In a new milieu characterized by “life long learning” where the shelf life of degrees and formal education have inherent limitations and where employability is determined by “ on demand skills”, where does Kashmir or the educational infrastructure and system of Kashmir stand? Zilch is the sad answer. The reasons are multifarious. The predominant amongst these are outdated curriculum(s), very bad pedagogic methods and approaches and an educational system out of sync with the demands of the twenty first century. This has an ominous resonance for the future cohort of Kashmir- that is, the Gen Next of Kashmir- rendered more poignant and acute by the fact that most Kashmiris now view education as an avenue for upward mobility.
Socio-economic implications flow from the confluence of these factors and developments. First, if the demand for quality education exceeds supply(assuming for a moment that supply is of a good quality), there is going to be a mismatch both in terms of expectations and the provision of education. Second, again assuming that the extant infrastructure of education churns out educated young Kashmiris with degrees, where will they go, given that the absorptive capacity of the state is inherently limited and there inherent barriers to entrepreneurship in Kashmir? The rigidity of labor markets complemented by their limited scope and scale means the obvious: young Kashmiris will have to exit Kashmir to find meaningful employment.
But there is a downside here. The nature of this downside is that the educational system in Kashmir being ossified and outdated, the young cohort of Kashmiris with fancy degrees will be naturally un-employable in markets elsewhere. How is this conundrum to be resolved?
The answer may lie in total and comprehensive revamp of the educational system , infrastructure and architecture in Kashmir. But, yet again, this is not possible given the path dependence of institutions and legacies thereof. However, one solution or a quasi solution might lead the way out of the impasse. This could be in the nature of teacher training programs- right from the elementary, primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. Foreign expertise could, in this schema, be taken recourse to and weak spots identified in the education value chain and these be worked upon. This would, naturally also entail, a revamp of the curriculum(s) and adoption of new and modern pedagogic methods- all aligned to the demands and needs of both the global and the knowledge economy.
Implied in these approaches is a role for the private sector in educational provision. This may mean that education could be viewed and held to be a quasi public good. Key here would be accountability and oversight mechanisms of a multi-tiered nature which would ensure quality provision and delivery of education in Kashmir. Another important and thematic aspect to these policy innovations would be a new role for the state wherein it acts as an interface for connecting the new human capital with global and other allied markets. This would eliminate the role of middle men and thereby rent seeking and exploitation by these.
These are the least controversial approaches to developing and fine tuning Kashmir’s human and thereby social capital. Insofar as my experience with Kashmir’s pedagogic and academic elite is concerned, it has been disappointing. I would posit that we lack a fund of academic elite and administrators who can effectively and efficiently deliver. The way out of this could be to retrain the extant talent in these domains but this is fraught with difficulty given that retraining is difficult, time consuming and there is every possibility of resistance to these approaches. In lieu of this, we might render ourselves open to what a correspondent of mine has called “meritorious outsiders” who can be more effective till we develop a cadre of local academics and academic administrators. I understand that this suggestion might be met with cynicism and skepticism but given the paucity of choices as these obtain contemporarily, there might not be other feasible alternatives.
Human and the social capital that flows from this are the sine qua non of success in the dizzying scale and scope of change induced by profound structural changes in the 21st century. We cannot afford to be complacent in terms of the future of our young cohort. Paradigm shattering and shibboleth breaking approaches , in terms of Kashmir’s Gen Next, might have become an existential imperative for us. The time to act is now. Tomorrow might be too late!
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]