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.

Friday, March 5, 2010

With the Information Communication Technology (ICT), Sky is the Limit

Malik describes the power of ICT to transform our educational institutes into true learning centers as good as anywhere in the world

(Dr. Mohammad Amin Malik, 43, was born in Ayathmulla village in Bandipora District. He passed his Matriculation (10th grade) from the Government High School, before completing his 12th grade from the Government Higher Secondary School, both located in Bandipora. He attended the Sri Partap College and Bemina College, both in Srinagar, and graduated with his Bachelor's degree from the Government Degree College in Sopore. He obtained his Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree from the University of Kashmir with distinction. Subsequently, he completed two diploma courses in computers before completing his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Kashmir in September 2005. Since 1996, he is employed by the Higher Education Department of the J&K Government, and has steadily risen up the ranks and is presently working as Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at the Amar singh College in Srinagar. He has contributed 28 research papers, many of which have been published in leading technical journals of international and national repute, and loves to indulge in his favorite subject of physics and science literature and philosophy.)

Integrate ICT and Rejuvenate the Education System

During the last two decades, the use of technology in our homes, offices, universities, etc has changed our life beyond recognition. It has entered every room, fulfilled every human need of knowledge and made our lives interwoven with information. Virtually every job we do today requires some kind of technology. The information and communication technology (ICT) carries on high promise both in human and economic terms. The information we access through the available digital technologies can promote innovation, increase productivity and enrich the quality of our life. Its benefits are being obtained in education, job training, health care, food security, environment management, government efficiency and in dissemination of scientific results world-wide which include setting up of virtual labs and research organizations which are linked to each other that has enabled national and international collaboration and is taking us forward towards Knowledge Society.

Education is said to be the fourth necessity for men after food, clothing and shelter. There is a direct co-relation between education and socio-economic development. In today’s world of knowledge-driven society, the technology has become an integral part of the learning and teaching experience. In this direction the ICT is a vital tool to make our ailing education system more efficient and innovative. The ICT can improve the quality of teaching, learning and management in Schools, Colleges and universities. While ICT continues to advance in other countries particularly in the west, why should we experience a lag in its implementation and allow continuing widening the digital and knowledge divides? Our teachers need to adapt to this change and keep pace with the new methods and technologies of learning to make teaching learning process more effective and rote-free. Now it be will no longer sufficient for our teachers to merely impart content knowledge but to encourage critical thinking skills using this technology.

The ICT is a diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, create, disseminate, store and manage information. The ICT is an umbrella term that includes all technologies for the manipulation and communication of information. It involves the innovations in microelectronics, computing-hardware and software, micro-processors, semiconductors, telecommunications and opto-electronic devices-fiber optics etc. These innovations enable the processing and storage of enormous amounts of information, along with its rapid distribution through communication networks. In our common usage, it is often assumed that ICT is synonymous with Information Technology (IT). Its essential components broadly include computers, the Internet, broadcasting technologies -radio and television, telephony and devices of voice, sound or images such as microphone, camera, CDs and loudspeaker etc. Other such electronic information-processing technologies from barcode scanners to global positioning systems (GPS) also include in ICT. The ICT may be described as the pivot of the central nervous system of a complex society in today’s world.

It is to be seen whether the future of education in the next 20 years will be of student interacting with technology to drive their own learning and the Schools and Colleges fighting for its survival and our eager young learners need teachers or not. Indeed, advances in technology throughout the years have made certain jobs irrelevant. But teaching is a different job rather it is a passion. If teaching is simply ‘transferring knowledge to the learner, then computers could probably do a fairly good job of replacing these teachers in the near future. But it is certain that the schools of the future will rely more on technology and less on teachers and it will certainly change what the teachers are doing presently but at the same time the teacher’s role will continue to be indispensable. The teacher’s role will never become redundant because a machine can never replace a human-being. A machine doesn't have the personality, mood, or feeling like our teachers have and it cannot be what a teacher is. These machines can't discipline the students in the classroom nor can they comfort a human soul.Our kids, boys and young guys need the compassion, concern, encouragement and inspiration to do well which the technology cannot provide. Off course the role of teachers and educators will change as newer technologies become available, but the central role of the teacher -- to facilitate education -- will be enhanced.

