Books not Bullets

Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’

Jammu & Kashmir has witnessed more than three decades of proxy war, violence and suffered irreparable damage in all domains of human life. The most adversely affected amongst all sections of society has been the children and youth of the region. Young minds who were supposed to be aspirational, educated, skilled and equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century weteinitiated into violence, terrorism, indoctrination and anti-national sentiments.
On the historic day of 5th August 2019 came a paradigm shift in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. The newly carved out union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh opened new avenues and plethora of opportunity for the people of the disturbed region. Before 5th August 2019, burning of schools and educational institutions was a ritual and matter of pride. Depriving the students access to quality education was part of a plan for executing the nefarious designs of separatists group. In the last year, it has been heartening to see that news of the burning of schools and educational institutions have just evaporated. Children, Teacher and Education Departments are ecstatic to shoulder new responsibilities in the new environment. The education ecosystem in State and Centre has taken the challenges to turn into an opportunity by ensuring quality, equity and access in education to the last childin Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Within a few weeks of newly formed Union Territory, as Union minister of Education, I got an opportunity to interact with more than 1500 teachers and educationists during my visit to Kashmir. People of Valley were very warm and welcoming in their approach to the newly created Union Territory and showed their utmost faith in government’s policies and commitment to implement development centric strategies in the Valley. It is the sheer commitment of teachers, Education Department and administrative machinery of Union Territories that ensured that academic year of students is not wasted despite inevitable lockdown and demographic challenges. During my interaction with Vice Chancellors, Head of the educational institutions, teachers, parents, one everyday thing that emerged out of multi-layered discussions and suggestions was “enough is enough”. There was unanimity on getting into the mainstream of the Nation and move on the developmental path and discarding the decades-old outdated, orthodox and regressive ideologies. Only education can transform and shape the future of our generations.
Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has regularly reviewed several projects about newly formed UTs in last one year. Approval for Central University in Ladakh has been granted in tune with the commitment made to the people of Hilly region. This university will be a landmark in providing quality education to the students of not only the Ladakhregion but also the border districts of Himachal Pradesh. The university campus will also have a Centre for Buddhist students to fulfil the demand of local populace. To ensure Universalisation of education, Right to Education 2009 extended to Jammu and Kashmir is in its final stage for providing comprehensive and quality education at the doorstep to all school children. Till date, the students of the state were denied such fundamental access to get an education. Capacity building of education infrastructure in Jammu-Kashmir is another focus area along with large scale curriculum reforms, teachers training, infrastructure up-gradation and integration of education technology. The up-gradation is being undertaken on a war footing. The government is committed to the people of the region, and all possible measures are being taken to ensure that no children are left out from access to quality education. 23405 children with special needs have been identified and being enrolled in students in school. 1417 seasonal Centers for learning have been set up to provide training to children of Gujjar and Bakkarwals owing to peculiar migrant lifestyle. 88 Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya along with girls’ hostel, are being made functional at an unprecedented pace. Fifty new government Degree Colleges in Jammu and Kashmir were sanctioned and made operational for ensuring access and equity of educational facility across the Union Territory. Nineteen new modern schools on the pattern of Kendriya Vidyalaya shall be developed during the next three years. Upgradation of smart/IT-enabled classrooms for delivering of e-content has begun to fill the vacuum in Post-COVID scenario. Jammu and Kashmir Education Investment Policy 2020 has been framed and finalised for early implementation. Already projects worthrupeed 327 crores for high-tech education city, college/universities have been received by the Administration. It is indeed a new beginning in the history of the violence-torn region.
With the arrival of NEP 2020, the Union Ministry of Education is committed to make India a global knowledge at a face pace with a focus on basic literary numeracy, vocational skills. Union Ministry of Education will ensure that children of Jammu and Kashmir are not deprived of the opportunities to learn, get skilled and rise in their life and career. With Prime Minister’s vision of Aatm Nirbhar Bharat, the government is fully committed to ensuring that developmental agenda in both the Union Territories should not be derailed at any cost. I firmly believe education is the best gift we can give to our generations. Quality education is the best investment which will pay us the dividends to our future generations to come. NEP 2020 is just the beginning of this transformation.

—Author is Union Minister for Education in Government of India

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