On education in J&K

We are the youngest entrants in the field of education in the state (now union territory) of Jammu &Kashmir. Let me start this narrative by first mentioning that it was a difficult decision to enter the field of education in those difficult times. When I first thought of setting up a school in Srinagar, hell broke loose at my own home as most of the family members were opposed to the move because of the turmoil and security reasons. However, that is another story that I will talk some other day.

First let me talk about the educational institution we started in the most difficult times. It is the first school in the valley that was built in fifty (50) years offering a school leaving certificate from CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) under the D.P. Dhar Memorial Trust. Our school is run in affiliation with the DPS Society. The DPS Society, at that time was the most successful chain of schools in the country. Now they run more than 150 schools in the country and abroad. We needed their experience as we were new in the field of education. DPS Society gratefully accepted our request for and agreed to work with us in the National Interest despite the difficult times.

On the first day when the forms were to be given out for admission, we were expecting 100 to 150 admissions, but were surprised to receive request for 700 forms for admission. This put us in a panic that we had to overcome. There are many memories of this day. In particular, I remember a lady came up to me and asked, ‘what is your fees?’ I told her that it was 1200 rupees per month. She decided that it was too expensive and she couldn’t afford it and left. After three days, the same lady came back and asked for a form. I was pleasantly surprised and asked her, “What happened, you were here three days ago and you said you could not afford it.’ “She responded, “I have thought about it, I decided that I am going to have less tea and less rice, but I am going to save to put my child in your school because I know you’re going to put up a good school.”

This was a great learning and a great compliment. What was frightening was the expectation that we had created. With this thought I went home. I told Kiran, my wife, that let us just wind up this project because people have very high hopes and expectations. I told her that I did not want to disappoint the parents, and particularly I was afraid that we might disappoint the children.

Kiran was my support and encouraged me. She was confident that we would succeed. We would try our best for and give the best to the state and our children, leave the rest to God hoping to succeed. Today we are satisfied that the DPS Srinagar can compare with the best schools in the country. The infrastructure is comparable to, if not better than many best schools in the country. DPS school Srinagar is the only school in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and one of the very few in the country which caters children with special needs and visually impaired.

Coming back to modern education in Jammu & Kashmir, let me start by complimenting Dr Annie Besant who was president of Congress party and an associate of Mahatma Gandhi. She was the first to raise the question of girls’ education in Kashmir in the British Parliament. She followed this up with a visit to Kashmir with the objective to set up a girl’s school. The school she established was named as “Besant school”, now known as Vasanta Girl’s School, situated in Gawkadal in downtown Srinagar. While she was in Kashmir, she convinced the Maharaja to allot land for a college. The Maharaja agreed provided the college was named after him. A college was also started by Dr.Annie Besant which is known as Sri Pratap College (S. P. College). For both these ventures, the  school and S.P. College, she collected and used her own money. This college has as its alumni luminaries like Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Dr Karan Singh, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, Sonam Narbu, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, and Aman Ullah Khan and Tirath Ram Amla at that time from Muzaffarabad etc.

Islamia High School situated in Rajowri Kadal is another school of quality. Foundation of this school was laid by the renowned religious scholar Mirwaiz Maulvi Ghulam Rasool Shah. He felt that since there was ignorance and poverty in Kashmir, a religious Institute using modern teaching methods would be a cure for all the ills. It has contributed by producing luminaries like G M Sadiq, Dr Ali Mohammad Jan, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, Gulam Ahmed Ashai (the first registrar of the Kashmir University). Sheik Mohammed Abdullah was also schooled here. This is our precious heritage.

Headow school was established in 1880 by Rev. J.H. Knowles, and is one of the oldest schools in Jammu and Kashmir. It was run by Christian missionaries. They started the school at Drugjan where the present chest diseases Hospital is now located with five students, one student used to come to the school with his one-year old child. Then a local businessman donated his house and land at Ashai Kocha in Fateh Kadal for promoting education. An industrialist C.M. Headow was given land for the expansion of his industry by the Maharaja. Headow preferred and insisted that a school be built on the land allotted, provided the school is named after him. So, it was called C.M. Headow Memorial School. Later the school was groomed by a missionary called Mr. Biscoe and it was also called a Mission school or even Biscoe school. Today this school is a prestigious school, I have studied there.

