Education has been virtually outsourced to private tuition/ coaching centres in Kashmir, without any checks and balances
A few days ago I had to visit a local J&K Bank branch to replace my expired debit card with a new one. I had just driven a few kilometers from my home when I was caught in a traffic mess. First I thought it might be a usual traffic halt, common in our narrow streets, but I was wrong. As my wait for resumption of normal traffic kept lengthening, with no other route available, I was left with no option other than to leave my cosy car to know about the whys and wherefores behind the traffic mess. I had just walked a few steps from my car and I began to spot a huge crowd gathered on the road. I thought they might be protesting against the usual, electricity woes or water scarcity, but I was again proven wrong as I reached the Ground Zero.
I was astonished and literally felt numb after listening to the whole saga from the people who had gathered there to pacify the young boys involved in a fist fight. I came to know that a gang of young boys studying at a local coaching centre had a heated verbal scuffle over some issue, and to soothe the raw emotions of these young boys a local tuition teacher tried to intervene, but instead of listening to his advice, one of the boys in a state of rage hit the teacher. The situation had aggravated. The teacher who had tried to be part of the solution had become part of the problem himself. The situation could not have taken such an ugly turn had the local police intervened quickly. But the above situation is a microcosm of the bigger picture of the state of affairs prevalent in the valley’s coaching centres.
Back to my driving seat, I turned off the stereo to think some deeper thoughts on the growing decadence all around. I began to question where are we heading as a society? Has mental bankruptcy taken over our sanity? Why don’t the parents keep an eye on their ward’s doings? More importantly, why is our administration reluctant to keep a tab on things, such as these coaching centres which violate all the rules and regulations that an educational institution should observe. The truth is that most of the coaching centres function with impunity. The authorities have lost control over them and poor students have been left at the mercy of these money-minting enterprises. Beyond the mandatory registration, the authorities don’t put any more checks on these coaching centres. From poor location to poor infrastructure to poor teacher-student ratio, nothing is as it should be in these centres. There is no fixed fee policy and the coaching centres arbitrarily hike fees year after year. An even bigger problem is the manner in which these fees are collected. Instead of collecting the fees at the end of the course or month, students are made to deposit half the amount in advance, and in some cases the complete amount even before the coaching starts. Thus, there is no exit window left for students to quit in the middle if they feel they are not getting the quality coaching that was promised. There is no refund policy in these coaching centres.
Also, in a place like Kashmir one can’t be certain about the tomorrow, as we have been witnessing for the past decade in the form of summer unrest becoming a new normal in our routine. With schools closed for months in winters, education has been virtually outsourced by the government to these private players. Unfortunately, the poor can’t afford such private education and it becomes a privilege rather than a right.
The definition of education has so narrowed that it has been confined to completing the course on time. Teachers don’t try to inculcate good ethics and etiquettes in students, fearing if they prefer the stick over the carrot, they might end up losing their money resources in the form of students quitting. This they can’t afford as compromising on financial interest is not in their curriculum.
There are no restrictions on carrying smartphones inside classrooms. One often finds students more engaged with their smartphones than in their books. Students are arbitrarily added to WhatsApp groups created by subject teachers, which makes them soft targets of cyber bullying. It’s said that uniform brings uniformity in students and bridges the status gap between students belonging to different backgrounds. I am not advocating for separate uniform for tuitions like in schools, but I am pleading for a proper dress code in these centres. Students from poor backgrounds have become victims of inferiority complex in these private centres and end up forcing their financially constrained parents to provide them unaffordable luxuries. I might sound utopian but for the larger good of our society, we have to do something about these coaching centres.