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  In female foeticide country  
  A school that values girls  
  GURDASPUR (WFS): Harpreet Kaur, 18, of Udowal village in Punjab's Gurdaspur district, first heard of the Baba Aya Singh Rearki College at Tugalwala from her cousin. Recalls Harpreet, "My cousin who studied here would tell me stories of the happy and simple life there and of the great values learnt through education. So I longed to go there."

Harpreet eventually joined the school after her matriculation and is currently doing her Bachelor's degree. "I would like to stay on here as a teacher after doing my B.A. and then do my Masters in English Literature," says the enthusiastic student, who is also the secretary of her class.

The college is an exceptional experiment in education for rural girls in the districts of Gurdaspur and Amritsar, which adjoin the border with Pakistan. Its far-reaching impact on women's education and empowerment can be gauged from the fact that the college is based in a state where female foeticide is rampant and where the sex ratio is the lowest in the country.

The college, which functions as a trust, dates back to 1934 when a social worker called Baba Aya Singh established a small 'putri pathshala' (girls' school) at Tugalwala. He also set up the SKD High School in 1939. The college, however, aptly began functioning in 1975 -- the International Year of Women.

Principal Swaran Singh Virk, 64, recalls the early challenges the college faced in a society reluctant to grant its daughters an education. "After campaigning from village to village on the importance of education for girls, I was promised 34 students. Twenty backed out and so we started with a batch of 14. These girls sat for the exam of Prep (equivalent to Class XI) and Giani (a Punjabi language examination) and secured excellent results. Today, the school has the requisite number of teachers and is affiliated to the Punjab School Education Board. The college students appear privately for their graduation and post-graduation examinations. Altogether, there are around 3,500 girls -- boarders and day scholars -- who are enrolled from Class VI to the Masters' level."

Interestingly, the tuition fee is only Rs 800 (US$1=Rs 47.14) a year. Boarding and lodging comes for an annual fee of Rs 5,500. In the absence of any grants, the college displays excellent management of limited means and innovative self-sustaining measures. Homespun rugs, or 'durries', are used to seat the students. Desks and benches are used only for the examinations. The college has six teachers, who teach the senior classes. The remaining classes are taken by senior students through the 'each one, teach one' approach. This not only cuts down the cost of hiring another teacher, but also inculcates a sense of responsibility and confidence in the 'student lecturer'.

Virk explains, "We would rather do without aid. We save on electricity by using solar lighting. We have no fuel bill as we have our own bio-gas plant." The cooperative store for stationary and the general store in the college offer around 50 per cent discount to students and also manage to save about Rs 150,000. The savings are used to sponsor around 150 orphaned students who study at the college.

All pupils have been taught the dignity of labour and the advantages of self-help: everything from cleaning the campus to cooking meals in batches of 12 to tending to the kitchen garden is managed by the students.

Visit Tugalwala and you can spot hundreds of young women dressed in their white uniforms, finding no task too hard to handle. The tall gates of the institution is 'wo-manned' by two students, who note down the names and addresses of the visitors. One group of girls is busy preparing the midday meal. Sukhmeet Kaur, 18, a BA Final student and secretary of her class, elaborates, "We are having curry for lunch. The girls decide the menu by consensus. We use most of the vegetables and grain grown here on the eight-acre school farm."

The girls are provided with wholesome meals and their day begins with a full glass of fresh buffalo milk -- from the in-house dairy -- boiled with some tea leaves.

The high standards of excellence extend to the classrooms, too. The college is proud of its unblemished record when it comes to examinations, as there has not been a single case of copying. Harsharan Singh, an examiner, explains, "The examiners and invigilators are posted here but are required to do nothing more than hand out the papers." The school has a cash prize of Rs 21,000 for an examiner who can spot a case of copying. The award goes unclaimed every year. However, the real reward for the school is the near 100-per cent pass rate, with at least 50 per cent of these students getting first divisions.

In a state known for its attachment to hockey, the latest excitement on the campus is the new hockey field in the school. Explains Virk, "We will train the girls to take part in national and international hockey tournaments."

While religious study -- Sikhism -- is part of the curriculum, children are taught to respect all faiths and the school corridors are lined with sayings from various scriptures. As of now, the institution offers only Humanities but hopes to include diverse streams in time. "We will spread our wings on our own if we can. Affiliation would bring in more money, aid and grants but it would turn us into one of the many run-of-the mill institutions which we don't want to be," says Virk. For now, the college falls under the jurisdiction of the Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) but is not affiliated to it, as it is not a conventional institution. The students appear for their exams as private candidates.

It's now afternoon, and the students are all over the campus -- playing 'kho-kho' (traditional Indian team sport), merrily running around, or singing folk songs. Some practice for the various inter-class music, painting and public speaking competitions; others are busy making hand-made charts and invitations for the various events. These events are held in the school and are very often inter-school. Even the Tugalwala college girls go out for inter-school events.

The campus seems to exude a tremendous sense of confidence and happiness, and all the students -- whether they are boarders or day scholars who bus down to school every day from their village or town -- appear to participate wholeheartedly in school activities.

Reveals Sukhmeet Kaur Baupuria, 18, a B.A. Final student, "Recently Manpreet Kaur, a student of Plus II, told a filming crew from a popular national news channel that she had given up the practice of copying, which she did in a previous school. When the anchor retorted that she should be ashamed talking on camera about having cheated, Manpreet promptly replied, 'I should have been ashamed when I was cheating and not when I am confessing.' This is the confidence imparted by the Tugalwala way."

But the school gets endorsements not just from its students but from senior educationists. As Jai Roop Singh, Vice-Chancellor of GNDU, observes, "Visiting the Tugalwala College for me was a new and unique experience. Students study as well as work. Other institutions need to learn from this one." (© Women's Feature Service)
  By  Nirupama Dutt  
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