Let me start with a quote of Riyadh us-Saleheen: “One who treads the path of knowledge has his path to paradise made easy by God.” Education is the fundamental right of everyone. According to Islam, acquiring of knowledge has been made compulsory by Almighty Allah for both men and women. A few days ago when I was reading a book at my home, my ears perceived an unusual sound: ‘Mufut Daakhila, Mufut Daakhila’ (Free admission, Free admission). It was unusual because it was happening for the first time. So far only private schools ran admission campaigns by gluing advertisements on walls, electric poles, shutters of shops, and even on the notice boards of mosques. Now government school students were chanting slogans holding placards in their hands and were marching on roads, and teachers were with them. It was then that I learnt of the initiative taken up by the Department of School Education Kashmir (DSEK). It was an enrollment drive, a campaign to enroll more students to government schools.
The DSEK is trying to keep its head above water by rejuvenating the admission process. It is requesting the general public to enroll their wards to government schools instead of private schools. If there’s free admission in government schools, why do parents desist from admitting their wards in government schools? Why are people paying lakhs as admission fee and monthly fee in private schools if their wards could study in government schools for free and also have mid day meals and free books and uniforms? It is to bridge this credibility/ trust gap between people and government schools that the Education Department is now on the toes, but is it yielding any results?
Student enrollment has long been on the decline in government schools in Jammu and Kashmir. Despite the government’s claims of organising enrolment drives in villages and towns, the number of students in the government elementary schools in Jammu and Kashmir decreased by 1.75 lakh in the year 2019-20. According to a Project Approval Board (PAB) meeting chaired by Secretary Education and Literacy in the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in June, the J&K School Education department has fared poorly on retention rate at primary, upper primary and secondary-level classes. The PAB meeting “Samagra Shiksha” was convened to consider the annual work plan and budget (AWP&B) 202O-21 for Jammu and Kashmir. As per the minutes of the meeting, the total enrolment decline across classes was nearly 1.75 lakh in 2019-20.
Besides poor enrollment, the retention rate in government schools is also low, with only 60% at elementary level and 50% at secondary level. The government schools, particularly up to elementary level, are witnessing downfall in enrollment mainly due to lack of basic facilities in schools, for which the department gets separate grants from the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) every year. The MHRD has stated that the annual average dropout rate of Muslim students in Jammu and Kashmir is high at all levels (elementary and secondary). “Annual average dropout rate of Muslim students is 14.30% at primary level, 13.10% at upper primary, 23.70% at secondary level and 26% at higher-secondary level,” the official document reads.
There are also government schools across Jammu and Kashmir that have zero student enrollment. The Government of India is allocating thousands of crores of rupees for the improvement of education in the country but everything is going in vain. No one is bothered about decreasing student enrolment in government schools. Apart from a few, all government schools show low or moderate academic achievement in the board exams.
What prevents government school teachers from admitting their wards in government schools? Why do they send their own wards to private schools? It seems that they know well that they aren’t providing quality education to students. The government is paying hefty salaries to teachers but it is not yielding academic results like at private schools, where teachers are paid not more than eight-thousand rupees a month. There is much more accountability and credibility in private schools than there is in government schools. Some of the private schools do not even have their own building if we talk about infrastructure, but they still come up with far better results than government schools.
The utmost guarantee that government school teachers can give is to admit their wards to government schools, so that other people would trust them and follow their lead. However, government school teachers are involved in private coaching centres at mega scale, even though it has been barred by the government. Department circulars fall on deaf ears. Why are teachers forcing students to join their respective coaching centres instead of teaching them with the same dedication at schools, especially when they are drawing hefty salaries from the government? The quality of education in government schools has declined drastically even though the best teachers are available.
One reason for the under-par performance of government school teachers is that they have always been deployed for administration works like election duties and Aadhar card enrolments. In recent years they were deployed for Covid duties as well, a work they neither are meant for nor should be assigned to. Instead of reducing this extra burden on the shoulders of teachers, now the government is planning to merge schools and analyse teacher-student ratio. What is the purpose of that when only destitute students are reading in government schools because of the poor quality of education provided there. We hope that the enrollment drive would bring some positives changes. Perhaps a day will come when a private school teacher would be a parent at a government school, not vice versa.
—The writer is a DMLT student. firstname.lastname@example.org