Education is guaranteed by the Constitution but in Kashmir it continues to sink amid political turbulence. The major stakeholders in the education system in Kashmir are private schools, which often remain in news for one or the other reason. The latest news is worrisome.
When it comes to the quality of education, there is no denying that private schools are at par with and often better than government schools. People prefer private schools to government schools and spend hefty amounts on sending their wards to private educational institutions. They know that their children will get the best education there, in contrast to government schools, even though the latter provide free books, uniforms, stationery and mid-day meals and charge no tuition, admission or capitation fees. Even government school teachers prefer to enroll their children in private schools, which is proof enough that private schools are providing better education.
In Kashmir valley there are more than 2,700 private schools with around 7,00,000 students enrolled in them. The schools provide employment to about 65,000 teaching and non-teaching staff. Barring a few Srinagar-based elite private schools, all other private schools in far-off regions in south and north Kashmir have always remained at the receiving end of administrative hegemony. After the abrogation of Article 370 last year, the education department further tightened its noose around private educational institutions.
In south Kashmir’s Shopian district, the school owners were threatened to bear with the administration’s diktats and keep their institutions closed. An elementary school was sealed by the district Chief Education Officer for engaging students in normal classwork in November. Interestingly, at the same time, a few yards away a government school was functioning normally but failed to receive the officer’s attention. When the management of the private school resisted, they were forced to shut down.
Recently, on the official Facebook page of the Chief Education Officer Shopian, an unofficial communiqué was posted which was widely shared on social media. It said that only those families will be entitled to get BPL ration cards whose wards are enrolled in a government school.
In November, the Project Approval Board (PAB) – a unit of MHRD – revealed in a survey that the enrolment at elementary level in government-run schools in Jammu & Kashmir has decreased by 1.75 lakh in a year. To increase student enrollment in government schools, the education department started mass enrollment drives in villages and towns and claimed that about 87,700 new admissions were made in government schools. Most of these students had shifted from local private schools, a big achievement for the department. But on the other hand, private schools accused the government schools of ‘foul play’ in this move. “Without paying their outstanding dues in private schools, students who’ve migrated from private schools were admitted by government schools without taking discharge certificates and other credentials into consideration which is illegal and against the statutes,” said a private school teacher.
GN War, president of the Private Schools Association in Kashmir, said that some 300 to 350 local private schools were closed in the past couple of years and if the stringent government policies remain unchanged and harassment continues, all the financially sound private schools will be forced to shut and it will ruin the future of lakhs of students and thousands of teachers. “It’s for the first time in the history of Kashmir that private educational institutions are being raided, school management threatened and humiliated, schools locked up, as if providing education is illegal and a big sin,” War said.
Due to the indefinite shutdown of schools since August 5, 2019, in Kashmir, parents failed to pay the fee of their children, as a result of which most private schools came under heavy financial stress and in some cases they are on the verge of closure. Those who’ve made big investments in their schools are facing the worst.
A private school owner commented: “Every second day, an order is being released against us. A Zonal Education officer just released a list mentioning over 70 schools as defaulters without citing any valid reason. This constant harassment is injuring our reputation among the general public.”
Another private school owner said, “Either it’s a conspiracy to sabotage the standard of education or to pave way for outsiders who will be provided land and resources to open schools here.”
Attempts are being made to hijack private schools in Kashmir. Their owners are being harassed by the authorities in one way or the other. Under such circumstances it has become very tough for the owners to run their institutes smoothly.
In this situation when private schools, which are known for quality education, are about to collapse, it becomes the obligation of the state to provide them assistance and prevent this important sector from sinking. The least the government can do is to stop harassing, intimidating, humiliating and treating the private school owners and teachers as criminals and instead focus on reforming the sinking system. The government should also take some measures to make government schools accountable, responsible, and efficient for the larger good.
—The writer is a student at School of Law, Kashmir University. [email protected]