Srinagar: In a recent report, Jammu & Kashmir was ranked second in education sector. In this survey the states across country were judged on parameters including average student to class room ratio, transition rate from primary to upper primary, number of girls enrolled in primary, pupil teacher ratio, dropout rate, number of schools and colleges per lakh population. But the threshold of education is neither the enrollment rate nor the number of schools. Rather, it is about forming individuals and helping them to acquire skills which enable them to better contribute to society. Skills that create new industries, add value to resources, spurt growth, expand the economic pie and make them the productive members of society. Without these skills, education is kind of futile.
The government school education system in our state has failed and does not give our children even the basic education–reading, writing, comprehension and math skills. It continues to produce a workforce that is unproductive, not fit for the market, and unprepared for higher education or skill development. On the other side a part of private sector represented by some ‘elite’ schools is largely exploitative and derives its life from the very failure of government school system. If there is still some verve in our education system, it is because of the low cost, semi-urban private education sector in the state.
Under the present policies we have lost focus on what education is supposed to be. Our policies are concentrated on everything except what goes on in the school itself. We have spent and we continue to spend thousands of crores of rupees into building school infrastructure. Flagship program of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has not only failed to achieve its goals but through this scheme the access to schools has been overdone and the outcomes have actually deteriorated. The SSA funds have been used to add infrastructure, new schools and classrooms, to recruit more teachers and to provide incentives to students to come to schools. It has ensured growth of suppliers, contractors, politicians, administrators and everyone except the poor child. Our failure has only grown as we built more and more schools. Many schools that are constructed under this scheme do not have basic amenities like drinking water, toilets for boys and girls, benches/desks, proper blackboards etc. Forget about smart classrooms, at many places the classes are conducted under tree-shade. The teacher-student ratio has gone as low as 16, yet we easily find in many schools a single teacher taking all classes from 1 to 5. That is the level of our educational planning in 21st century of smart age.
The public spending on our education sector is huge even when it does not match the international standards. One is only astonished with the fact that creation and maintenance of infrastructure, textbooks, uniforms and scholarships, mid day meals, curriculum design, academic support to schools, administration and regulation etc. apart, the public spending on the teacher salaries alone is more than Rs. 32,000 per child per annum in the government education system of J&K state. On the other hand the meager and exploitative teacher salaries in our private school system are not unknown to us. In spite of the staggering salary differential, there is an opposite observed learning differential between government and private schools. Does it concern anyone of us? Should not there be positive correlation between public expenditure per student and the learning outcomes? Doesn’t it call for a social audit? When we are paying government school teachers much more than private school teachers, even more than all the ‘elite’ schools in State, we need to demand the quality that our children deserve.
The most underprivileged children of our society are provided with education by the government only on papers. The monumental failure can be gauged from the fact that couple of decades back the private tuition was reserved for a privileged few who were academically not so bright and was largely confined to one or two subjects. Over the years it has become an integral part of formal education system and is fast acquiring the status of a parallel schooling system. There are many compelling and not so compelling factors for the rise of private coaching system in parallel to the formal schooling system. Frequent disturbances are some of the compelling factors. In the events of disturbance, it is again the government school children who bear the maximum brunt. Their more fortunate colleagues in private schools are little affected by such disruptions for they have paid and secure transport facility and also the privilege to go to private tuition centers or hire private tutors.
Unfortunately the growing culture of private tuition is primarily a manifestation of parents’ dissatisfaction with the performance of the private schools. This new found tradition is visible in almost all big and small towns of the state. Mostly the parents of school children in private schools escort their children around tuition centers in their mission to ‘educate’ their children, least understanding that they end up paying on three accounts. One, paying tax to fund the government education system where their children don’t read; two, paying tuition fee to the private schools for their own children and three, for their tuition fee of their children. On the other hand the Government school students are literally abandoned by the government and their own teachers, while their parents do not afford private tuitions. For them the school system simply doesn’t work. The end result is an unassailable disparity between these two groups of students and society.
Our state cabinet recently announced creation of more teacher posts and up-gradation of some schools. Why do we still believe that the failure of existing teachers would be rectified by adding more of them? Let’s not keep expanding a failed system. Expansion does not always turn a failure into success and big is not always beautiful. We must try bold, innovative and more importantly apolitical solutions to improve the existing system. The focus needs to be on consolidation, teaching and quality education. We need to focus on outcomes even if that happens by decreasing the number of schools. Rather than lots of small schools, we can make some big ones with enough staff and provide quality transportation for village clusters. We can begin with creating a cluster in each educational zone. It would give children the opportunity to explore their neighborhood better, give teachers more respect and further improve the teacher-child ratio allowing more individual attention to the child. It will also provide a better teaching-learning environment, the key ingredient for quality education.
The present government has started many reformative interventions in education sector like IT enabled education, cluster monitoring system, winter-schooling, coaching for competitive exams and focus on cultural and extra-curricular activities and etc. If these reformative measures are sincerely continued and reinforced, this is what could give impetus to the quality education in the state