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.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Higher Education in the Digital Age

Wasim addresses the challenges in modern education

(Mr. Wasim Hussain, 29, was born in Srinagar. He attended Government High School and the Gandhi Memorial College, both in Srinagar. He has completed graduation and is pursuing his Master's degree in political science through Distance Mode of Learning. He took an English speaking course through the Islamia College of Science and Commerce and an advanced diploma in Information Technology. He has completed diplomas in web design and software design. Wasim has worked at the University of Kashmir since 2000, and is presently in the Directorate of Internal Quality Assurance (DIQA) as senior computer assistant. He has received awards both as a student and as an employee for his performance. He enjoys writing and reading books. Wasim writes under the pen name of Wasim Ali.)

Challenges in higher education

To say that all is not well with higher education in India will be something of an understatement. Problems relating to higher education - privatization and commercialization, political interference and corruption, mismanagement and agitations, falling standards and irrelevance - are topics of public discussion almost on a day-to-day basis. Is it possible to locate some key factors that can explain the mess that higher education in India and particular in the State of J&K finds itself in.

The higher education sector became a priority sector in the contemporary era; we have seen that the nations have strengthened their economy and the world class infrastructure. This became possible only by utilizing their quality brains and skilled manpower. Hence, skilled manpower is the demand of an era in commercial, corporate, government or at higher education sector. When we speak about quality education at higher level we must focus first towards our states higher educational institutions, do our educational institutions particularly colleges are capable to provide quality education at higher level? Is there sufficient infrastructure and qualified manpower available to provide quality products for the society, in view of the fact that hard and harsh challenges are ahead after every step.

As indicated by the 2001 census, literacy rate of Jammu and Kashmir was 55.5 % with male literacy rate being at 66.6 % and female at 43 %. According to a national sample survey carried out in 2004, the literacy rate in Jammu and Kashmir was at 65.33 % due to a sustained education campaign in the state.

Have a look at the infrastructure and human resource available in the higher education institutions of J&K state “quality gap” in both universities and colleges. 25 percent faculty positions in universities & colleges remain vacant; 57 per cent teachers in colleges do not have either an M Phil or PhD; there is only one computer for 229 students, on an average in colleges. So what type of quality do we expect from our colleges and universities?

The quality of higher education depends upon the type of staff development programmes initiated for teachers. It is necessary to introduce quality assessment in staff development to ensure better results in our institutions particularly higher education sector. The policy changes like the free and compulsory education attempt by the government are expected to influence higher education in quantitative terms in future.

The problems lying in between the quality education at higher level in the state and at the national level is the lack of incentives and rewards for the teacher, fast track mechanism for promotion on the basis of well-defined performance appraisal, lack of any punitive action for non-performers, a comprehensive policy with regard to teacher exchange programme between institutions of higher learning, a better pay package at entry level in order to attract best and bright brains for the teaching profession, lack of proper infrastructure facilities.

A big state in India like Tamil Nadu has 100% trained teachers. Also, in smaller states like Himachal Pradesh and Goa, 90% of the teachers are trained. A distinct feature of the educational scenario in Jammu and Kashmir is that we have a large number of temporary and ad hoc teachers.

Situation is worse in the B.Ed. educational sector in the J&K state. The B.Ed. college sector is best financial sector and poor educational sector, the B.Ed. institutions are very much underprivileged to provide the education which qualifies all parameters pertaining to Quality Education. Do we expect quality education from those institutions where 99% teachers do not have M.Phil and Ph.D. and have no research experience? 75% colleges do not have sufficient infrastructure which is essential for any institution to run any course. The government itself does not have any clear policy for affiliation and disaffiliation of the B.Ed. Colleges and if there is any policy nobody follows. There is no proper faculty development programme, refresher and orientation course system for the faculty members in the B.Ed. education sector.

The quality education is the primary concern of every individual state including Jammu and Kashmir. The development in higher education is mandatory UGC and HRD Ministry has to take serious steps to make necessary arrangements for quality education in higher education institutions and it has to spend more amount to provide quality infrastructure and quality manpower for higher educational sectors so that the accountability for the quality education becomes the possibility.

At the national level the University Grants Commission (UGC) has come up with a startling admission: Over half of the students who pass Class XII don’t even enter the higher-education sector; 90 per cent of colleges and 68 percent of universities across the country are of average or poor quality. On almost all indicators, from faculty standards to library facilities, from computer availability to student-teacher ratio, higher education is in crying need for an upgrade.

Among 2,956 colleges, only 10 per cent made the Grade A; 66 per cent were B-grade and 24 percent C-grade as per the National Assessment and Accreditation Council’s (NAAC) methodology for assessment and accreditation for higher educational institutions.

The UGC Chairman says that one key factor behind the quality gap is the under-investment in higher education since 1980s. Between 1951 and 1980, the Government spending on higher education sector grew at the rate of 17 percent, but then it dipped to 10 percent between 1981 to 2003-04.

The result, the UGC claims, is that it’s unable to fund 60 percent of colleges and 40 percent of state universities. To “improve the situation”, the UGC, backed by the HRD ministry, has sought Rs 77,779 crore as funds for the XI five-year-plan. And plans to make NAAC assessment and accreditation mandatory, link funding to performance, expand operations in districts with enrolment less than 10 percent, increase funds to institutions with higher share of students from the poor and the marginalized sections.

The number of universities in India has risen from 20 in 1947 to 378 in 2006; colleges, from 500 to 18,064 during the same period. And yet, “little more than half, 52.61 per cent, of those who passed the 12th standard get into colleges and universities, the other half drops out.”

However among all 368 universities and 18,064 colleges the J&K state have a little share of 2 state and 2 agricultural Universities, in addition, three new universities managed by different trusts of the state and a small score of colleges, reflects a slow increase and less infrastructure development among the higher education institutions. Most of our colleges do not have adequate infrastructure and proper accommodation vis-à-vis class rooms.

The UGC is keen to take initiatives to find out the low GER (General Enrolment Ratio) in the States like J&K. The UGC has found 18 districts in Jammu and Kashmir which do not have any Polytechnic college and 11 districts which are educationally backward districts. To fill this gap the UGC has proposed major initiatives during XI plan in the J&K State among them establishment of Central University and Indian Institute of Management is major initiatives.

To get further expansion in higher education sector the government of J&K state has to take some stern issues correlated to the development of higher education in educationally backward areas with the HRD ministry and UGC. There must be some clear cut policies for the affiliation of private managed colleges especially B.Ed. Colleges to gear up them for the quality sustenance and quality enhancement for further improvement of the quality education in higher education sector. There are certain other initiatives like adequate infrastructure providing to the higher education institutions, implementing useful and beneficial measures for development of the state’s literacy rate and involvement of common masses for wide spreading of the benefits of higher and quality education to the educationally backward areas and socially underprivileged sections of the society. The higher education institution must take adequate benefits from the schemes provided by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and HRD Ministry for higher education institutions, students and researchers, which may lead our higher education sector towards the institutions of excellence.

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