Today teacher and students are at equal footing with regard to information access. If we look around today, large numbers of students are very eager to access the internet and learn things though they have a little know-how about computers. On the other hand we have huge percentage of classical teachers who are old for the new technology and shy away to learn and interact with Digital computers. Therefore there is a thick wall between the classical teachers and the Digital Students which should get eliminated now. The need of the hour is that, our teachers as well as students need to be technologically proficient and up-to-date. They must understand that ICT is an effective media for communicating things and concepts that cannot be explained in words.

In our system, Schools and students are trapped in the craze of “highest marks” and that is being equated with highest quality of education. The student’s at the School, College and University level want notes from teachers for cramming and passing the examination. Our teachers feel complacent and relieved of their burden of not having to discuss the crux of the subject concepts with the students and they eagerly issue notes to the students and also to keep some mouths shut for the apprehension of any questions. I am reminded of recent hit Film “Three Idiots” which I think depicts the prevailing system of education in India and in its worst form, in our Kashmir. In the Film, I am reminded of the scene, when the Professor asks for definition of a machine to Actor Amir Khan which he elaborated beautifully first in English and then with examples in Hindi, but the Professor was not impressed and one rote learner got up and answered a complicated definition of a machine, which the Professor appreciated. Even I being a man from physics could not understand the definition of a machine stated by the rote learner in the film.

It is high time that government should draft a policy to support the implementation of ICT in all institutes of learning so that required computer hardware, software and e-content, syllabus-based CDs and CD/DVDs library, dependable power supply and internet connectivity are made possible. The Government as well as teachers can create a repository of - Net resources, animated sequences, models, video clippings and virtual experiments - that can serve as the springboard for new better method of teaching. A large percentage of our Schools, Colleges etc at present are equipped with computer labs which are mostly being used for office work. In some cases there is no manpower of handling these computers. It is to be mentioned here that a good percentage of serving and aspiring teachers in pedagogy have know-how about computers and can handle ICT tools. They must be given a chance to do things in a liberal manner. In some areas the institutes can be made to work together in clusters using ICT so that collaboration in sharing teaching and learning materials can be made cost effective. This also will enable to train the other staff from a centralized resource base. Further the ICT needs to become part and parcel of the curriculum and the timetable and we need to redesign our curriculum in toto. It is not enough if we merely replace the black board with a PowerPoint presentation. If we are teaching mathematics there is software that can help a student graphically visualize that equation or problem. This all, will not only help to bridge the digital divide but also will improve the quality of teaching-learning, school administration and information management system and make us able to keep pace with the rest of the world.

The long term impact of ICT on the teaching and learning process will be the nature of motivation to learn. In this direction, one big advantage of ICT is that, it offers huge knowledge and information and presents it in a compelling and interesting way. The student can access, manipulate, modify, store and retrieve information and that will promote greater autonomy in learning and enabling them to exert more choice over how they approach study and thus requiring less direction from teachers with the teacher acting as a guide or moderator rather than as a director. A student who is really curious to obtain knowledge will never find any obstruction in clarifying concepts because too much literature is available unlike the non-availability of too many books. Any concept or any problem can be split into hairs. Our young generation has the potential to learn a lot more informally than teachers are prepared to acknowledge. The use of ICT can transform our institutes into true learning centers where students can create and explore knowledge and where rote learning is discouraged and where the teachers will act their mentors and moralists. This will surely open new wonderful possibilities in our career prospects and competitive exams.

A large percentage of the people today are of the opinion that electronic devices like mobile phones, TV, internet have badly affected our moral values. This is in fact true. But we must realize that any scientific device is like a double-edged weapon and before blaming any technology we must first learn its judicious use. We must realize that guns alone don't start wars. Science didn't change anything. It just made these things easier to observe. People have been the same for thousands of years. Therefore, under these circumstances, each one of us has to exercise self-control and contribute towards safeguarding our moral values.

Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination. — Albert Einstein

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