The existing approach to education creates over-qualified but skill-less youth who then fall by the way side.
By Wajahat Qazi
Education in Kashmir is in a sorry state! The administration and the people have no reason to celebrate even after the reasonably decent success rate in both the matriculation and 12th grade results. The reasons pertain to the nature of education and pedagogy – the method and practice of teaching – and the decrepit nature of infrastructure, soft and hard, the quality of instructors and the general academic environment here. Added up, all these factors point to the rather abysmal nature, condition and quality of education in Kashmir.
While the state might gloat over and point to the Gross Enrolment Ratios (GER’s) as an indicator of its success, but it is a flawed metric to gauge and assess the quality of education. The problem is structural, pedagogic and philosophical.
Philosophical, the aim and premise of education is not only to render people literate or numerate but also develop the faculties and cognitive abilities of young people. Critical thinking, a reflective and curious mind, ability to hold and synthesise different views and articulate a sober point of view coupled or complemented by civic mindedness should, among other things, be the end goals of education.
Moreover, education should be both utilitarian and non-utilitarian – that it should be oriented towards general learning as well as vocational and professional endeavors. This assumes salience and poignancy in a world where rate of obsolescence of skills and skill sets occurs at a great and accelerating pace, to paraphrase, The Economist newspaper. To borrow from the same newspaper, what is needed nowadays is ‘life-long learning’.
But, unfortunately, the structures of education and instruction in Kashmir militate against both a vibrant learning – philosophically, procedurally and in terms of process – and the new paradigms of learning. The syllabus for various classes and at different levels is outdated and is structured in such a way that stultifies critical thinking and faculties encouraging rote learning. Learning is delinked from vocational training. This leads to, what is called ‘skills gap’ –rendering our young unprepared and unqualified to live a dignified life in the real world out there. This approach also creates over-qualified but skill-less youth who then fall by the way side.
There is then the issue of poor infrastructure. This problem is aggravated by the gap between supply and demand of skilled manpower in Kashmir. Demand for education is increasing by the day and it does not match with supply. Provision of education, being a public good, is under-resourced but more importantly is characterised by inefficiency of spending with the focus being on inputs and outputs rather than outcomes. Those, to borrow a phrase from an eminent management theorist at ‘The Bottom of the Pyramid’ – the unfortunate and the poor – are left at the mercy and sufferance of government-run schools which are defined by shoddy and poor physical infrastructure and teacher truancy, in most cases. Even if teacher truancy is not the issue in some cases, the quality of instruction is poor. The poor and the unfortunate then go through a ‘rite of passage’ until a certain point in time where practical demands of life intervene and they drop out from school.
The outdated philosophy of education, deep structural issues and bad pedagogy coalesce to conspire against needs of a good education in Kashmir. This has obvious implications and consequences on our human as well as social capital. A multi-tiered educational pool and a labor pool is created that neither has the skills nor aptitude to compete, nor participate in the global economy where there is a premium on skills – both hard and soft. Only the fortunate few, the elite who can afford good education outside the state or even overseas-can, to some extent, overcome these debilitating structural conditions.
The consequences of bad education are life-long. It leaves an imprint on individuals for the rest of their lives.
Identifying and diagnosing the ills of our education system is the easiest bit. The challenge lies in overcoming these and developing a paradigm that leads to the efflorescence of our youth and future generations. This is doable only if sincerity of purpose rather than political capital making is deployed.
The issue or the problem emanates from an interrelated set of conditions: political, policy and philosophical. A total philosophical revamp and reorientation of the nature of education could be the first and foremost step to attune our education system and recalibrate it to the demands of the modern world and the 21st century.
An emphasis on critical thinking and reflection, discouraging rote learning and total re-alignment of pedagogical methods and approaches should be the sine qua non of this approach. This calls for depoliticizing education by holding it as a pure public good and instituting new policy paradigms to orient our systems to modern, effective and efficient pedagogic methods.
Here we enter into the realm and domain of political economy. A prudent approach to render our education effective and efficient would entail synthesising the regulation and the markets in terms of the delivery of education. The key challenge here is to not to dilute the public good nature of education but accord sufficient latitude to markets – not in terms of supply of education but by the metric of demand. In combination and sync, the alignment of philosophy underpinning education, re-engineering the process and delivery of education, top down policy with inputs from bottoms up and a definite but vigorous role for regulation plus markets, accountability and monitoring of teachers and a revamp of infrastructure aided by modern technology can re-orient our educational system in tune with the demands of the 21st century knowledge economy.
More of the same, au contraire can only mean stagnation, morass and decrepitude. It is about time that we wake up to the problem staring us in the face and do something about it!