Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pedagogical Innovations in Kashmir: A Critical Appraisal

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

This is in response to the transformations being implemented by our current Education Minster Mr. Nayeem Akhter. Encouraging they appear, innovative they seem, but ineffective appears the whole exercise. Not for one reason but for many other dozen grounds in being cynic and less convinced. My query is simply undemanding why the Minister is so inflexible that he wants to see apples growing in an orange tree. Technically it’s impracticable, but Juggad in our part of the world can do wonders, sarcasm intended…  I believe Department of Education should simply be seen from the perspective of employment generating agency alone. If other expectations are linked to it given the current set of things, recruitment process and incentives then it will turn out to be a policy blooper. Our concerned officials want to revolutionize our ailing education sector; they desire that government schools should overtake elite private institutions. If not overtake, at least compete neck to neck with them. If this is the vision and future strategy, then trust me, all of it will go in vain without any payoffs. Because, the problem is not with one particular organ of the department rather it is a cancer which has almost affected every cell of its structure. We still expect our teachers to train students’ basic Maths and English vocabulary, all these traditional subjects are superfluous now. Finland for instance, with the best school system in the world has already closed teaching these traditional subjects. We want our schools compete with private counterparts when many countries have banned private education completely. And also why should we expect great results from our teachers when they get 1500 for five years; regular teachers get less salary than a clerk in handicrafts department. Entry is easy, all it needs is MLA’s approval for an SSA school and 10th pass certificate. There is no rigorous training provided to our teachers. The quality is missing; clerk is more powerful than ZEO or even CEO. They decide the affairs of so called ‘nation builders’. Many teachers are so incompetent that they cannot even write a paragraph in any language let alone English. There is no serious screening or evaluation of teachers post their recruitment. Rather than sending them to universities for training and capacity building programmes, they are hired for distributing mid-days meals and census workers. Government has basically destroyed this sector; they set the norms of entry and define the rules. They wittingly hire incompetent blue eyed persons to the department and keep the talent at shore.  This department is a hub of blue-eyed people. And those with talents are busy running private tuitions. Those who are vocal are now trade union leaders. If the ministry is serious about transforming education system, then here are few suggestions, which I believe will be ridiculed. First of all declare a kind of emergency in the education system to remove the deadwood and infuse new talented teachers. Ban all private schools from Kashmir and provide same education to every student no matter which background he/she represents. Create a level playing field for one and all. However if banning private schools is not a viable option, then implement the Chile model of schooling where profit making with education is prohibited and private schools are forced to cooperate/share best teaching practices  with public ones. Make the entry level very stringent. Enhance the salary of teachers because incentives alone will attract the best talent. Hire professionals from good universities who can train our teachers. Start a course on the pattern of MBBS in Kashmir, catch young talent after 10+2 and provide them serious training with stipend for at least five years. Ban Ret scheme. Allow teachers to participate in setting the core curriculum. Encourage schools to develop their own syllabus.  Focus on local knowledge, explore creative potential of students, democratize things, keep bureaucracy away and increase the time of amusement for children to two hours. Ban exams, innovate new methods of evaluation. Take teachers and student on tour to good universities, allow them attend seminars and conferences. Train teachers to find odd balls within the schools. Focus creativity, innovations will follow. Develop infrastructure in schools. Provide internet connectivity and laptops to every school. Start an exclusively local channel aimed at training school teachers and students. Ban traditional subjects, offer new innovative courses. Focus on differently-abled children. Offer them separate courses. Hire consultants who can do comparative studies for further strengthening the department. Design courses based on local knowledge, science and achievements. Introduce local history, geography and cultural studies.  Give students a chance to evaluate teachers. Take suggestions and ideas from students and parents. Make parent-student-teacher meetings compulsory every month. Implement new technologies, and make education a top priority for the government. Engage other departments also. Work in tandem to co-create knowledge. Hire more teachers and reduce the burden of classes from 8 to 3 per teacher. Reduce the number of subjects in schools to four or five maximum.  I know this all seems practically impossible. However, if we are serious in transforming this sector then we have to really identify the problems and look for their solutions. We have to create resources from schools itself. If we can successfully implement such things in Kashmir, I am sure it will be a new renaissance with regard to education sector in Kashmir. I believe its real time to create a new policy on education in Jammu and Kashmir. Let us help save this diseased department. We do not have to invent a new vaccine for this, it is already there, the question is of injecting it.

