Education, Education, Education

Education, Education, Education – these are the words which have haunted us from our childhood. Our parents, particularly our grandparents, were always concerned about our education. However, they used the word ‘education’ differently than we commonly do. As they understood the word, education was concerned not only about our learning, but also our culture as well as our rich heritage.

Despite the concerns of our elders, we have gradually wrecked our educational system, and forgotten our culture, and our rich heritage. Many volumes have been written about the do’s and don’ts of our education system, but none of them have given me a satisfactory answer. I have been debating within myself, for many years now, what did we do to let this degradation take place and how did we reach this sorry situation?

Firstly, we have forgotten how to respect those who gave us the reputation for our learning and heritage. For example, we forget to recognise that Hassan Shah Khuihami was the first to translate Kalhana’s history of Kashmir, ‘Rajtarangani’ from Sanskrit. Hassan Shah Khuihami also wrote Tarik-e-Hassan, the geography, political history, and about the saints, rishis, scholars and poets of medieval times in Kashmir. Instead, we give credit for translating Kalhana’s work only to Aurel Stein, R.S. Pandit, and P.N.K. Bamzai. We also forget the person who assisted Stein in his work, Pandit Gobind Kaul. Pandit Gobind Kaul did the basic research and read out the manuscript for Stein to translate into English. Mr. Kaul’s work has neither been acknowledged nor any credit given to him.I would suggest that if we really want to honour our scholars, the museum that is proposed to be built at Mohan Marg in Ganderbal to honour Stein, should be named after Hassan Shah Khuihami.

Not only have we forgotten our scholars, we do not even know our own history. My children do not know that Buddhism dominated in Kashmir for almost 2000 years. We held the third Buddhist conference at Harwan. After the deliberations, in this conference, Buddhism underwent a major change and got subdivided into Mahayana and Hinayana.

A Kashmiri monk, Kumarajiva, in AD 400 was invited by the Emperor of China to translate Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. He settled at a place ‘Changian’ in China where he is still remembered, but we have forgotten him. Last year we were visiting Japan. In a Buddhist temple in a place called Hakone, the head priest asked us where we were from? we said, ‘Kashmir, in India’. He shocked us by saying “What are you doing here” Buddhism started in Kashmir. That was indeed flattering.

Let me share my experience with education and the changes that I observe since. My grandmother used to take me at least once a month to Makhdoom Sahib. We would take our shoes off at the footsteps and climb barefoot the steps. Every step I climbed my grandmother would give me some anecdotes about the Ziyarat. Then we would go to the Kali temple and once in a while to the Chatti Padshahi Gurudwara set up by the sixth Guru of the Sikhs.

It pained me when I went to Makhdoom Sahib’s a few years ago with my grandchildren to observe that people going up the steps wearing their shoes. However, my grandchildren and I, still followed the old tradition and climbed the steps bare foot. My grandchildren did this because I had told them about the sanctity of the shrine and the importance of taking our shoes off before climbing the steps.

Continuing with my earlier thoughts, I see a decline both in learning and the development of our cultural heritage. Though Kashmir was so rich in learning and had a culture that we could all take pride in; where did we lose out on it all? After seventy years of independence, our State has the lowest standard of education in the country. We have with time, unfortunately, also lost how we can teach our children of our glorious heritage. I cannot get this thought out of my mind, where did we lose all that?

Let us move the history a little back during Maharaja Partap Singh’s time. The parent would be fined if they did not send their children to school. These schools were called Jabri (forced) schools and the girl’s education was given importance; girl schools were called Pardah Schools. In a madrasa, lady teacher teaching modern education to girls was called Uttan Ji.

Post 1947, we were the first State in the country to declare an Education Policy. Education was made compulsory in 1951. A language policy was introduced in Jammu & Kashmir in fifties (1950s), similar to that of the New Education Policy (NEP), which we were not able to implement. We, in Delhi Public School, Srinagar, have Kashmiri compulsory till class five along with English and Hindi or Urdu. This was the same when I went to school in late 40s.

In my case, I learnt the English alphabets (ABC) in Class 6. As a consequence, when I was sent to an English medium school, I was demoted for not knowing English. However, this later on helped me when I went for higher studies to Chennai, I could easily navigate the English medium used there.

The New Education Policy (NEP) is much touted these days. Personally, I feel it is a good change. In some respects, it is similar to the J & K education policy of 1947. However, from an educator’s perspective, among other things, the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 suggests a slew of reforms with a focus on flexibility of subjects and eliminating silos between streams of learning. This means that the hard separation among ‘arts’, ‘humanities’, and ‘sciences’, or between ‘vocational’ or ‘academic’ streams, has been removed.

