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, August 19, 2011

Permanently Temporary?

Iqbal addresses conflicting parameters of the strike by contractual college teachers which is by no means over, even though public demonstrations have ended

(Dr. Javid Iqbal, 64, was born in Srinagar. He attended the D.A.V. School, Srinagar, and graduated in Medicine from the Government Medical College (GMC). His professional service in medicine includes work in the Middle East for three decades. During his days at the GMC, he captained the cricket team. Dr. Iqbal is the Vice Principal, Controller and the head of department - Operation Theater Technology at Tahira Khanam's Paramedical Sciences Institute, Lawaypora, Srinagar. He enjoys writing and staying close to his children in far away lands.)

Fiddling With Education

For quite sometime now, reportedly more or less 700 contractual college teachers are on strike in Press Enclave in Srinagar and lately there are fast-unto-death stories filed in the press. Irrespective of the fact whether their demands are genuine or not, there is enough to support the contention that J&K state is fiddling with education. And this seems, on the face of it, a process fraught with undesirable consequences.

The demands of college teachers include a change in the nomenclature-meaning they may no more be termed and treated as contractual, entailing permanency of the job, monthly wages equivalent to the basic salary of the post they are holding-which means basic salary of the permanent employee in their position. Besides they demand one time exemption in National Entrance Test/State Entrance Test [NET/SLET] a test they have to get through to qualify as college teachers, and end to the new norm of six classes per day.

NET/SLET might be tough, however, there is no reason that a college teacher in job for quite a time, contractual or otherwise should fail to clear it. The test is a requirement for Public Service Commission [PSC] clearance for appointment as a college teacher on a permanent basis and acquiring all benefits of permanency. Besides clearing NET entitles cashing University Grants Commission [UGC] benefits.

State funding thus finds a relief, as UGC steps in with grants. Otherwise state pays the bill. UGC scales are quite a windfall. The clearance of these tests might be the stumbling block, and were they to get through the tests the government might be genuinely accused of coming in the way of a teacher who is otherwise armed with all that is needed to claim permanency. As such there are vacant slots, financial hurdles, the state often pleads for failure to fill the vacancies may not come in way, as NET clearance means UGC funding.

The question remains, whether the government has the right to one time waiver of a set procedure without coming into conflict with the established norms and the law. There might be others in line waiting to fill in their slots, who might be tempted to seek a legal verdict. However there has been a waiver in 90’s, on the plea of prevailing militancy in the state. It is questionable whether the government could be moved to repeat the act. If repeated one time waivers become a norm, the norm may lose its sanctity. Against this one has to weigh the non-availability of enough college teachers with NET/SET clearance to man the vacant slots. In case of non-availability of such teachers, the government might have no option but to accede to their demand, partly though.

The way out could be continuing with contractual appointments, but conceding their monetary demands, that is providing basic salary of a permanent employee. Estimated, it amounts to a 50% rise, reportedly from present Rs. 8000 to Rs. 12,000 or wherever it entails. However the very idea of dispensing with their services and appointing freshers is the least of the likable. And that is exactly what the government has hinted of doing. There is another demand, which may be taken as genuinely acceptable, concerning six classes a day. The idea of a college teacher with six classes a day is unacceptable. A class on an average of 40 minutes duration entails 240 minutes [4 hours] of teaching a day. It is highly doubtful whether a teacher can retain his mental poise and physical endurance to such a demanding task!

As per press reports, chairing a high level meeting to asses the situation arising out of strike of academic arrangement teachers, Minister for Higher Education, Labour and Employment, Abdul Gani Malik said, “Steps are afoot to redress the grievances of students whose syllabus has not been completed till date by providing them dedicated and enthusiastic teachers shortly.” The minister may note, in fact he should be well aware of the fact if he is worth his salt as Minister of Higher Education that it takes time to make a teacher. You simply cannot have them overnight. Teachers have to be groomed over a period of time. Teaching is not instant coffee making. One has to get through a process of learning over a period of time, in order to impart to others, what he/she has learnt. Discharging experienced teachers may not be thought of unless you have an equal number who fit the norms-that is with NET/SLET and PSC clearance.

There have been allegations of students suffering in some of the colleges due to the present strike by academic arrangement teachers. The minister has refuted the allegations by providing information that 70 to 85% syllabuses have been completed by the students of Degree Colleges across the Valley. That might be true, but then minister ought to know and appreciate that the syllabi stand completed to the tune of 70-85% mostly due to efforts of these very teachers, whom he has accused of neglecting their duties. The minister’s directive to Principals of degree colleges to ensure completion of syllabi by September 15, 2011 is nevertheless a deed well done. However there cannot be any word of support for impressing alternate arrangement of teachers for degree colleges in consultation with concerned nodal principals, if necessary so that the remaining part of the syllabus is completed well in time. This runs counter to his projected policy in the pipeline for streamlining higher education in the state which emphasizes on quality education without compromising on the standards. By the very act of seeking alternate arrangements, the minister is compromising on the standards.

There is no alternative to experience, though one would feel tempted to support his directive not to allow such teachers in the college who fail to deliver the goods in respect of attending their regular classes. The minister by implication might have charged the striking teachers with high handedness, though of a section of teachers who obstruct others in doing their routine duty. The minister has said that such elements shall be dealt with sternly under law. Demanding rights in democratic polity may not be called high handedness. However if the striking teachers are in fact coercing some to join the strike, that could be objectionable. An early end to the tangle is widely awaited-sooner, the better!

Yaar Zinda Sohbat Baqi
[Reunion is subordinate to survival]

No comments: