It is well known that Punjab has produced great educationists, thinkers and scholars in earlier times but at present education in Punjab has touched its lowest level. When there are a large number of government and private schools, colleges, institutes/universities providing basic professional and non-professional education in the state, students are not faring well in national level higher education and service competitions except in defence services. Even having modern and smart schools/colleges/universities with all modern educational facilities, trained and qualified faculty and staff, the learning level of students is ever in the downtrend.
In recent trends, students just after high school level education are moving to green pastures abroad. In the times when nation is gripped with the implementation of National Education Policy-2020 which has been a continuous process before and after independence but without much outcome, there is a need to look back at the facts regarding education under the dynamic leadership of Maharaja RANJIT SINGH ji, the 19th century ruler of the Sikh Empire in India also known as LION OF PUNJAB. Maharaja Ranjit Singh has many unparalleled credentials to his credit as an administrator, warrior and overall as a human but professional, secular as well as spiritual education was at the top in his empire. According to British Historian G.W Leitner in his work published in 1881, Punjab was the most educated place in World during Sikh empire of Maharaja RANJIT SINGH ji. Maharaja Ranjit Singh ji himself with little formal education (as education was not easily available to common people) cared deeply for his people and wanted to use education as a means to elevate their quality of life. With all these qualities, Maharaja Ranjit Singh has beaten competition from around the world to be named the "Greatest Leader of All Time'' in a poll conducted in March 2020 by ‘BBC World Histories Magazine'.
The East India Company (EIC), after a survey, discovered that education in Lahore, and the Punjab, was far superior to the education the British had introduced all over ‘conquered India’. In Lahore alone there were 18 formal schools for girls besides specialist schools for technical training, languages, mathematics and logic, let alone specialised schools for the three major religions, they being Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. There were craft schools specialising in miniature painting, sketching, drafting, architecture and calligraphy. The elementary, and sometimes high, oriental classical and vernacular education was more widespread in Punjab before annexation than it is now. The Company concluded that the Punjabis were years ahead in the field of education than the so-called ‘enlightened’ Europeans. Every village in the Punjab, through the Tehsildar, had an ample supply of the Punjabi ‘qaida’, which was compulsory for females. Thus, almost every Punjabi woman was literate in the sense that she could read and write the ‘lundee’ form of Gurmukhi. What amazes one the most is the fact that women were more educated than men, and this, Dr. Leitner observes, is what made sure that with every passing year, the literacy rate increased.
The legendary G.W. Leitner, the founder of Government College, Lahore, and the Punjab University and undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest ever linguists, who studied ‘Indigenous Education in the Punjab’ has given amazing detail in his book in 1882. His conclusions make much better sense today, for they were ignored by the British during the years of their rule. Not that we today care for what the great man said then, yet it seems sensible even today. According to him, even the small land-owner contributes in making peace with his conscience by founding schools and rewarding the learned. There was not a mosque, a temple or a dharmsala that had not a school attached to it. Dr. Leitner claims that before 1857 the Punjab had an estimated computation as he called it, 330,000 pupils learning “all the sciences in Arabic and Sanskrit schools and colleges, as well as Oriental literature, Oriental law, Logic, Philosophy and Medicine were taught to the highest standard. Dr. Leitner claimed that after the events of 1857 the Punjab, by 1880, had, again a computed estimation, just 190,000 pupils. He says an entire tradition, far superior to what Europe had to offer, was destroyed.
In the Lahore District report of 1860, it is mentioned that it had 576 formal schools where 4,225 scholars taught. Schools opened from 7am and closed at midday. In no case was a class allowed to exceed 50 pupils. If any report of this number came forward, the ‘Subedar’ would send soldiers to arrest the teacher for trying to ‘destroy the future of children. The Sikh ruler, as a percentage, spent more on education than the East India Company from the revenues collected. Then, the true education of the Punjab was crippled, checked and nearly destroyed. In the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Punjab had more scholars and intellectuals than anywhere but after the British took over all changed. The number of students attaining education dropped nearly 50% from Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh empire to British Colonization. In present times, when the quality of education has become a topic of big debate, the number of students getting education (that is quantity wise) has increased many folds but still there is a good section of society who is derived not only from getting basic level of education but also from quality education. Let us hope that Nation Education Policy (NEP)-2020 will be beneficial in improving the level of education in the country.