Chuni Lal Vishen who has remained a pioneer of education in the Valley believes that the J&K government should follow the Delhi model of education and raise the standard of their schools to the level of private schools by which no student will opt for private schools. In an interview with Greater Kashmir’s Special Correspondent Syed Rizwan Geelani he said the government should allow the establishment of private colleges and universities. Here are the excerpts:
GK: How did you start your career in Education?
Vishen: I was working as a clerk in Taar Ghar but at the same time I continued my studies and completed my Post graduation in Psychology, Education, M.Ed from Central University of Education. In 1968 I joined Kashmir University as a lecturer and was later promoted as professor of the University. I also started the department of education with Aga Ashraf Ali. That way I am the founding father of education in Kashmir. I went to America as a visiting faculty under a program United States Education foundation India (USEFI). I was a Fulbright scholar there. I was married but I continued my studies after that as well. I started my first school- Sunday CASET where students from all the schools would come to attend my classes on Sundays and later in 1975 I turned it into a full-fledged school. I also started my CASET PG evening college in 1979 which worked till the 90s. The college was functional for 11 years. My college had 10 PG departments and enrollment was more than 1000 students. It was affiliated with AMU. Students who were dropped from KU and employees would take admission in my evening College. Kashmir University would produce 30 students as M.Sc Mathematics and my college would produce 150 students as MSc mathematics. But I had to close the evening college as the situation during the 90s was such that everything would get closed at 5pm and it was not possible to run it in evening hours. During turmoil my all schools were burnt but after situation was normal I started them again
GK: If you started schools again why didn’t you restart the College post 90s?
Vishen: After the 90s I started a B.Ed College. I earned money and opened more schools. I purchased all the burnt houses and started schools in them. These days I run CASET Higher Secondary School at Karan Nagar, CASET Middle School in Rainawari, Walden Higher Secondary School at Natipora, N R B.Ed College and College of Computer Science at Karan Nagar.
GK: How did the education sector of the Valley evolve over the period of time?
Vishen: Before the 90s education was in the hands of Pandits. When turmoil hit Kashmir there was a shift in the sector. In outside countries when emergency situations arise they hire teachers and doctors from other countries till the situation gets stabilized. But here the situation was different. Within a short span of time the Vacuum was filled much better than what was before. Earlier Muslims were more into business and Pandits were doctors, teachers and doing other jobs. With higher business associates Pandits were working as Munshis. Now you see, we have best teachers, doctors here in Kashmir. We have the best journalists here as you are. Best speakers, I am surprised to see how the Vacuum was filled. Whenever any Kashmiri goes outside, he shines in every field.
GK: Wasn’t there any adverse effect on education because of turmoil?
Vishen: There was a drawback because politicians rightly or wrongly created an environment where schools had to remain closed every time. Let us talk about the past few years. In 2016 educational institutions remained closed for six months. In August and post COVID educational institutions remained closed. Before 2016, educational institutions were closed periodically. Every week we had to face a two days strike. For the past many years continuously we have been having mass promotions. Here stability in the education sector is yet to come. For education there should be peace, if there is no peace then education will suffer. Every progress suffers when there is no peace. Now let us see what happens in the future.
GK: How do you see the paradigm shift from offline to online education?
Vishen: In the prevailing situation we have no other option than online education. But it is in no comparison with offline at all. Interaction with teachers is important. But I am sure that we have the capacity to make a comeback when the situation improves. In online education we are again at the receiving end. Government has ordered that there should be one hour online class from nursery to 5th and 1.5 hour class for higher classes in a day. Had the policy been the same in all states then it was justified. But our government issued this order without giving a second thought to it. We have 180 days in one academic calendar but we hardly get 80 days.
GK: How do you see role of policy makers in education sector
Vishen: Policy makers have no policy. They have no idea about ease of doing business or ease of functioning. Our education department is going in the opposite direction. Every day we see new orders and circulars. We know there is a Supreme Court ruling about the safety of children in schools, but is it only for private schools? Why can’t government schools apply the ruling on their own schools? It is because all rich people and bureaucrats have kids in private schools so they are concerned about their safety and poor children are in government schools and they don’t care for their safety. All NoCs have to be obtained by only private schools. For three years there has been no schooling but SMC takes sanitation fees which are not affordable for budget schools. The government is blind to the fact that ease of functioning is the key for people to work. Private schools are assets and over 52 percent of people are in private schools. It means private schools have the mandate of the public including the elite because kids of the elite are in private schools.