Coming back to my topic – education – Maharaja Ranbir Singh was forced by the British Governor to put up a girls school which was started in 1865. The school was called Purdah school. Then another school was established in 1874. The school was based on traditional concepts and the medium of instruction was in Sanskrit and Persian. It was Maharaja Hari Singh (1925-1950) who adopted ‘Compulsory Primary Education Regulation’ in 1930 and made it applicable in Jammu & Kashmir. In his rule, if anybody refused to send their children to school, the parents were fined. The children were forced by the state to attend school. These schools were called Jabri schools.

After independence Sheik Mohammad Abdullah, the then Prime Minister of Kashmir, declared education compulsory in 1951. Making Kashmir the first state in the country to do so. What is now seventy (70) years later known as RTE (Right to Education). It was a momentous step by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, but did not yield the results that were expected. Education in the state of Jammu & Kashmir is the lowest in the country after 70 years. The mystery remains, how come a state which declared Education compulsory in 1951 still remained the least literate state in the country!

Looking for an answer, we find that even the very basic requirement in education is missing i.e. Nursery or Elementary Schools, as they are called! It amuses me when the government issues orders about how much should a schoolbag weigh. No one talks about the contents in that bag or what these should be? Or the department issues instructions about school timings or summer and winter holidays etc. Has anyone given a thought that this may be the only state /Union territory in the country where we have no elementary schools and, no elementary teacher training programmes and hardly any B Ed courses! (Because of some scandal many years ago there is no elementary teacher training. How can we improve education if you have no primary teachers and primary schools?) Government should use the private schools, have a public-private partnership, the aim being to improve the education and not criticise each other. Please realise we are all on the same side for Education.

I am totally new to education and do not claim to be an educationist but it pains me that 400 or 500 of our children studying in Bangladesh each paying 40 to 50 lakhs.  Not only that, 40 to 50 of our children were studying in Wuhan in China. Almost 400 to 500 children are studying in Kota in the coaching classes in Rajasthan. With this craving for education, the government is doing very little to encourage it. Instead, the educationists or the government is more interested in whether a private school can raise their fees or not; whether the private schools should run their buses or not! Is this what the government is supposed to do for education? Of the Government budget on education, 80 percent goes for the establishment. Just twenty percent is actually left for development. There is very little you can do with the balance 20 percent to enhance the cause of education! That is the reason one child in the so-called Government school would cost Rs 60/70000 rupees a year.

I do not want to be an alarmist or a pessimist but education is important. Under the constitution Government has to provide education. Private schools can only supplement the Government effort. This is a practice all over the world. We need to grow up and study the other states who have gone far ahead in Education. Nothing is lost so far; we can still make a five-year plan for Education, bring it to a level which would make us proud. Today the world is changing to what is called “Flip Class”. At DPS Srinagar we have started Artificial Intelligence from class 3. The CBSE is starting from class 9. We want our child to be proficient in Artificial intelligence, Robotics, cyber security etc. One plan should be to teach our children Education of tomorrow, Which can be financially viable.

We should concentrate on making education accountable to start with. We have eleven (11) universities in the state, but what is the output? The total number of students in all the eleven (11) universities is estimated to be about one lakh. While on the other hand only one university in our neighbouring state has eighty thousand (80,000) students and 18000 students stay on the campus. Has anyone analysed why this university is a success and why this university has surplus finances? Why do our universities have to beg for resources? Probably we lack vision or interest.

Tt is time the universities in Jammu & Kashmir do some self-study and become self-sufficient, which they can, by making them accountable. Also plan to make Kashmir the Hub of Education in the Country.

Realising the importance of Education, In 2003 the then chief minister saw the importance of private and public partnership and owned to make the state an  educational hub in the country. In 2003 private schools were allowed to increase their annual fees by 10 percent the national price index was 12%. The condition was that they adopt two or three government schools in their neighbourhood within 3 km radius. Chief Minister said it is the constitutional obligation of the Government to provide education to everyone. In this effort private schools should be praised and encouraged. It did not work out for too long and only after two years this was changed and various obstructions were put up by the government so that neither the government schools nor the private schools made much progress. Later many schemes were put up and stopped. Let the private entrepreneurs come forward and set up schools and institutions. People free the private enterprise from any compulsion. A parent will put his child in a school and pay the fees if he feels his child is getting good education, otherwise why should they prefer. India is opening up, we cannot close our doors to progress particularly in education.