VETERAN Punjab Assembly and former national Parliament Deputy House Speaker Dr. Charanjit Atwal has made education his number one priority both as a politician with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) party and as an individual, saying it is the foundation which great nations are built on and if Punjab and the entire nation of India is to make the great leap forward, it should make equality of education, especially at the primary and secondary level, the key fundamental right of all citizens irrespective of the economic, class or caste differences.
“Education is of the utmost importance for all humans, all nation, because without it you can’t be a good citizen, politician, economist, social being,” said Atwal, who was visiting B.C. He recounted his long career in Indian politics that began in his student days in 1957 and has seen him being elected MLA in Punjab and MP to India’s Lok Sabha (House of Commons) numerous times, which eventually led to him being appointed Speaker of House in 1997 in Punjab and later as the Deputy House Speaker in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi.
Atwal pointed out: “Education is the foundation of every great society and we cannot ignore that if we want to build a great country. We need to stress basic education and make primary and secondary education compulsory because it is a fundamental right under the constitution.”
He added: “But more important than the right to an education is in fact the ‘right education’ for students, by which I mean that we need an equal opportunity and equality of education for all the children of our nation. We can’t have the public schools begin English curriculum at grade 6 level and others starting English right from kindergarten – No! The syllabus must be the same for all students as that is the only way to make sure that when they reach higher education, they are prepared to go beyond the secondary school level – even those who don’t have a good understanding of the world.”
Atwal said he is pushing to get changes made to the education system in Punjab, including bringing in mandatory exams starting from grade 1 so students can prepare better for higher levels, but that change is slow. Although he isn’t one to toot his own government’s horn, but Atwal said he is proud of his government’s small steps like finally hiring thousands of new teachers after neglect in this regard for more than a decade.
“We have done some good things like hiring 45,000-50,000 new teachers for government schools as they are the backbone of the school system and without them we cannot really educate the young properly,” he said. “I would like to see five teachers per school in primary education and not one.”
Atwal’s ongoing initiatives for his education-first agenda includes an Adopt A School initiative for all Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), especially Punjabis, to go back to their villages and adopt a school, which they can support with mere interest on their deposited money in Punjab.
“Many NRIs go back and make a gate or some other such thing which is great but not very effective. So I urge them to go back and deposit their money – 10 to 20 lakhs ($18,000-$35,000) – in a bank in their village and use the interest to support their village school in whatever way they see fit,” Atwal said.