The Jammu and Kashmir government, in a recently released ‘JK Vision Document 2047’, has identified Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers as a ‘threat’ to the School Education Department. In the SWOT analysis, this entire chunk of 36,000 teachers has been claimed to be unqualified for achieving the targets set in the ‘Vision Document 2047’. ‘The Vision Document 2047’ claims, “36,000 Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers without the desired qualification have been regularized.” The other statement remarks, “This entire chunk of Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers lacks the art of teaching necessary for achieving the targets set in the document for 2047.” The above statements make sweeping generalizations about the entire 36,000 teachers without an exception; that is, not even a single teacher in this category has the requisite qualification or the art necessary for the teaching profession.
The Rehbar-e-Taleem (ReT) scheme was launched in Jammu and Kashmir in 2000 to meet the requirements of teachers in primary and middle schools in inaccessible and far-flung areas where teachers posted from other places were ordinarily reluctant to serve. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and ‘Universalisation of Elementary Education’ necessitated opening new Primary and Middle schools at every nook and corner of the state to provide accessible education to every child at their doorsteps. The teaching pool needed to fulfill the purported objective of universal enrollment was sought to be taken from educated people from the local area. In each new school, candidates with the highest qualification from the local area were engaged in the school, who in some cases happened to be postgraduates, trained graduates, graduates, or, in some cases, undergraduates. However, the minimum qualification required for induction into the teaching profession as a Rehbar-e-Taleem teacher was the same as what had been ordinarily prescribed for a General line teacher.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the selection of both General line teachers and Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers has largely been the same; that is, purely on the basis of academic qualification and without any entrance test. The induction of Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers was purely done on the basis of merit. The difference is that the area of choice was narrower in the case of the recruitment of Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers. A fairly good number of young boys and girls with promising academic and career prospects entered the department on a meagre monthly remuneration of 1500 Rupees on the promise of getting regularized after putting five years of satisfactory service on a contractual basis. Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers made the delivery of education possible to the doorsteps of the children from geographically remotest and most inaccessible areas of Jammu and Kashmir. These teachers have played a pivotal role in enhancing enrollment rates, reducing dropouts, and ensuring that education reaches the grassroots level in remote areas. Their dedication and efforts have made a significant impact on the education sector in Jammu and Kashmir.
All this did not come without a cost. Some of the highly intelligent, talented, and academically promising had to forgo prosperous and highly rewarding careers that existed beyond classrooms wherein they spent the most formative years of their life. In addition to being socially stigmatized, they often came as handy scapegoats to successive governments to cover up their own policy failures.
In 2018, when the Jammu and Kashmir State Administrative Council took the decision of transitioning Regularized Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers into Grade II, the policy formulated clearly laid down that the qualification requirements and all other service conditions of Grade II teachers would be the same as General line teachers. It was only after ascertaining the qualification in respect of each Rehbar-e-Taleem teacher that the transition was finally effected. As things stand now, around ninety percent of Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers have acquired the desired or above-desired qualifications and professional training degrees besides invaluable experience in the art of classroom instruction over the years of professional service. It is ironic that the claims made in the document haven’t been based on any serious statistics on the qualification of Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers despite relevant data being just a few mouse clicks or keystrokes away. The fact of the matter is that there are both competent and incompetent personnel among all categories of teachers, and this labelling of one entire class of 36,000 teachers as incompetent is an oversimplification that fails to recognize the competence that exists within all categories of teachers.
It is important to acknowledge that competence and qualification are not solely determined by formal degrees or certifications. Teaching is a multifaceted profession that requires a combination of knowledge, skills, experience, and dedication. While it is crucial to ensure that teachers possess the necessary qualifications, it is equally important to recognize the valuable contributions made by teachers who have gained expertise through practical experience and ongoing professional development.
Branding a significant number of teachers as incompetent without a comprehensive evaluation may perpetuate biases and stereotypes. Such generalizations fail to consider the individual strengths, abilities, and dedication that many Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers bring to the classroom, and through this demoralizing generalization, the document undermines the potential of these teachers to contribute positively to the education system. A more comprehensive approach would involve recognizing and harnessing the competence that exists across all categories of teachers.
Instead of labelling teachers based on unfounded perceptions and assumptions, efforts should be directed towards providing opportunities for professional development, training, and mentorship to enhance the skills and knowledge of all classes of teachers. The authorities should focus on investing in their professional development to help bridge the gap if any while capitalizing on their practical experience and dedication to teaching.
The views expressed by the writer, a school teacher, are his own. He can be reached at [email protected].