SCERT established, and partitioned

Greater Kashmir

Who gets what?

First a story: It is a story of two brothers who were left with their father’s inheritance to have it divided between them. After dividing what mattered, along with the trifles, they were now in a fix to divide a cow, the last prized possession. Unable to decide about custody of the cow, they chose inviting suggestions from the wise in the neighbourhood. Hearing their verdict the brothers decided to keep the cow together. Unimpressed, one of them–the smart one of the two–wanted a better bargain still. In a bid to befuddle his brother, he said, smiling: Hmm, it’s now decided that we both keep the cow, wouldn’t it look great if you clearly knew which side of the cow should be your possession”. “Great idea,” said the other one, adding “since you always think ahead of me, I imagine you must be having some great idea in your head about this as well.” The other one nodded, saying, “You know, I’m always in your favour,” adding further, “the very best part must be your property not mine, therefore, I would give with pleasure the front half of the cow in your custody, and keep for myself the backside.” They agree, and in the times to come one keeps feeding the cow from the front and the other one keeps milking it the way he wants.

This story may well serve as the context for the way State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT) has been established, and partitioned in J&K, like the cow in question. Some days back a news circulated in press that SCERT is being established by merging two already existing SIEs (State Institute of Education) of Jammu and Srinagar. This news came as a relief to all those who were looking eagerly for the SCERT to become a reality in J&K. This was a news of no small measure for teachers and teacher educators alike, as all the previous governments had either dragged their feet or slept over the files. For those who do not know what SCERT is all about need to know that it is an institution in the exact shoe of the NCERT. What NCERT does for the country, SCERT does it for the State. It looks after the curriculum, the pedagogy and assessment, and all other allied areas that run the academic show in any State/UT. The government order No 197 Edu of 2020 issued on 1st September, 2020 by Principal Secretary to Government, School Education Department has made it a reality now in J&K, no doubt, but like the cow shared by two brothers, SCERT too has been divided between Kashmir and Jammu. The government order divides the SCERT by its different academic branches as under:

Division office JammuDivision office Srinagar 
1Curriculum development & studiesEducation research, survey & assessment
2Population education, girls education, and early childhood care and education & education for allEducation in science and mathematics
3Education in social science, humanities & commerceHealth & Physical Education and Guidance & Counselling
4Art Education & Vocational EducationArt Education & Vocational Education
5Education in LanguagesEducation in Languages
6Education communication technology & computer science (ECT &CS)Education communication technology & computer science (ECT &CS)
7Educational Planning, Monitoring and managementEducational Planning, Monitoring and management
8Teacher EducationInclusive and special education
9Library and documentation cellLibrary and documentation cell

In the above distribution Art Education, Education of languages and ECT are common to both Jammu SCERT, and Kashmir SCERT (although we have only one SCERT but I mention Jammu SCERT & Kashmir SCERT for the sake of understanding here). Language education has been shared between Kashmir and Jammu because it would easily raise brows from the common masses. These areas we don’t have issues with. Now see the academic branches that have been exclusively granted to Kashmir. We see here Education research, survey & assessment, Education in Science and Mathematics, Health & Physical Education/Guidance and Counselling, and finally, Inclusive and Special Education. This may seem normal distribution to the lay eye but, dear me, it’s not. The branches that have been exclusively granted to Kashmir are quite sterile — and usually– hygienically unresponsive to any ideological project in education. I do not say we should be deliberately ideological but we do know that we cannot escape the clutches of ideology either. Our upbringing does place glasses on us through which we view the world around us. We see what our glasses show us. Now what has been granted to Kashmir SCERT? Consider for example “Education in Science & Mathematics” which has been given to us. All of us know that Natural Science and Mathematics are quite beyond the ideological interpretations (postmodernist views apart), and are too objective to come under domination of communal, statist, supremacist, nationalist, revivalist, expansionist, Islamist, Hindu, Christian agenda. Same is true with other branches given to us like Education Research, Survey & Assessment, Health & Physical Education/Guidance & Counselling, Inclusive and Special Education. These academic branches, although important in education, are more of a ‘sidelights’, including Education Research, Survey and Assessment in our case. Our researches– we are quite blatantly aware–in SIEs and other Teacher Education institutions are for shelves only. Better they stay there, for if they come down from shelves they will produce more dust than knowledge. So this is what Kashmir SCERT has got: the branches and the frills, and the main trunk is, quite surprisingly, retained for Jammu. Now we will come to that.

