Bhagwant Mann in his traditional attire — a pale yellow shirt, a jacket, a yellow turban and a garland around his neck — does a Facebook Live in the key constituency of Jalalabad, where he has locked horns with deputy chief minister and SAD leader Sukhbir Badal.
Standing in an open Jeep, Mann is flanked by two students lamenting the poor state of education in Punjab.
According to the two, they want to take up maths in Class 11 and 12, but there is no one in school to teach the subject.
|Education has been a much-neglected subject in Punjab for years.|
While Mann may have been doing exactly what other politicians did in the past (read gimmick) to secure AAP's position in the high-stakes battle for Punjab amid a ruling SAD and Congress, parties have made education a top poll plank (mainly aiming at the youth vote) this time around in Punjab.
Even as politicians are waxing eloquent with promises of providing "first-class" education, it has been a much-neglected subject for years in the state.
Here's what the main parties are promising.
SAD: Free laptops with one GB data cards for Class 12 students in government schools and 10 lakh jobs for youths. They even promised free two-wheelers for girl students in Class 12.
Congress: Free education to girls from Class 1 to PhD level. Smartphones for students and a job to each of the 55 lakh households.
AAP: Laptop for all government school students; primary and secondary education in government-run schools will be on a par with private schools. As many as 25 lakh jobs for youth.
The claims undoubtedly look tall compared to the ground reality.
In Kharar's Bhagwantpur government primary school, there are 50 students from Class 1 to Class 5. When we (this correspondent and a cameraman) walked in, the students were sitting in the sun with some of them already asleep. The teacher, who was some distance away, came in rushing towards us (after spotting a camera and mike). Sukhjinder Kaur told us that the school has three teachers, out of which one was on leave. There were three classrooms, but all students were taught in one.
We spoke to another teacher, Paramjit Sandhu, in Mohali. She teaches 20-odd underprivileged children for free. Most of them go to government schools, but are barely taught anything.
She decided to give free classes to the students to help them out of the precarious situation they find themselves every year ahead of exams.
When we went to their school, the children were made to sing nursery rhymes in English for us. Though they study in only Punjabi and Hindi. The mid-day meal that was prepared — "khichdi" — looked edible, but not enough to satisfy a child's hunger.
The cook told us that she was paid (Rs 1,200) for 10 months last year. "The remaining two months' pay was pocketed by them," she told us without naming anyone.
On the highway, we stopped at a central government-affiliated Rayat Bahra skill development centre. Considering the fact that Skill India is a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, amongst 40 students, only a handful turned up for training. But here comes the real eye-opener — Bahra, a deemed university, has since its inception in 2011 shot off close to 100 letters to the state technical department for approval but are still waiting for a reply.
Rajnish Tuli, marketing head of the training centre, lamented: "The students who joined us for a three-year course, got only two-year certificates at the end of three years."
The institute, he added, has got an approval from the Union HRD, but a similar request of approval from the state government never came through. Till date, 300 students have passed from the institute, but many of them are still waiting for their certificates.
Another student told us: "We have little or no job opportunities in the state. After completing our training programme from here, I shall seek a job in Delhi NCR."
Outside the institute, we met another 20-year-old Rajiv, who told us: "I'm looking for a sarkari naukri (government Job) because I want an easy job."
Though shocked by his blunt confession, one couldn't fault him for that.
From there we came across another young man from the neighbouring state of Haryana, Amit Kumar. All of 23 years, Kumar is a national gold medallist, but after failing to land a job in his home state for the past two years, he has come to Punjab.
Our next stop was IIT-Ropar. Off the state highway, the IIT is gaining more recognition after it was recently ranked no. 9 among various research and teaching institutes in the country.
Sarit K Das, director of IIT-Ropar, told us, matter-of-factly, that only 20 per cent of Punjab undergraduates make it to IIT-Ropar. Masters and Phd programmes are better off, with 40 per cent. Similarly, the faculty has 20 Punjabi professors out of 100. But then IITs are not about one particular region.
As we left Ropar for our next destination, we didn't expect to see anything different, unless someone, some day really decides to fulfil the poll-time promises of "first-class" education.