chonna (rice), narma and kpaah (varieties of cotton, kahi (spade), motor (which pumps the water to the farms), etc.
And if one is good at studies, out of the about 27 lakh students in the government schools in Punjab, most avoid drinking water in peak summers so that they do not have to use the loo in the schools which are in bad shape, mostly true for girls which results in multiple medical issues and a high drop-out rate especially when they reach menstruating age. When the Technical and Higher Education Minister Harjot Singh Bains came to know of some of these issues, in schools in particular, he immediately swung into action. “He took over very recently,” says an officer not willing to get named, and adds, “A lot of things are in progress and the intention is palpably visible.”
Shamsher Chandel of The Statesman caught up with Minister Harjot Singh Bains to know more about what is being done in the field of education in Punjab, a state that has witnessed unprecedented drug abuse.
Q. Can you share a macro picture of what your government is doing to upgrade primary and higher education in Punjab?
A: When we came, there were 20,000 schools without boundary walls, there were no funds for sanitation, we were short of teachers, and books never came on time. Even cleaning drinking water wasn’t available. A school with a strength of 400 students and one projector, qualified to be a smart school. We began assessment of infrastructural requirements and started with the construction of boundary walls in 8,000 schools, and appointed 12,710 teachers. As a result, the board results have been the best ever in the history of Punjab. Enrollment in schools is up by 7 per cent in primary schools and by 25 per cent in the border districts.
Q.We believe there is a massive cleanliness drive undertaken by your government in the schools.
A. There is a cleanliness budget earmarked for every school. For a school where there are 100 students, Rs 3,000 per month is the budget and if the school has a strength of 500 students, the per month cleanliness budget is Rs 5,000.
If there are 5,000 students in a school, the cleanliness budget is Rs 50,000. To take care of the infrastructure of the school, there are campus managers which is a new concept. Each school will soon have a CCTV camera. Already, to ensure that the infrastructure remains in place and for the general school upkeep and security purposes, 1,378 security guards have been appointed across Punjab. This drive is an ongoing one.
Q. Is the Delhi education model in your mind, since AAP rules Delhi and Punjab both, and the Delhi model has got a lot of praise?
A. Delhi’s model is, of course, excellent. But we are looking at replicating the best. For example, in Punjab, we recently organised a mega PTM (Parents-Teacher Meeting) where 19 lakh parents participated. This puts the parents, teachers, and students on the same page. And the student can be assessed easily. This is our unique initiative. Another is that Punjab is the only state that sends students from among 117 Schools of Eminence to ISRO at the time of every launch whether it is the Moon Mission or the Aditya L1 Mission. It helps motivate students to chalk out their future.
Q. How are Schools of Eminence or Excellence different compared to the time when they were conceived and set up?
A. From 9th Standard onwards,we prepare the students admitted to these schools keeping their interests in mind – like preparing them for competitive exams of engineering, law, medicines, armed services, etc. Extra coaching and grooming is being provided to them at the school level.
Q. What are you doing for the betterment of technical and vocational education in the state?
A. See, during the previous government’s tenure, there was a gap between the kind of courses available and jobs in the market. For example, thousands of fitters were graduating but not getting jobs. We carried out a survey in various industrial units and factories, particularly boilers, and found that there was a requirement of 50,000 boiler operators across the state. We immediately began a course. India has a requirement for one lakh drone pilots. We have started a course and will soon fulfill that demand as well.
Q. Also, do you think colleges and universities are at their best when it comes to providing education?
A. The problem with our colleges has been that there are no placement cells in government colleges. We will try and begin placement drives in our colleges. Alternately, we have also tied up with the British Council to start courses of personality development for college students, second year onwards. It is in its nascent stage. But something will come out of it.
Q. How do you intend to tackle unemployment of those who have qualifications but still can’t get jobs, or under-employment?
A. Yes, there are students who have degrees or diplomas. We are trying to get them into an entrepreneurship mould. We began loan melas for anyone who wants to begin a small enterprise, I think that should solve a part of the problem.
Q. How do you see education by the beginning of 2027 when the AAP term comes to an end?
A. Well, I want Punjab should serve as an example for the rest to follow. We want to be on a par with Finland, and Vietnam. Soon, we will hold an education conclave inviting ministers of every state and educators from across the globe. I am sure these small incremental efforts will result in providing a better environment for education in the state.
Q. At 32, you are the youngest MLA from Punjab, but the oldest AAP activist in the sense that you joined Arvind Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption Movement way back in 2011. How do you view your journey?
A. When I came back from the London School of Economics, I became part of India Against Corruption IAC. That’s when I was given the task of strengthening IAC in Punjab. And when AAP was formed, I was tasked with forming the district units. So I have been part of the AAP from the beginning.
Q. At 31, you became a legislator in Punjab. How has the experience been as a first-time MLA?
A. The experience has been good. It was a dream come true to become a legislator. My first speech went viral across the country and that was very satisfying. So that I am always on point with regard to rules, I keep the MLA handbook rules of Vidhan Sabha with me.