GK: With your experience and insight, where are we headed, post 2020, in school education, in particular?
MR: I wouldn’t over-buy into NEP 2020. For, proof of the pudding is in the eating. Much would depend on the implementation of it. Right from 1968, if not before, you have had so many of policy formulations, resolutions and Commissions. The 1986 Education Policy in particular that has led us thus far; and the National Curriculum Framework (NCF 2005). The new NCF under NEP is yet to arrive. That said, I’m inclined to look at NEP 2020 as a potentially “liberating document” on some of its basics—breaking barriers to freedom in education and mapping out pathways to a whole new agenda of change.
GK: How exactly would that happen?
MR: A core strength of NEP 2020 stems from a direct nexus it bears to the SDG (sustainable development goals) of securing “inclusive and equitable quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all”. An entire education system is sought to be restructured to be supportive of fostering learning, more than the content. Learning to learn to be a key factor.
GK: Would you elaborate?
MR: DAKAR Declaration of 2000 made at the World Education Forum, under the aegis of UNESCO. The ‘Education for All’ movement, the right of children, youth and adults to education and, by now universally acknowledged, four main goals of Education : Learning to know, Learning to be , Learning to do, and Learning to live together. Many countries, across the globe, may have done so well on these and other cores. But, the most important one of ‘learning to live together’, would seem to elude us. A single largest failure of education systems anywhere, as it were. You could perhaps have a different world view altogether if only the education systems were capable of delivering on that!
GK: On the right to education, how comfortably are we placed, now that the RTE Act is applicable here?
MR: On the right to, and rights in, education, J&K’s has been a trajectory better than many other parts of the country. A strong foundational and legal framework predicated on the Primary Education Act 1935, ‘Nayak Kashmir’ Vision (1944), Section 21 of the ( erstwhile) J&K Constitution, J&K Board of School Education Act (1975), J&K School Education Acts of 1984 and 2002, et al. The Central law — “ Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education Act” moves far beyond. Adds up so much of vigour, value and wisdom. From a ‘ legal right’, access to education becomes a ‘fundament right’ under the Constitution of India. And, flowing from that, a whole regime of rights, resources and supporting services.
GK: How far has it impacted the educational landscape?
MR: Not at all! The irony is four long years gone by since it was extended and the RTE Act is yet to come into force on ground. Reason: You have to have Rules under the Act to enable actual implementation. Shouldn’t four years be long enough for such Rules to have come up?
GK : Private Schools have, of late, been up in public discourse with contrarian views galore. Your take?
MR: Complementary, not Contrarian, should define the equation, in my estimation. Primacy of public education is there to stay. Nonetheless, private sector in Education is there for real, and in all its forms and manifestations— good, bad, ugly. On the whole, it aggregates to a value addition to the educational landscape. Recall J&K of 1990s when public education was on the brink of collapse. They sprang up as saviours, small and sporadic, doing their bit against heavy odds . The long and short of it is a considerable contribution they are making, on the whole.
GK: How w’d you account for an apparent unease in their relationship with the regulators?
MR: A communication deficit on either side. Let me try put it in perspective.You need an institutionalised reach-out to stakeholders, particularly educationists, teachers and researchers. There is no “School Education Advisory Board” in place even as it’s a mandatory requirement under law. Likewise, the “Board” as provided under J&K BoSE Act is yet to be reconstituted. The FFRC has never inducted any from academia or from the Private sector as such. The Private Schools’ share in enrollment hovers around 40--45 % of the total enrollment. And it’s on the ascend. How’s it, inspite of a record investment of capital, technology and other resources? It can’t be for nothing. Good if the Government were to scout for reasons. Why not commission a study? Never too late.
GK: Where is the confusion and why?
MR: Right at the basics. Everything under the sun comes at a price. Education, you want it to be “charitable ‘’. How come? HealthCare precedes Education in order of priority. Is that charitable? Look at the contemporary scenario. Corporates, one after the other, making their entry. How often do you see the regulators’ presence (or should I say interference) out there? Yes, there are judgements from the apex and other Hon’ble Courts against “commercialisation of education “. Fair enough. Education can’t be reduced to a commodity, a merchandise like any other. That’s the bottomline. But, then, you have judgements favouring a ‘free hand’ to Private Schools not in receipt of any grant-in-aid, or any other support, to ‘ run their affairs”.
