Updated: February 4, 2021 2:40:23 pm
The Punjab government on Wednesday ordered the reopening of ten Government Senior Secondary Residential Schools for Meritorious Students for class 12 students from February 9, ten months since they shut down in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In June last year, the hostels of these residential schools had been turned into quarantine centres for suspected and confirmed asymptomatic patients.
However, it is for the first time since these special schools were started in Punjab in 2014-15, that there have been no admissions in class XI (for 2020-21 session), even as more than 23,000 online applications were received for 4,600 seats in class XI in ten schools. Authorities say they could not conduct a written entrance test for 23,000 applicants due to Covid and hence admissions for class XI did not materialize for the current session.
While nine schools — in Ludhiana, Amritsar, Sangrur, Bathinda, Jalandhar, Patiala, Mohali, Gurdaspur, Ferozepur — have 500 seats each for class XI in commerce and science streams, the tenth school at Talwara (Hoshiarpur) has 100 seats in humanities stream.
IPS Malhotra, assistant project director for meritorious schools, said that admissions in class XI could not be done due to “unprecedented situation that had arisen due to Covid”. “We received more than 23,000 applications online from students who were interested in taking admission in class XI but situation went out of our control due to Covid. It was not possible to conduct online entrance exam for 23,000 applicants as the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) had no infrastructure and logistics to make it happen. Also, the online entrance exam wouldn’t have been the right way to conduct admissions in meritorious schools as applicants might have resorted to cheating/copying sitting at home. So we had no option but to cancel class XI admissions for current session. Admissions also could not be held for 50 class IX seats at Talwara school,” said Malhotra, adding, “We might give admission in class XII in next session, to those applicants who had applied for class XI but nothing is final yet…”
“Since these are residential schools, we had to ensure these is proper social distancing and other norms are followed in hostels. Now we have decided to reopen schools and hostels for class XII students,” he said.
Started during the SAD-BJP tenure in 2014-15, the government senior secondary residential schools in Punjab (class XI and XII), were conceptualised with an aim to provide extra coaching and preparation facilities to meritorious students who pass out class X from government schools (under PSEB) so that they can compete with private school students (from CBSE etc) in competitive exams such as JEE, NEET, CAT among others. Former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, while terming the project as his ‘dream’, had said that “the government had taken on the task to prepare these government school students, mostly from financially weaker backgrounds for competition at international level and admissions in professional colleges’”.
These schools are run by the ‘Society for Promotion of Quality Education for Poor and Meritorious Children’ and the chief minister is the ex-officio chairman of the governing body of the society.
Dr Daljit Singh Cheema, SAD spokesperson and former education minister, asked, “Admissions for all schools and universities across the country were held online due to Covid in current session. How big was the task to conduct online entrance test for 23,000 applicants? These schools have received step motherly treatment from Capt government since the very beginning of Congress’ govt tenure simply because it was the dream project of Parkash Singh Badal to help meritorious students from poor and rural families excel in competitive exams and stand at par with stusdents from private schools.”
The senior secondary schools in Punjab provide free education, boarding, lodging, food, and extra coaching for competitive exams to needy students. Initially, class X students from government schools scoring more than 80 per cent marks were eligible to apply for admissions in these schools who further appear for a Common Entrance Test (CET) in three subjects — English, maths and science. But with a gradual decrease in the number of students applying and those clearing CET, seats started going vacant and eligibility percentage was lowered. The eligibility criteria to apply for class XI this year was ‘Grade B+’ (71 to 80% marks) for general category and ‘Grade B’ (61 to 70%) for reserved category in class X, for PSEB students. Similarly, it was B1 for general category and B2 for reserved category, for CBSE students. But 90 per cent seats are reserved for Punjab government schools and Dashmesh, Adarsh and Model school students who mostly come from financially weaker backgrounds. Ten per cent are for government aided and private school students.
SOPs issued; students need to bring ‘COVID-19 certificate’
The orders to open the residential schools for class XII (all ten schools) and class X (Talwara only) say that consent of the parents has to be taken before students join school and hostel. “The students who wish to join the school shall bring the Covid-19 certificate (RT-PRC certificate). This shall also apply to the mess contractor and workers deployed by him..,” say the orders.
Retired colonel Amarjit Singh, principal, Ludhiana school, said, “Students who wish to join school and hostel shall get themselves tested and have to bring report along, they can join only if tested negative…”
The orders further say that “students who wish to join school shall bring sanitizer and seven useable masks (washable)…The person bringing vegetables and eatables for the mess shall also be subjected to thermal screening and should have Covid-19 negative certificate…”
For hostels, the orders say, “Students should be quarantined for 24 hours after joining the schools…” Orders further say that hostel rooms have to be allotted in a way that one student is allotted one room in a serialized sequence…It will be ensured that there are not more than three students in one room…”
“Seeing that there is no class XI this year, we have enough rooms to ensure social distancing and to allot one room per student. Also, now 25 students will sit in each classroom not 50 and sections have been doubled to ensure social distancing,” said the Ludhiana school principal.
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