The author is pursuing his PhD at CSSP, JNU, New Delhi. His research area includes innovations in the informal economy can be mailed at 

Mass Flourishing of Innovations: The only remedy to Kashmir’s Economic disorder

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

Two years ago Edmund Phelps, 2006 Nobel Laureate in economics and Director of the Centre on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University in his much celebrated book ‘Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge and Change” argues for his new thesis that grassroots innovations were exclusively the source of mass flourishing in the past. The central argument of the book is somehow circumscribed to the opinion that home grown innovations helped create jobs, dynamism and vitality within the western economies and ultimately became the main source for nation’s prosperity and inequality. Phelps, while introducing the book argues that the economic prosperity visible in some nations was a product of pervasive indigenous innovations, possible through economic dynamism and the desire and the space to innovate. The book further reflects on the benefits of modern values coupled with risk taking and investment in uncertainties. He suggests that modern values play a critical role in dynamic economic growth because they help undergird what he terms ‘indigenous innovation’. While rejecting the theory, that all material advances in a country are driven by the forces of science and godlike entrepreneur figures, Phelphs contends that ‘scientism’, and ‘exogenous innovations’ could not have been the major driving force behind the explosion of economic knowledge in the 19th century. His point actually is that the historical art of credit giving to headline inventions of applied scientists is grossly erroneous. Because according to Phelps, most of the inventors including the headliners were not trained scientists nor were they particularly well educated.
Much similar are the arguments put across by another distinguished scholar Clifford D. Conner in People's History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and ‘Low Mechanicks’. Conner tries to demystify the ‘heroic and aristocratic narratives’ of the history of science. The author beautifully attempts to present the ‘people’s history of science’ which brings to light the contributions made by the ‘ordinary men and women’ (miners, midwives, and low mechanics) towards the development of science. The central aim of the book, according to the author, is to demonstrate much, much greater contributions to the production and propagation of scientific knowledge on the part of anonymous masses of humble people-the common people – than is generally recognised or acknowledged. As is evident from the title, the entire book orbits around identifying the contributions made by the unsung, anonymous, subaltern, invisible artisans, farmers, miners, midwives, etc. towards the expansion of science and maths.  Conner contends that science as it exists today was created out of folk and artisanal sources; it became what it is by drawing heavily on those sources.  He asserts that Isaac Newton’s ability to ‘see farther’ should not be attributed as he claimed, to his sitting ‘on the shoulders of giants’, but rather to his standing on the backs of untold thousands of illiterate artisans. He maintains that those who work with their hands have long been looked down upon as inferiors, less valuable, by those who make their livings without getting their hands dirty.
The point of bringing these two authors here is not in reality to review their work, but to juxtapose them with the circumstances popular in our part of the world with regard to knowledge, innovation and research. When we assess the research and innovation capabilities of our science led institutions then an undesirable profile is vivid. No matter which indicator we use; from papers, citations, patents, and collaborations to innovations none of our universities stand even in the top 12000 Universities around the world. Very few patents had been awarded to our public funded institutions. Despite spending millions on our universities not a single penny is realized in terms of royalty by these so called “elite” institutions. The reason is simple, time and resources are diverted for unproductive creations.  Research and Development gets least preference. Compared to our formal structures of knowledge production some ingenuity is discernible within the informal economy. Recently during my visit to GIAN cell/EDC , Jammu and Kashmir, established at the University of Kashmir some years ago more than 84 indigenous technologies had been developed/fabricated in a very short span of time. The no of patents filled is plus 55. More than 1.25 crore of financial assistance has been provided to Kashmiri innovators both in the formal as well as informal sectors. Besides this more than 29 Entrepreneurship Awareness Camps (EACs’) had been organized and 6000 plus herbal practices had been scouted and sent for validation. However, unfortunately these ideas will not turn out to become “game changers” with reference to Kashmir economy or as is visualized by Schumpeter or Phelps that innovation will set the economy in motion. The reason is simple; innovations never happen in isolation, to turn an idea into a commodity needs lot of efforts and bundle of resources. Kashmir is full with ingenuity, creativity is pervasive, innovative ideas are visible everywhere, traditional practices are almost omnipresent. However the eyes and hands to unearth them and incubate them are off the track. Wittingly or unwittingly institutions, values and culture of innovations are not nurtured. If Kashmir has do well both economically and politically, then the culture of knowledge creation, innovation has to be re-energized. University of Kashmir, together with Jammu and Kashmir Bank can take a lead in this direction. As argued by Schumpeter, bankers know better where to invest; which innovative idea needs to be harvested and EDC /GIAN University of Kashmir know where the ideas are located. In tandem with Science and Technology Council Government of Jammu and Kashmir, JK Bank can help create an innovation centre / knowledge house in Kashmir out of their CSR resources.  This I believe will be the greatest achievement towards the self sufficient, self reliant slogans raised by our politicians and policy makers alike. Relying on New Delhi and shifting the begging bowl to Mumbai from New Delhi will not help. Today’s economies are knowledge based economies; innovations, ideas provide the fuel modern day economies required. It will be good if a separate centre for innovation and knowledge creation is established in Kashmir. It will provide dividends back in a very less span of time.  

Author is PhD Scholar at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy JNU, New Delhi can be reached at