Focused and time bound initiatives are needed to reform our education system
Being one of the most dominant instrument for reducing poverty and inequality of society, education is central to the socio-economic and socio-cultural development of our society. Quality education is also necessary to provide vital knowledge and skills mandatory for sustained economic growth and overall progress. The same stands true for developing states like J&K.
The education system in India generally follow the 8+2+2+3 pattern, which provides for eight years of elementary education, two years each of secondary and senior secondary schooling, and three years of university education. Within this structure, each state independently determines the number of grades constituting elementary and secondary education.
In most states the first ten years of schooling are expected to provide general education without differentiation into arts, science, and vocational streams. According to Secondary Education Commission Report (1952) and Report of Education Commission (1964-66), Elementary Education aims to develop literacy and numeracy, acquaintance with the social and physical environment, creative expression and healthy living.
Secondary Education aims to develop the intellectual, social, and moral qualities essential for democratic citizenship, and to prepare young people for entry into the world of work or for continuation of academic pursuits. Senior Secondary Education is mainly for university preparation, and separates students into separate streams for arts, sciences, commerce, etc., having sub-groups within the various streams.
J&K state due to its peculiar geographical features poses a special challenge for its development and economic development with the result the state represents one of the under developed states of the country. Since education is central to the socio-economic and socio-cultural development, the growth and development of this critical sector needs special consideration and priority.
Over the years the state has made considerable expansion in improving the educational standards and facilities and equalization of educational opportunities by various initiatives including introduction of various new programme interventions/schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL), Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), Beti Anmol, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiskshiya Abhiyaan (RMSA), Saakshar Bharat Mission Programme, etc, yet the quality parameters could not be maintained. There are still many challenges and obstructions which drastically affect the quality and standard of education. As per Census 2011, the overall literacy rate of J&K state stands at 68.74%, in which 78.26% were male and 58.01% female. During the decade 2001-2011, literacy rate increased from 55.50% to 68.74% in the State as against 64.84% to 74.04% at the national level.
Few discrepancies, challenges and suggestions with particular reference to School Education are briefly highlighted below.
Some of the challenges include poor infrastructure, poor access to resources, inefficient teaching methodologies, scattered career counseling and awareness programmes, especially at senior secondary level
Inadequacy in standardizing the quality of teaching, antagonistic eligibility criteria in recruitments, inept and time consuming recruitment procedures, meager interaction between science and society, fewer options for science graduates due to less intake capacity within the state.
Scanty job opportunities, less stress on Ethics and Value Based and Moral Education, less number of higher educational institutions in the rural areas, scarce research graduates, shabby coordination among various departments/agencies dealing with educational set-up, less focus on extracurricular activities, politicization of transfers, exclusively handling of administrative assignments by teachers especially in the middle of their careers, scattered skill development at school level, dropout/retention issues, less focus on differently-abled groups, etc.
There is lack of effective quality assurance mechanism at the secondary level, for government, aided, and unaided schools.
The politicization of transfers has enormous implications for teacher motivation and morale. Many teachers including RETs (whose positions are usually non-transferable) are working in other districts only because of political and administrative interventions resulting in violation of rules and regulations which ultimately hampers quality assurance and maintenance. Further, when transfers are forced in the middle of the school year, with no replacement for the rest of the year, there is distraction in teaching and learning process.
Teacher recruitment forms the most key management issue in the education sector since teacher salaries consume the largest share of education budgets. Thus the quality of teaching is vital to help students excel in their studies.
Measures to handle these challenges include:
Having at least minimum basic infrastructure in every institution which also includes separate school building with proper sanitation facilities (many schools still function in rented buildings)
Subject specific teachers at secondary and higher secondary levels
Proper career counseling and awareness programmes especially at higher secondary level
Discouraging the practice of deputation of teachers (at-least for first 10 years of service) to handle administrative assignments (except career advancement cases)
Enhancing intake capacity in science streams by introducing science subjects at colleges or in other universities
Conducting workshops, seminars, discussions, brainstorming etc on teaching methodologies, examination and evaluation system, careers, etc. on regular basis at district levels
Proper dissemination of information with regards to course content, videos/soft copies of lectures/books/articles especially in rural and inaccessible areas with support from Information Technology Tools
Proper lab facilities including up-gradation of existing ones
Introduction of new subjects/courses with proper job avenues
Upgrading the syllabi with due focus on moral and ethical aspects of currently offered subjects/courses to achieve the desired results.
Proper funding and quality maintenance mechanism and accreditation both for teachers and institutions.
If considered, among others, these measures shall pave way for creating a knowledge and value-based society. Also the parameters of access, equity and quality are integral to quality education. They should be addressed simultaneously, not in sequence.
Furthermore, in order to achieve the set targets of 12th Five Year Plan, which aims at the universalization of elementary education by improving enrolment, attendance, retention and improving learning levels of the children, concrete, focused and time bound initiatives have to be taken well in advance keeping in view the global changes and advances on the educational front.
(Dr. Aijaz Ahmad is presently working at Islamic University of Science & Technology (IUST), Awantipora. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)