GK: What ease of functioning do you want from the government?
Vishen: See, Private schools provide quality education and create jobs on a large scale. One lakh people are employed in private schools. For self employment schemes the government will provide land, loan and subsidy because they have a hope that it will generate employment. We (Private schools) are also generating employment. Government should remember that in the 90s education was at zero but it was all done by budget schools which started functioning.
GK: But the issue of fee structure in private schools always remains in the news. Why?
Vishen: Fee fixation committee always says that private schools should not earn profit. But we have to develop infrastructure in schools. How can we do that if we will not give a genuine hike in fees? Our teachers demand a hike in their salary but how can we do that if we are not allowed to give an annual hike in fee. We have to have infrastructure in schools and for that we need funds. Government should allow us to make school presentable. Present chairman has become very kind to us. He allowed us to take 15 percent reserve funds for development due to which we will be able to develop our schools.
GK: Where do you see the hurdle in getting the misconception about private cleared?
Vishen: The main hurdle in it is the mindset of people. First they will admit their kid in a top notch school, pay a donation and pay monthly fees as well. After some time they will start complaining about it. If a parent doesn’t have the capacity to afford the fee and donation then their kid should be in budget school. Another setback is the government approach towards private schools. I ask the government why they cannot follow the Delhi model of schools and make their school presentable. In Delhi, Kejriwal made every school a smart school and people are taking kids from private schools and joining government schools. Let J&K government make their school so good that people will take kids from private schools and join their schools. Rather than lowering the standards of private schools to the level of government schools, they (government) should raise their standards to private schools so that children won’t come to us at all. You see the peon of a government school doesn't admit his ward in government school. Government has to think about what they are doing.
GK: Government has huge funds available for the education sector but in your opinion how are they utilized?
Vishen: You know they have huge funds available but they utilize it on establishment which includes salary of teachers and officers but nothing on grass root. Schools do not have windows, they don’t have laboratories. The department doesn’t have control over schools. DSEK is in-charge of transfers. Earlier there used to be an academic inspection which nowhere exists now. The present director is doing a good job. He works round the clock. He is doing a very good job. Fee fixation committee is also working hard. The present team is good, even the Board chairperson is a wonderful officer. Throughout India, nowhere offline exams were conducted but she conducted offline exams smoothly in J&K.
GK: What in your opinion should be done to improve the standards of school education?
Vishen: I once told the director to outsource the building to a contractor. The money they spend on kids should be given directly to kids and let them decide where they want to study. Let them give their teachers to us and we will make them work with higher standards. You see, the RTE Act is a win-win situation for them. If private schools will admit 25 percent students from economically weaker sections, the department has to reimburse the funds. But they will ask to admit the kids and later will reimburse it. But you know how the government system works here. They will make us run after them to get this money. Basically they have developed a mindset that private schools are earning money so they discourage us.
GK: But private school teachers always complain of exploitation. Why?
Vishen: When you don’t allow us to hike fees or charge fees then obviously our teachers will bear the brunt of it. Usually a teacher has 40 students in a class. In the government sector you make one teacher rich and 40 students poor in terms of education and in the private sector it is the reverse of it. You make one teacher poor but 40 students get rich in terms of education. Allow us to charge fees then only we can give increments. I have taken out a loan to give salary to the teachers of my schools. I don’t want my teachers to suffer. I feel teachers are my family. If they do not get Salary then they will get demotivated. And one more thing, there is a difference between top notch school and budget school in the private sector. I appeal to the government to have good policies.
GK: How do you see the standard of the Higher Education Sector in J&K?
Vishen: Public sector doesn’t work here. You can see why the GoI is trying to privatize existing public sectors. Private school association is ready to invest in the higher education sector. Let the government allow us to establish private colleges and universities, you will see a change. We run B.Ed colleges and we are denied to start M.Ed courses despite knowing it is part of B.Ed. We used to go to KU for a meeting with the Dean and one of the Deans would always say I will show you how I will close down B.Ed Colleges. This is the mindset. Students go outside J&K for M.Ed correspondence courses but the government doesn't allow the private sector to grow here.
GK: At present what is the way forward for the education sector?
Vishen: This time we have no option but to remain with online mode. We are helpless because of the situation. If the government allows us to call 50 percent students of every class it would definitely make a difference because both teachers and students are anxious to be in schools. Link between teacher and student is missing, which is not good.