Ideals are always great, so are ideas. Alway great. But in the world we live in, the distance between the ideal and the actual is greater. Regulation is an instruments that impedes the human tendency to run away from ideals, from standards, and from general expectations.
In an ideal world we don’t need a regulator. And in the actual world, regulator cannot act ideally. An understanding of nuance, and a grasp of actual, in its entirety, is the hallmark of an efficient regulator.
Ideally, education is the responsibility of state. Actually, state shoulders are too unwilling to carry this burden, and state-mind is cluttered with some other priorities. So the original sinner is the state.
The result: in Kashmir, like other places, community took it upon itself to perform the job. Hence we have schools established by the community, all across Kashmir.
Good or not-so-good, different sections of our community came up with schools to impart education. The Christian missionaries, one must not steal the credit from them, created benchmarks in imparting what we call modern education, to our children.
Over time, most of our community led schools witnessed degeneration. The reasons are many, and varied. But the result was an accumulated failure. The first, and the fat, layer of failure belongs to the state, and the second to the community.
Here in came an individual, or a group of individuals, and one after another many schools came up in Kashmir. Some of them developed into massive infrastructure and a huge student enrollment. It no longer remained a modest enterprise.
It became elaborate, impressive, and ambitious undertaking. It became capital intensive in terms of resources pumped into, and capital minded in terms of rewards pumped out.
One fine day, the government whispered regulation, and soon the regulator sat like an elephant in the room – classroom. The private school owners find this elephant too big to host in the room, and the regulator is on a rampage to bring what it judges as ‘exploitative private schools’, under its feet.
Both are fighting it out on the legal turf, and anywhere else they can find a ring to pummel each other. Media, particularly social media, is acting like a cheerleader. Doesn’t matter if the overwhelming majority of private schools is crumbling from within. And those still surviving may eventually squeeze out the resources and energy, and put it somewhere else.
In all this, education is getting reduced to fee and we are losing focus on the future of our children. A future that goes through education. The problem with the idea of Fixation is that it has its own fixation. And when an element of righteousness creeps in, it becomes even more obsessive.
There is a growing sense that it is becoming a complaint driven, spectacle generating, and attention grabbing activism. Listening to grievance is good. Responding to it is better. But when it comes to regulations, sufficient information, adequate thinking, perspective building, and listening to all stockholders is a must.
It is not an us vs them duel, where the fight is to be won, and cheers sought. Doesn’t matter if the future of children, in whose name the fight is fought, gets a serious pounding.
We need to focus on the education of our children in this fast paced, fast changing, and ever challenging world. Fee fixation is a clerical job that can be left to a single desk in the education directorate, if provided with right information, clear parameters, and a sound professional assistance. Our private schools would not need to move fat files every now and then to make a hike of a penny in the fee.
All this can even be automated. The thinking must go into how to make private schools real good educational institutions, where education happens in an authentic, autonomous and productive way.
And for this, both need some fresh air. Private schools need to re-envision what they are doing, and change accordingly. You can’t pay less than minimal salary to a teacher, have less fee to avoid the regulator’s gaze, and then presume that education is happening.
The private schools have much to correct, much more to learn, if they have to survive and grow. If only the owners internalise that the world of reward begins where the borders of profit end, the financial modelling is possible to take care of the business part of it.
The regulator needs to think of itself as a guard against all forms of wrong practices that can adversely impact education; reducing the whole thing to fee is not a worthwhile fixation. We are not haggling for a low price in a Sunday market.
After all there are services and investments that go into making a worthwhile school, we cannot call it ‘not-for-profit’, and shut our eyes to the reality of the thing.
We are dealing with a space that holds our future in it. Please understand our children are born in a labour room, but they are brought up in a classroom.
While we want to pay as less as it becomes for the years our children spend in a school, we pay as much as we can to send them to a coaching centre later. And it happens under the gaze of the same regulator, at least the same government apparatus of which our regulator is a part.
Power corrupts, we all know. Self righteousness corrupts absolutely, we seldom realise. And where the two meet, the fate of those on the other side is sealed. May be our children forgive the ‘exploitative’ private school owner, but they will one day curse us all. Us - the regulator, the parents, those who derive pleasure by selling news in the digital world.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not refl ect the views of GK.