Jammu has got in its kitty Curriculum Development & Studies, Early Childhood Care and Education, Education in Social Science and Humanities, and Teacher Education. Now who does not understand the importance of curriculum development & studies in education? If you still do not get it then this is what decides your “textbooks”. Secondly, and most importantly, Jammu SCERT gets Education in Social Science and Humanities in place of Natural Science and Mathematics. So Jammu SCERT gets ‘subjective’ disciplines like History and Political Science that could be moulded, tweaked, tempered like putty, and Kashmir SCERT gets Science and Mathematics in its place, which are significantly immutable to such ‘motivated’ insertions and interpretations. In other words, Kashmir gets ‘exact’ sciences and Jammu gets ‘inexact’ ones. And this ‘inexactness’ is what creates a clear gap and space for the ideological project in curriculum development. We know education is not neutral anywhere in the world, and school is always an ideological project, but our point is why do we shy away from achieving our aims more democratically? We do not despise any ideology, be it Hindu or Christian or Muslim, why should we? There are streaks of light in each of them, but we do not–and should not– appreciate the stealthiness with which these projects of Islamic, Hindu or Christian ideology are executed here and elsewhere in the globe. It makes school a project of dominance and hegemony, not enlightenment.

Last, but not the least, is the Teacher Education, which has been again reserved for Jammu SCERT. It completes what Curriculum Development and Social Sciences would initiate. Teacher Education influences how teacher interacts in the class, and how he or she translates curricular aspirations into a reality. In a teacher student binary teaching could be either authoritative, collaborative or critical engagement. Authoritative teaching learning atmosphere always suites ideological projects like Gurukuls, Maktabs, religious missionary schools and other evangelical projects in education. To find a worthwhile place in the future world India requires to increase ‘critical literacy’ not just ‘literacy’ and allow ideologies to contest in a democratic atmosphere of the institutions of education and beyond. The New Education Policy 2020 too does not mention–even just once–the need of ‘critical literacy’ for India (including critical pedagogy). By missing ‘critical literacy’ and emphasising just ‘literacy& numeracy’ makes this policy quite unpromising from the keen eyes of the educators, because in the 21st century we are not here to produce literate fanatics, zealots and bigots but those who would question—reasonably and democratically—all institutions, sacred or profane. It’s Teacher Education that would evolve ‘critical pedagogy’ for promoting ‘critical literacy’ among masses to have them see through the opacities of the ideology and read through the foisted narratives.

Last word: The School Education Department may argue thus: “the SCERT J&K is not partitioned between the two, and it is just the matter of place where the branches have been kept, otherwise it (SCERT) would get inputs from both Kashmir and Jammu teachers and teacher educators”. But the reality is that inputs are usually taken–from us and from them—but ultimately what gets in depends on the controlling authority for the particular academic branch.To alleviate the concerns of Kashmir it would be far better if all academic branches of SCERT are kept at both places.

If branches like Language Education, ICT and library and documentation cell can be shared by both then what is the issue with Curriculum Development, Social Studies/Humanities, ECCE, and Teacher Education. Having all academic branches in Kashmir and in Jammu as well, and having each academic branch headed by its coordinator from either Jammu or Kashmir,depending upon the employment rules should not be a problem. This won’t give rise to two SCERTs, it would place one SCERT at two places which is appropriate and justified as well.