To make schooling easy and comfortable for school children, as well as lessen the burden on schooling of children on their parents, several new and reformatory measures have been taken by the UT administration in Jammu and Kashmir recently.
Among these, few initiatives are noteworthy and need to be discussed further for their better implementation in schools.
It has been for long that parents have been demanding in Jammu and Kashmir that schooling of their kids be made easy, so that they do not face the burden of schooling.
Better late than never, the authorities have woken up to this demand and announced several measures for the welfare of children. This is completely attune with implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP)-2020. Here we explore some of these initiatives which need to be further improved upon and sustained to realise the goals in a better way.
Age Criteria For Foundational Stage
First the authorities took a right call, though after giving parents a tough time, to give prospective effect to NEP-age criteria for the foundational stage of children. It will give schools a chance to prepare well in advance for implementation of NEP-2020 age criteria and also give parents enough time to get mentally ready for the new age criteria.
The School Education Department (SED) notified age criteria for pre-school children and issued directions to all the schools in Jammu and Kashmir to implement NEP-2020 prospectively.
The decision was taken after a large number of complaints were received from parents regarding denial of admission to their wards by various schools in class 1st on the plea that the age of their wards was less than six years and as per National Education Policy 2020, the age for admission in class 1st should be six years.
Earlier, some schools had decided to retain the students in the same class under the pretext of NEP-2020 while convincing the parents that the age of kids should be six years in class 1st primary.
But obviously, withholding admission of such kids by a year was likely to contribute to loss of an academic year of the kids as they were due for admission in class 1st in the session 2023-24.
In wake of the concerns expressed by all the stakeholders, the education department decided to gradually implement the NEP and relax the age criteria for admission to class 1st for the academic session 2023-24, in view of the transition period.
Reducing Burden of Schoolbags
As the new academic session started in schools across Jammu and Kashmir, the School Education Department (SED) woke up to the issue of heavy weight of school bags carried by the school going children on their shoulders.
The department issued directions to the schools, in line with the School bag policy-2020, in response to concerns raised by parents and health experts about the physical burden of carrying heavy school bags and its impact on the health of students.
No doubt the guidelines to reduce the weight of school bags were issued by the Department of School Education and Literacy (DSEL) in 2020 but the J&K SED was yet to implement the guidelines in schools which forced the students to carry the heavy weight of school bags on their shoulders.
But the fresh instructions issued by the department have raised the expectations of the stakeholders particularly the parents and the school going children that the schools will not burden the kids with the heavy weight of bags.
The department has issued clear instructions that the students of pre-primary classes should be exempted from carrying a school bag while the weight of the school bag for class 1st and 2nd primary should not exceed 1.5kg and the weight of school bags carried by students of 3rd and 4th should not exceed 3Kg.
Also, the weight of school bags for students of class 6th and 7th class should not go beyond 4kgs while the weight should not exceed 5kgs for class 8th and 9th students and should not go beyond 5.5kgs for class 10th students.
With the issuance of fresh directions, expectations are high that the schools will adhere to the guidelines which will bring a relief for the students. Over the years, questions have been raised on the department for its failure to implement the guidelines issued by DSEL in 2020. But now expectations are high that the department will ensure that students are not overburdened with extra books which are recommended by the private schools only to add burden on the tender shoulders of the kids.
Reducing working hours for homework
Besides issuing directions on reducing the weight of school bags, the education department also notified the schedule of homework for the school going children while observing that the homework was a major cause of stress for students and parents alike.
The department has observed that the students were frequently given homework which was beyond their capacity and only serves to exacerbate the problem.
The department stressed on giving children opportunities for creative work at home that they can enjoy with their family members and be encouraged to read books outside of the curriculum to improve their reading habits.
Although, the implementation of the directions are yet to see its result but it is the responsibility of the schools and the department to ensure that all such directions are implemented in letter and spirit keeping in view the interest of the lakhs of students.
Under the new initiative, primary classes up to Class 2nd will have no homework while the students from classes 3rd to 5th primary will have a maximum of two hours per week.
Similarly, the schedule of home work has been notified for higher classes as well. While the initiative is in its infancy stage, it is the responsibility of the competent authorities to be watchful of the daily happenings in the schools and ensure that no student is overburdened with homework, in violation of rules.
Besides the JK BOSE and CBSE affiliated schools, the J&K Waqf Board has also issued directions to its affiliated schools in line with the implementation of NEP-2020 and school bag policy, for overall reformation in these schools.
The new guidelines, introduced by the J&K Waqf Board, aim at improving the quality of education and provide a better well-rounded learning experience for the students as well.
As per the new circular, the students of classes Nursery to UKG will not carry any bags to the schools while no homework should be assigned to the students from classes Nursery to 2nd primary.
Besides, other instructions have been issued which are aimed at providing a friendly atmosphere to the students with a special focus on their overall development in the schools.
Appointment of FFRC Chairman
Besides taking other measures, the government also appointed a new chairman of the Fee Fixation and Regulation Committee (FFRC) for the private schools which was headless for almost four months following the expiry of the tenure of the former Chairman. The appointment of a new chairman of the committee will help to ensure that things now smoothly flow at FFRC, and the issues related to fee, and other such matters are decided in a professional manner taking into account the considerations of all the stakeholders.
The committee has recently issued a circular to all the schools about tuition fees, also impressing upon all the schools to submit their files for approval of the new fee structure.
No doubt such instructions have been issued in past years as well, however, it needs a follow up. The mandate of the FFRC is only to recommend action against a case of any violation and the recommendations are to be executed by the school education department. Here the two need to work in tandem, and ensure that rules are followed on ground.
The education department recently issued directions to private schools and barred them from recommending any specific shop to the parents for purchasing textbooks and uniforms for the kids. The education department was widely criticised over the move as the instructions were issued weeks after the parents had purchased the textbooks and uniforms from the specific shops allegedly recommended by some private schools. The late response of the competent authorities to some burning issues raised by the stakeholders encourages some schools to continue with the unprofessional practice.
To conclude, all the initiatives taken by the education department need to be sustained so that they are not derailed in any manner. Moreover, the department has to set up a positive approach to address the issues concerning students, at an appropriate time. Delayed response only results in disappointments.
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.