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 firstname.lastname@example.org