Debating Distance Mode Degrees

The School Education Department must exercise utmost caution in deciding the validity of degrees obtained through distance mode so that the merit and future of teachers is not marred in any manner
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Representational ImageFile/ GK

On December 16, 2022, the School Education Department (SED) ordered withdrawal of the placement of around 72 school teachers and masters as in-lecturers over 'invalid' postgraduate degrees. 

The government said that these candidates had obtained PG degrees in the discipline of Environmental Science through Distance Mode. 

The candidates in question were reverted to their substantive posts and directed to be posted at the same place of posting against the available substantive post of Teacher and Master. 

At first the move was seen as a kind of filter to bring accountability and transparency in the department on the basis of the validity of degrees obtained by the teachers. 

The government while withdrawing the postings stated that the Director School Education Jammu and Kashmir were directed to allow these candidates to join only after verifying the mode of acquiring degree (i.e. 10+2+2 with bridge course or 10+2+3) as well as genuineness of PG Certificates and the institutions from which the candidate acquired such degrees are valid. 

Besides authenticity of the degrees, the withdrawal order was justified with other justifications wherein the department stated that the candidates had no equivalence  and candidates did not fulfill the conditions as laid down in Government Order No. 940-Edu of 2017 dated November 17 of 2017. 

The move to revert these teachers was supported with the reference of the communications received from University of Kashmir and University of Jammu which according to the government order had stated that the degree obtained in Ecology and Environment through distance mode from different Universities outside UT of J&K cannot be given equivalence with M.Sc. Environment Science obtained from Kashmir University or Jammu University. 

The department also stated that the degree obtained by the in-service candidate without obtaining proper permission from the competent authority cannot be reckoned valid particularly for the purposes of seniority and promotion. 

The decision was welcomed by a section of the teaching community particularly those who had obtained their degrees through regular mode. 

However, there was another side of the story which came to the fore after a passage of a few days. 

As the debate was going on over the validity of distance mode degrees, the joint director education in a communication issued to Chief Education (CEO) Baramulla noted that the degrees obtained through distance mode in Science subjects will not be considered for promotion or seniority. 

The letter was issued to the CEO in response to an application of an RReT teacher seeking permission for pursuing PG in Environmental Science through IGNOU. 

The letter went viral on social media and netizens started questioning  the existence and validity of the IGNOU and MANUU. 

The debate did not stop here as the communication issued by the Joint Director prompted the regional director IGNOU Srinagar to issue a long statement wherein he indirectly hit the education department and said the degrees and Diplomas issued by the IGNOU were duly recognised by University Grants Commission (UGC). 

He said that all the programs offered by IGNOU including the MSCENV were duly recognized by UGC and in terms of the decision taken by UGC in its 550th meeting.

To douse the flames, the Director School Education Kashmir (DSEK) on the same day issued a clarification that the government equally recognizes degrees obtained through distance or regular mode subject to conditions issued by the department from time to time. 

Besides issuing the clarification, the DSEK also withdrew the letter issued by the Joint Director "to clear the confusion among teachers." 

The issue did not stop here, but a few days later, the SED threw a surprise after it ordered for attachment of in-charge Joint Director Elementary Education (EE). 

The officer was attached over ‘mis-presentation of facts’ regarding validity of Post-graduate degrees obtained through distance mode. 

The sequences of events clearly indicate that the SED was not clear about its decision as it changed its stance over validity of distance mode degrees. 

The department earlier reverted the EVs lecturers claiming that the degrees were obtained through distance mode. But a few days later the department changed its stance and said the distance mode degrees were equally valid. 

Amid this, the fate of 72 candidates hangs in balance because after issuing contradictory statements, the department did not clarify if the decision to revert the EVs lecturers was taken on merits or not. 

An impression was created that the SED was either misleading the public or twisting the facts pertaining to the Postgraduate Degrees obtained by teachers through distance mode in the science stream particularly the environmental science subject. 

Questions are being raised on the standard maintained by the department. 

No doubt, there are black sheep who have managed their degree through undue means but the department has painted all the teachers with the same brush, which is ethically and morally wrong. 

It is a fact that in November 2022, the principal secretary SED in a case filed before the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) had issued the same directives as the joint director did. But now the officer has been attached for maintaining the same stance over the validity of the degrees. Again a contradiction in it. 

Now coming to the point, out of the 72 candidates whose posting as lecturers was withdrawn, around 23 candidates have been appointed as in-charge on the basis of the High Court orders. 

As per the documents available, the posting of these candidates was done by the department following the compliance submitted by the SED in May 2022. 

These 23 candidates (lecturers) have obtained their relevant PG degrees in Environmental Science through the distance mode and moved to court through two different petitions which were settled earlie. 

As per the High Court orders and other communications issued by the SED, the degrees of these 23 candidates have been authenticated through various communications. 

Notably, the Directorate of School Education Kashmir (DSEK) has already forwarded a verification report of PG Degree certificates in respect of the petitioners (23 candidates) in which it has been stated that their degrees fulfil the conditions laid down in the Government order No 940-Edu of 2017 dated 17-11-2017. 

The communication was issued by DSEK last year after the SED submitted a compliance report to the High Court. 

But the question arises on what grounds the posting of these 23 candidates was withdrawn as most of them entered the department as PG degree holders and their degrees were authenticated by the department, UGC and other concerned authorities as well. 

On December 16, 2022, the SED while withdrawing posting of in-charge lecturers stated that both the directorates (Jammu and Kashmir) in their recommendations have observed that the candidates do not fulfil the conditions laid down by in the Government order No 940-Edu of 2017 dated November 17 of 2017. 

But it is in complete contradiction to what the SED has stated before the High Court while submitting its compliance report. 

The UGC in 2013 and in 2022 has observed that the degrees obtained in distance mode shall be treated as equivalent to the corresponding awards of the degrees offered through conventional mode. 

So, in view of this, the SED not only disrespected the High Court order and UGC observation but also tarnished the image and honour of these 23 candidates in the department as well as in society. 

These candidates figured in the seniority list for more than five years and their promotion was ordered around three years and they worked on lecturer posts for six to eight months. 

The department has already declared that it recognises distance mode degree at par with regular mode some of the candidates who have been reverted, have entered the department as PG degree holders. 

As per the official document, the SED has earlier obtained legal opinion from the Department of Law Justice and Parliamentary Affairs for promotion of these candidates. 

But later it took a U-turn and declared distance mode degrees in Environmental Science invalid for seniority and promotion. 

The department has not only changed its stance on validity of distance mode degrees but has also issued different orders for teaching seeking permission to pursue higher education degrees. 

In one such order issue in 2012 by the then DSEK, it has been stated that no permission shall be required by a teacher for improving his/her qualification subject to the condition that the teachers concerned avails leave during the period he/she will attend the examination and gets the leave sanctioned by the competent authority. 

To conclude, the SED should clear its stand on whether its final decision on validity of distance mode degree applies to those candidates who were reverted or not.

Such decisions should not be taken in haste, as the SED seems to have done in the instant case, since it concerns the future of hundreds of candidates.

It would be in the fitness of things for the School Education Department to come clean in the matter so that there is no injustice with teachers who have obtained their degrees legally.

If these degrees are recognised by UGC, there is no point reverting the teachers on the basis of validity of degrees. Hope the SED exercises utomost caution in deciding on the matter so that the merit  and future of teachers is not marred in any manner. 

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 reflect the views of GK.

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