Students will also have multiple exit and entry options. Students can go for a one-year sabbatical. In addition, they can discontinue their graduation and they can store their credits in the academic bank so that in future it can be restarted. These are highly progressive changes that do not require any large investment, and are easily doable.

With the New Education Policy (NEP) already announced, it is time to work towards a robust education system in Jammu & Kashmir. Let us not find faults with yesterday let us begin the change from tomorrow. The first step should be to make a six-year plan on how we should go about making a better and more robust education system.

Let us start from the beginning, i.e. from elementary school. We do not have adequate capacity in elementary schooling. We also need to have a new teacher training course which will fit into the New Education Policy (NEP). The training should focus on teaching what education will require in tomorrow’s world. From there, we can go to creating foundations for teaching in professional colleges. These are all issues relating to the basic infrastructure.

I had a child of Class X ask me a question “Sir, why are we giving eight periods a week to history and geography? Why don’t you instead teach me Robotics, or let me play games, or learn music? History and geography are subjects I can learn on my i-Pad. You could give me the topics then ask me questions or examine me.” It seems a good idea and logical question to me. Why not? In the New Education Policy (NEP), there is to be a syllabus review, perhaps such comments need to be considered as a part of the exercise.

We ridicule the missionary schools and the private schools, who have kept the education system going during difficult years? We have more than 3000 private schools in the valley. With an investment of Rupees thirty (30) thousand crores, it is the second biggest investment, after agriculture, in the valley. These private schools are supplementing the government schools and yet are being treated as parasites. Should a Fee Committee guide this investment of Rs 30,000 crores? There must be a proper policy that encourages these investments. These are not only investments in monetary terms, but these are also investments in the future of our children.

There are ten (10) NGOs, who are neither made of parents of students nor have any vested interest in the future of a child, who want to be part of the education system. They are welcome if they find ways to provide some value. By being critics, they bring in negativity. Let them spend time on improvements. For example, many government school do not have toilets, many do not have proper drinking water facilities. How many of us or our NGOs have built school toilets or provided drinking water to schools?

We need to take all the stake holders on board, and all should work within the guidelines of the New Education Policy (NEP). Let everyone – Government schools, Kendra Schools, Private schools, Nursery schools, coaching centres etc., get together and make the guidelines for the future of our children incorporating the salient features of ours New Education Policy (NEP). Let us all add value and help in building a proper Education System of tomorrow.

As far as we, at the Delhi Public School, are concerned, we collaborated with the government. In 2003, we helped run a government school and in improving it. Then, on our own, we reconstructed two schools in Chandhara, which many may not know, is the place of Habba Khatoon’s birth. I would suggest a private public participation where a private school could take over 2/3 schools in the vicinity of 3/5 km and upgrade them in two years. If their work is not satisfactory, they could be penalised for it. The amount spent by the schools for upgradation could be set aside against Right to Education (R.T.E.).

I am not a critic of Government schools. Some of them are really good. This year’s UPSC results provide proof of my contention. Most of the students selected in UPSC were from far flung areas and from Government schools like in Kokernag and Karnah which is a matter of pride.

We, also, need to get ready as we are going to get two AIIMS, three medical colleges, and two IIM’s in the J&K soon. Taking a leaf from the New Education Policy (NEP) let us invite four to five foreign universities, on the pattern of Dubai or Qatar, who could set up shop here in the valley. Instead of our children going to Kota in Rajasthan to study they should be given better facilities here. We have six hundred students studying in Bangladesh at a cost of Rs 300 crores.

As I have said earlier let us not waste time with the past, but fast forward to a new tomorrow so that our children will bring in a Naya Kashmir. Let the Government and the stake holders get together and work towards it without loss of time.

In the blueprint that we prepare on education, let us think BIG. Let us decide and attempt to make Jammu & Kashmir the Education Hub of the country. We will need to open up our minds, then we will be able to see the potential if we have a policy in place. Of course, to make this thought into reality, we will need serious discussion and deliberations, and I mean serious.

I am sure if we start today, we should be able to achieve the results in the next six years. Our children are bright, and they desperately need a direction. Let me close by quoting these lines by Brian Herbert:

“The capacity to learn is a gift,

The ability to learn is a skill,

The willingness to learn is a choice.”