Free Education to All – A Promise Never Meant To-be

When the peasants rose against the rule of the monarch in Kashmir, It was a movement which was driven by Communist ideas. One can’t find a better example of equal redistribution of wealth (Land to tiller) than Kashmir. Some historians even believe that the Socialist tilt of Kashmir made India & Pakistan uncomfortable leading it to be annexed, in parts, by both countries. One of the key fundamental demands put forth through Naya Kashmir (memorandum submitted to Maharaja Hari Singh, later adopted by National Conference as its manifesto) by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, was access to free education to all. Sheikh wanted to offer free education to all up to college level. This goes on to show how much importance education was given by the pioneers of the revolution and rightly so.

Even after three generations of the Abdullah family have ruled Kashmir the promise of free education to all, still remains a promise only!
Many times people, in the past decade, have raised the issue of deteriorating education quality in Kashmir. To show that they are taking education seriously, Govt has been laying stress on the class X results. At times heads of schools with dismal performance in the board exams were issued show cause notice. If government was really serious on improving the education they would better focus at the root cause of the problem rather than addressing the symptoms.

We have heard the saying umpteen number of times that to construct a strong building one needs to make the base strong. Well the base of the Kashmiri education system is in taters, torn apart by apathy and indifference of administration, whose children study in private schools.

To know the exact status of our education system, visit any primary school. In a primary school the teachers are the first people who hit like a thorn in one’s eye; one wonders who selected them for this job. They enter a class write couple of words on board and ask to students to recite them on loop for the whole duration of class. They only seem to be bothered about what has been prepared in the mid-day meal or one will find them shouting at the peon for ringing the bell 5 minutes late. Most of the time teachers are busy, in staff room, munching on the fruits brought by students, weaving the winter wear for their children, discussing the newspaper headlines as if the world depended on their viewpoint and bitching about their in-laws.

Things that one observes about children are torn shoes and chappals; dirty and worn out clothes (pants are prone to be worn out at buttocks rather than knees, due the special matting). Most of the time children are busy shouting couple of words in loop with out knowing what they mean, because their teachers never bothered to tell them.

The main objective of primary teachers seems to keep the children busy with something rather than teaching them. One of the favourite tool of teachers to keep children busy is the recitation of numerical tables, the class representative or the class monitor leads the class (memorisation of tables is one of the main qualification for CR selection).

With a system like this how can we expect the sudden transformation of these kids into some sort of scholars in board exams!

For selecting a teacher for a primary school qualification shouldn’t be the only criteria. There are certain psychological roles that the teacher has to full fill, thus it becomes imperative that they are judged according to these requirement as well. So apart from qualification, behavioural assessment of the candidate should be part of the selection process.

Unless we drastically improve the quality of the education at primary level the overall quality is not going to improve.

Even though our leaders promised free educational up to university level some 70 odd years ago, it would be considered a great achievement if government can even provide free primary education.

The pioneers of Kashmiri struggle had envisioned of a society where education would be available to all irrespective their social or economic status. Nowadays education imparted in Kashmir can be classified according to the economic status. The children from poor families can be only found in government schools, children from middle class are to be found in private schools and the children of upper middle class & upper class can be found in couple of elite private schools in Srinagar.

Naya Kashmir was considered a revolutionary document and even now some people look towards it as a beacon which would help them to serve their people better. Irony is that the nation who had come up with the document has completely forgotten its existence.

It is high time that the state legislature introduces the Right to education bill following the suit of Indian parliament which passed the bill in 2009. By virtue of the bill the primary education was declared as the fundamental right of every child in the age group of 6-14 years. After the bill was passed many prestigious schools opened their doors for the underprivileged children. Of course there have been incidents where the students thus admitted have been discriminated against but we can’t deny the overall positive aspects of this bill.
There were times when the progeny would put everything online to see their fore father’s dream come true, but the times have changed.

Also Appeared in The Kashmir Monitor

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