When she had started working as a teacher at a government school for girls in Punjab during the 1950s, she had not aimed to become a symbol of achievement that the Punjab government has now made her. Malti Mohinder Singh Syngle was just another woman who was passionate about education of young girls. She wanted to be of help to as many students as she could as their teacher. Malti’s lifelong struggle for rural girls’ education culminated in the “Malti Gyan Peeth Puraskar”, which the Punjab government will give to the best performing government schools and colleges for girls in Punjab. The Puraskar is in honour of the woman who is recognised as a pioneer in girls’ education across the state.
Though age has caught up with her, Malti, a little hard of hearing, spoke to The Sunday Guardian.“I am not old yet. I still have ideas in my head that I would like to execute.” Among six sisters, Malti was the first daughter in the family to get a college education. She can well be termed as being among the “first wave of women” who started working as teachers in government schools of Punjab. “Nobody could ever challenge me because I was honest with my work. When I started as a government school teacher, there were no girls in the class, though it was a girls’ school. Parents did not care much with a daughter’s education. Skills that help you run your home better helped a woman qualify in the social ladder and not her education. So, I used to go around villages with the school peon or the gatekeeper to different houses and request people to send their girls to school. It took some time, but within a year, our school had registered 500 more students in classes. That feeling of contentment has stayed with me all these years,” Malti said.
Talking about the plight of teachers today, Malti said, “Dedication and hard work are the key for a good teacher. I see today that young people who choose to become teachers look at it only like a profession. The young generation should visit schools in rural areas and see the condition there. There is so much that city kids have to pass on to their rural counterparts. Teachers need to understand their importance in society and must embrace the responsibility that comes along with that. I feel the kind of passion we had in our time towards education is lacking in people now. It was not easy for us to do what we did. For a young unmarried woman to travel 60 km only to ask girls to come to school was not the norm.”
She was one of the first women in Punjab to achieve the Degree of “Bachelor of Teaching” in 1951. She worked for the Punjab Education Service till she retired as principal of Govt Girls Higher Secondary School in 1980. Her favourite subject is Economics.
Malti admits that the lifestyle of women have changed a lot since her young days. “Women in our time had to think multiple times even before taking small decisions by themselves. Character and respect of a person were their only credentials and one wrong step could make you the black fish in the pond. Being a woman was never easy, but women today have a lot more mobility and choices which we never had. This should be put to good use. But there is no denying that women must never neglect their responsibilities towards their families. Women are the nucleus of any family; if she falters, the whole family falls apart,” she said.
Even after her retirement, Malti continued to work and with the help of her sons, established a trust to help young girls in Punjab’s villages. She promoted the “Mohinder Singh Syngle Education & Research Society”, in the memory of her late husband, in Sangrur, an economically backward district in Punjab. “I never stopped working for the cause I felt so strongly about, but while I was giving my best to society, I also did my best to maintain a balance at my home. Educating daughters is the only way forward for the ultimate development of our society,” she said.