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

Uneducational Experience

Riyaz says that the education system is rotting and the rotten eggs cannot be hatched

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 37, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

We all failed in class 10

Failure is the most disturbing outcome of human actions. But, interestingly, the societies such as ours tend to respond differently at individual and collective levels. This fact was clearly borne out during the just declared results of class 10 examinations.

Given our accepted standards 62 percent is a comforting pass ratio but we were face to face with the reality of 38 percent failures. And those failures triggered different responses. At the individual level, the tender hearted girl, Fancy, of South Kashmir’s economically downtrodden Verinag reacted by gulping down a full vial of poison that killed her instantly. At the collective level, we screamed in newspapers and slammed the government teachers. This collective response grew shriller by the silly quick fix solution of deducting salaries of the ‘erring’ teachers.

Compare these two responses – the one of Fancy and that of Director School education. Fancy’s act may seem an awkward response yet it was an honest admission of failure upon which the individual tends to deliver justice by looking inward, fixing blame upon oneself and hanging the erring self. Now look at the government, which in this case is represented by the Directorate of Education. It hurled an announcement that the teachers who did not deliver would have to face salary cut against the failure they faced. This one is sheer reaction, there is no honest admission. Fancy’s death should make the trumpeters of such theories hang their head in shame.

Indeed the private schools fared better. But, who should be held accountable for the dismal performance of our government schools, which have 79.38 percent (2007-08 figures) share in J&K’s elementary education. Teacher? Fancy? New Delhi? Or the power-drunk elite that runs the system. Our teaching community has certainly fallen pray to easygoing, sloth and Chalta hai mentality that not just stunts their personal growth but also harms the fundamental objective of imparting elementary education. However the state cannot escape its share of responsibilities. Teacher will have to be accountable and liable for failures but at elementary level, which means within the four walls of a particular school, under an administrative authority. When the Directorate of Education has to wait for the results to shock it into a clumsy response like “we will deduct their salaries” it is enough proof that something is patently wrong in the system.

There is a huge debate within management circles on whether the worker runs the system or the system makes the worker act successfully. Without falling pray to the chicken-and- egg story, one should safely conclude that in the modern public administration paradigm it’s the system as a whole that is credited for successes and, therefore, it should not shy away from taking the blame for the failures.

According to the central government data J&K has a total of 20789 schools of which 16502 are government schools and 4287 schools are run by private bodies. Though we are not too behind Kerala, India’s literacy hub, that has just 5087 private schools, Kerala’s private schools make for 58.84 percent share in state education, highest in India. J&K’s private schools contribute just 20.62 percent share in the total education profile but interestingly when it comes to pass-ratio these schools make for over 50 percent share. Calling for privatization of education would be a knee-jerk response but the need to rationalize the system is what government should think upon seriously.

Apart from the statistical plethora cranked out every year, there are other causes due to which our education system is continuously failing us. Passing the buck on to the lesser mortals such as a teacher, shows the incapacity of the system. Isn’t it a fact that little over one lakh teachers of J&K had all along been a sort of auxiliary workforce who bailout government when it comes to bigger social responsibilities such as health campaigns, elections etc? Why cannot government outsource these campaigns as is done by some other state governments? And in case of Kashmir, teaching community has been so much trivialized that it has almost lost the reputation it once enjoyed among the society. Visit any educational institute where a minister or some other VIP would be slated to speak and you will see highly qualified teachers mostly female ones arraying the crockery. Moreover, most of the energies of our teachers go waste while organizing cultural functions upon which the VIPs comment unwisely: “This is the sign of peace and normalcy.” In a state that had been hit by violence, when the education system is used as a tool to portray normalcy it is common logic that the system becomes defacto part of the counter insurgency. Should we expect miracles from such a system?

Take another example. The recruitment of teachers is so devoid of a purpose or policy that the poor unemployed youth view it as a shortcut to earn wages and the politicians treat it as a tool to ‘buy’ political support. In short, it is teacher list versus voter list!

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah may boast of “education bonanza” for Kashmir in the form of IIM and polytechnics. But the moot question is this: Even if those pending proposals are given a go ahead, has the system enough capacity to put those institutions to productive use?

Mr Omar Abdullah better think afresh on, at least, secondary and higher secondary level Education. Let there be an Education Commission comprising people who can better reassess the system and prescribe remedies. Report on Common School System Commission of Bihar can be a good example to draw inspiration from. This commission should formulate a concrete and rational policy about imparting elementary education. It would prepare a blueprint of capacity building mechanism for education; promoting B Ed colleges has become more of a mafia now though there are exceptions.

When the state has appropriate capacity building infrastructure, a fixed criteria could be set about who should apply for the post of teacher and what are the academic requirements for a teacher to ask for promotion. The commission may recommend ‘depoliticizing’ and ‘debureaucratizing’ the education system by proposing a common regulatory authority like University Grants Commission. These are faint ideas; the civil society should build upon them further. And those wanting to shout down the poor teacher should know: Fancy of Verinag alone did not fail, we all failed together; the State, the people as well as the underpaid teacher.

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