GK : So how do we handle such a conflict?
MR : Look at the national level. You have been hearing of FDI in education. May be only a matter of time. You have begun allowing select foreign universities operate in the country, subject of course to certain regulation and control. Is that “charitable” or business operations?Back home, take a look at the J&K INDUSTRIAL POLICY 2021 notified by the government on 19th April 2021. The Policy is aimed at “creating a conducive eco system for industry to attract investment in focus sectors” including “service activities in Education, Tourism, Health, Information Technology and Skilling”. Besides, Education and Skill Development come to be on the “Positive list of services” eligible for various aids and incentives. Is all that “charitable” ?
GK: What exactly would that mean?
MR: A contradiction at the core of it all. You have “Education and Skill development” as an industrial activity, in the service sector, that’s sought to be promoted under the Industrial Policy. On the other end, you look at Education as “charitable” in character, not admitting of entrepreneurial potential. Time perhaps the Government took a hard look at it and ironed out the conflict in the “charitable” and “ entrepreneurial” perspectives. Alongside, need an informed public discourse to help catalyse evolution of a new policy regimen, bereft of bias either way, and in sync with a futuristic perspective.
GK : Fee Fixation is another vexatious area?
MR : Need to come out of fixations, if any. As a thumb rule, “one-size-&-scheme for all” will just not do. You have a diverse matrix of schools with a dynamics of their own. The FFRC would have to re-discover its role if only to enhance its own relevance. All eyes are set on the new Chairman, Justice (rtd) Sunil Hali. That said, the FFRC would deserve a wherewithal to be able to go professional. What good would you expect of the Committee in absence of a bare minimum supportive sub-structure. They don’t even have a Chartered/Cost Accountant, a Financial/Data Analyst. It can’t wave a magic wand and present you solutions for the asking. Then the Private Schools. They don’t have to play hide and seek with law and regulations, as some would allege. I do not know if any of them, even the elite ones, go public on their financials. Also, they need to be reminded of what NEP 2020 would require of them in terms of “voluntary disclosure”.
GK: Why are only Trusts and Societies allowed to run Private Schools?
MR: That’s a misnomer, a misgiving. If I recall that right, J&K School Education Act’2002 allows individuals too. For most part, Private Schools are owned-and-managed by “family Trusts”. No wonder, in a space claimed by “Trusts” you get to see a lot of mist and mistrust around.
GK: As Chairman MET J&K where do you see the future of the Trust?
MR: MET is on the move, experiencing a turn-around. A historic institution founded by (Late) Prof G. R. Bacha in 1968 has had a pan-J&K presence. And then a descent for reasons too well known. On a reach-out by the lone surviving Trustee Mr Gulam Hasan Bacha, the Board of Trustees came to be reconstituted in Oct 2021. With that evolves a new avatar, a new journey of MET on a continuum of revamp and reform. From a “ family Trust” MET has converted to an “Irrevocable Public Trust” with a legal framework that guaranteed community ownership of the Trust, on the one hand, and effective participation in decision-making, on the other. An ambitious Transformation Plan is in place with professional support from Thinksite Services Pvt Ltd (TSPL), a premier educational consultancy in the town. An anchor alway on the right side has been their Head, Mr Shabir A. Handoo. MET also has an Advisory Council of eminent including Mr G. R. Sufi, Prof Tej Pratap (former VC SKUAST), Prof M. A. Charoo, Dr Farooq Ahmad Kaloo, Raouf-ul-Hasan, IPS(rtd), Aijaz Kakroo and Masharib Gul Mufti (ITS).
GK : How do you go about funding such a turn-around?
MR : Things get going as ‘community ownership’ sinks in with the civil society at large. MET is legally compliant on all counts, has opened up to all irrespective of caste, creed, religion or region. We look at education and societal empowerment as a collective undertaking. Happily there’s an outpouring of support across the spectrum.
GK: Only last week, a complaint was doing rounds on social media about alleged land grab at an MET School?
MR: Rest assured, the allegation was unfounded, to say the least. An official probe/report bares it all. MET, you know, is one of the oldest Educational Trusts in J&K, has had a rich history and is firmly perched to fend off any sleaze or spanner from any quarter. It is not a ‘Khap Panchayat’ to be amenable to whims or caprice of any. Every process is institutionalised and every constituent of the Trust duly accountable.