Education and the department of education are always hot news in Kashmir. In recent days, there have been three trending topics with regard to education and the education department in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. These three topics are:
a) Why the teacher in a government school is a parent in a private school?
b) The enrolment drive by the department of school education and the hype related to it.
c) The rumour that parents whose wards are in private schools may lose the BPL (Below Poverty Line) Ration Card and associated benefits.
Let us talk about the first topic first. There is a big brigade in the valley that is of the opinion that the condition of government schools is worsening by the day because the teachers there are enrolling their wards in private schools, hence not taking pains to teach. This brigade is now propagating the proposal that government employees who are working as teachers in government schools ought to admit their wards in government schools, as it is their moral obligation.
Before making any judgement, this brigade must know that the teachers are in the education department because they deserve to be there. People should first understand the process of recruitment of teachers and the degrees they have on the basis of which they are selected. Their job is not a favour which the government is bestowing on them in lieu of which the teachers have to enrol their wards in government schools. It is not a give-and-take business. The teachers are just employees like the employees of other departments, who are actually selling their services and against the services they are receiving a salary.
The teachers in our part of the world are the most underpaid of workers. Teaching is the most difficult job in the entire world. To create human resource, one needs craft, passion, courage, dedication and will. In the actual process the teachers are not workers but artists who are designing and shaping the future of the country.
It is and always must be the free will of the teacher to enrol his or her child in the school of his/ her choice without any pressure. The teachers, too, must understand that it is their duty to be concerned and faithful to their profession and have to work hard to promote the quality of education given to all those who are enrolled in their schools. There are enough examples in the department which need to be followed for the promotion of good and quality education. The education sector is very crucial and there is hardly any scope for compromise.
The second topic which has also been much discussed in social media is the enrolment drive. Under this drive, the directorate of school education Kashmir started a campaign in which a good number of new students were enrolled in government schools. On social media, the government school teachers made every attempt to support this process and sometimes even defamed private schools in their over enthusiasm. They made huge claims of the facilities available in government schools and the dedication and qualifications of the staff working there.
It is the professional ethic of the teacher working in the government school to work and support the enrolment drive, especially for students who are not enrolled anywhere and are willing to educate themselves. Elementary education is a fundamental right and no child should be deprived of it. We hope that all these new students along with all those who were already there may get the promised quality education from the highly qualified teachers with best degrees and all necessary trainings. But to discourage or defame private schools is not a professional ethic. It is good to have both government as well as private schools working side by side. It encourages competition and competition is always good for a healthy society.
The third topic was regarding those parents whose wards are in private schools but who are BPL card holders. A few days back, social media was abuzz with the news that “All those whose wards are in private schools may lose their BPL status”. A lot of people, many among them were government school teachers, shared this news without any confirmation, thereby creating confusion among many parents. I tried my best to get authentic news of any official order from the UT administration about this but in vain. At last I came upon information that it was a village panchayat decision taken in Himachal Pradesh in 2019, which is nowhere related to Jammu and Kashmir.
It was actually Sikander Rana, the Pradhan of the Pander Panchayat in Nurpur area of Himachal Pradesh, who came up with the idea that if someone can afford to educate their child at a private school, then they should not be entitled to facilities extended by the government for those living below poverty line (BPL). Rana issued a warning in April 2019 that “Those parents whose children are in private schools could lose the status (BPL) and subsequent benefits.”
The Panchayat decision was totally unrealistic, authoritarian, coercive, and biased. The government cannot deny its citizens their rights by prioritising one over the other. The Constitution of India declares India to be a “Socialist” country and by socialist we mean that the government will try its best to uplift the downtrodden and to minimise the gap between the rich and the poor. Under the philosophy of socialism, the rich are taxed so that the poor may get benefits under different social welfare schemes.
The government is bound to provide basic and necessary services to its people, like education, health and food security, so that they may have every opportunity available for their welfare and development. The concept of basic necessities of human life has widened with the passage of time. In traditional times, there used to be only three basic needs — food, shelter and clothing, but now more needs have been included in this category such as health, education, drinking water, roads and electricity. It is the prime responsibility of the government of the day to provide all these necessities so that the people may live a decent human life. It has been found that if one of the above mentioned needs is denied, the whole formula goes out of the track and becomes useless.
It is not possible for a modern democratic government to issue a directive like this under which only one option is provided, that is, to choose one among the two basic needs – the fundamental right of education or the basic need of bread or we can say food security.
It would be total injustice to all those parents who work very hard to provide the education of their choice to their loved ones but are in the category of BPL. It is their individual freedom ensured by the fundamental law of the land and it must be respected at any cost.
Thus, it becomes imperative for the government, if it is really concerned for the welfare of its less privileged people, to do away with coercive measures and instead initiate certain reforms which are more academic and administrative in nature, like changes in syllabus, better infrastructure, modern laboratories, digital libraries, sufficient staff, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, accountability, and strict academic calendar in government schools. If followed in good faith, these measures will improve the government schools and not only BPL ration card holders but also APL ration card holders will enrol their wards in these schools.
The writer is a social activist. firstname.lastname@example.org