Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Overhauling the Pathetic Education System in Kashmir

Sajjad suggests the obvious

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 45, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Revamp education system

When compared to other states, J&K State is considered as educationally backward in reference to the established indices - literacy rate, teacher pupil ratio, dropout rate and the absorption pattern of the educated persons. The most disturbing features are low literacy rate, higher drop-out rate, mismatch between education and employment. In our state education is avowedly free up to the university level. But this is partially true mainly in the autonomous institutions and establishments of the State Government.

When we talk of literacy rate, J&K state emerges as a disappointment on this front when compared with other states of India. However, merely being literate does not mean education by it self. Education necessitates a number of other things also such as vocabulary; perception; information; efficiency in using modern tools of information technology; set standards of excellence in acquiring knowledge and proficiency in dissemination of information. It also demands impartial and highest standards of examination; global and common standards of syllabi at every level of education; regular periodic exchange of ideas and activities through multiple levels of mutual collaboration among educational institutions, people and community and effective involvement of educators, researchers and students in policy making and implementation etc. But in our education system, we don’t find any regard to these requirements.

In this perspective, not even one per cent of our population is educated at all! That is why in the J&K education system, competence, merit, efficiency, talent, qualifications and expertise are of little consequence in the State. There is a parallel system of underground degree, diploma and certificate acquisition system having a price tag.

Our state is making all out attempt to rush headlong toward economic success and modernization. Unfortunately, it is the weak higher education sector which constitutes the Achilles' Heel. In higher education in recent years, we have neither produced world-class research nor very many highly trained scholars, scientists or managers. It is because we have failed to provide access to students at the bottom of the academic system. At the same time we don’t have research-based universities or educational institutions that are able to compete with the world's best institutions. Thus we lack the abilities to position ourselves for leadership in the knowledge-based economies of the coming era.

In the 21st century knowledge race, we have some significant advantages, like a large higher education sector, use of English as a primary language of higher education and research and a long academic tradition. We have a small number of high quality institutions, departments, and centres that can form the basis of quality sector in higher education. The fact that the state government exercises major responsibility for higher education creates a rather cumbersome structure, but the system allows for a variety of policies and approaches. Yet the weaknesses far outweigh the strengths.

We have a system where accountability lacks, which means that teaching and research performance is seldom measured. Hardly we find a system, which provides incentives to performers. Nonetheless, with an impression of normality, the system makes the faculty to provide teaching, conduct examinations and award degrees.

We don’t have field of higher education research. Our academic institutions and systems have become large and complex. We have survived with an increasingly average higher education system. Now as we strive to compete in a globalised economy in areas that require highly trained professionals, the quality of higher education becomes increasingly important and cannot be overlooked.

Precisely, we can attribute all this mess in our education system to the education policy, which is a disappointment. Simply, it is not a good policy. Most of our educationists and academics know this fact but are shy to accept it publicly. The government may not agree with this, but fact is always a fact. Anyways, Who is right? It needs a serious attempt to answer this question because the quality of an education policy has deep and wide-ranging implications including the ability of the state to compete for investments, generate jobs, raise productivity and create the wealth to increase the standard of living of the state subjects.

To stem the rot, there is need to redraft the education policy of the state. The government should identify a quality group constituting leading educationists even from other states which have success stories in education sector. These should include experts in teaching, research, educational planning, educational administration, educational financing, educational philosophy and primary, secondary, higher and vocational education. The experts should come from a cross-section of society and each expert identified should have a national, or better yet, an international standing in his or her field. Such standing can be confirmed by generally accepted criteria like publications, citations and membership of international societies.

Let the new policy be given to these identified experts with a summary statement of the objectives, which the government hopes to achieve through its implementation, and the resources it is willing to commit to the implementation. The government should subject the policy to an independent and objective test. In fact, given the dearth of independent policy institutes and think tanks in the State, it would be an ideal role for media here to pioneer such critical reviews and evaluations of the proposed policy prescriptions with far reaching implications for the welfare of whole nation.

Redrafting of the education policy and blending it with the current scenario is a must because J&K while competing in a global scenario and is progressively falling behind. We must understand that the policies on issues such as education, industry, agriculture, etc. will have a crucial impact on our competitiveness and welfare.

There is no excuse for a policy proposal to be based on poor problem analysis, have incoherent objectives and to prescribe unrealistic solutions. There should be not political interference in the educational field. However, Government priority should always be to promote the education system. It is now the time to demonstrate good intentions.

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