Author: Saadut
•11:19 AM

What does a state do to a half dead education system that has dragged through a devastating conflict and negligence; revive it or flog it to death? The state in Kashmir seems to believe in flogging it to death with the whip of nepotism. The conflict in Kashmir and state indifference has embossed its imprints on the education system; outpaced in quality, content and reach by rest of the world. And this too could have been coped with, but for the apathy and criminal delinquency from the authorities concerned. As if this neglect was not enough, the brazen sale of education ethics in power corridors was seen as the final nail. With academics and moral inculcation taking a backseat and mere ‘exam result numbers’ doing the talking, it is the ‘parrot production’ that these institutions focus on. Shouldn’t those who administer education be educated and ethical enough themselves? But not in Kashmir it seems.

Recently state education minister Peerzada Mohammed Sayeed was accused of helping his foster son clear the 10th exam in 2009 by cheating, with help from state Board of School Education officials.  After the accusations came to fore, the state crime branch  took up the investigations and concluded that there were irregularities in the answer sheets which had two different hand writings on them. The crime branch also identified three officials of the state education board who were involved in this cheating. (According to GK report of 9th Feb 2012 ‘Crime Branch …indicted six BOSE officials including present chairman Sheikh Bashir Ahmad, then deputy director academics Mehraj-ud-Din Zargar and four others for helping the Minister’s son in copying.’)

After the controversy broke out, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announced an inquiry, and soon after the crime branch report had been submitted he tweeted on 9th Feb “Am discussing the #Peerzada matter with my allies as he holds a portfolio allocated to them. Expect further action in the matter tomorrow.”
Peerzada followed with forwarding his resignation to the Congress high command (and not to the Chief Minister), where Sonia Gandhi is reported to have rejected it. In spite of a clear case against him, Peerzada continued in the council of ministers, only the education portfolio was divested from him. Ironically in the recently declared results of 12th class, the same foster son of Peerzada who had been accused of passing his 10th class exam (in 2009) by cheating was shown to have passed his 12th class exam with distinction. On social networks this incident made rounds as ‘Exam Gate’.

Controversy is not new to Peerzada Mohammad Syed. During the reign of Congress – PDP coalition government lead by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Peerzada was forced to resign due to allegations of corruption against him. He stepped down in January 2008 after being accused by independent MLA Shoaib Lone for demanding and accepting graft of Rs 40,000.

In an almost an identical incident in August 2010, former Roads and Buildings Minister G M Saroori was sacked by Chief Minister Omar, after Saroori’s daughter was found to be involved in impersonation during a medical entrance examination. Why were different standards adopted in exactly the same situation against accused Minister Peerzada? Double standards on corruption are viewed by many as efforts for political survival, where action is taken for political reasons rather than for any governance ethics. 

Kashmir has always held a special status within India, so special that while in India politicians are expected to be answerable to their conduct in public life and power offices; in Kashmir such accountability is unheard of. In India while scandals are often been known to consume and filter political careers; in Kashmir scandals are nothing but water on duck backs, shrug off and dispelled with ease. Are the state politicians so indispensable that they cannot be held accountable to misdeeds and wrong doings? Even if they are for New Delhi, surely such indispensability has in mind no welfare or good of common people.

Education is also seen as a tug of war for political reasons in Kashmir. In 2010 Kashmir was virtually in flames, entrenched in unending curfews and protests as hundreds of youngsters were killed at the hands of security forces. In September 2010, Minister for Education Peerzada Muhammad Sayed decided that all Valley schools shall start functioning from Monday 27th September irrespective of the situation on ground. While all schools were directed to reopen and parents urged to ensure their wards are present in school, Ministers own son and a close relative were absent from their school in Srinagar on the very first day. It was only after ‘the school administration called the minister and asked him to send his ward to the school to avoid any embarrassment over the matter’ (GK 28th Sept 2010) that his son attended school.

Ironically the same urgency of education was lost when in 2011 when schools were unexpectedly closed 15 days ahead of the schedule on 30th Nov for ‘winter holidays’. And in spite of schools having been off for full three months of winter break, the vacations were again extended by 11 days in March 2012. This extension of holidays could not be seen as connected to weather conditions (contrary to claims of the department) as most of the initial March days have been sunny with day temperatures touching 14 Deg. Many locals saw this extension of holidays aimed to cater to the families of the ‘mighty and powerful’ who were in transit to Kashmir from warmer winter escapes.

Education should have been one of the top priorities for the government. Efforts to bridge the huge gaps and deficit that Kashmir conflict has left the education system with, should have been multiplied. Surely the Peerzada incidents prove nothing in this direction, rather point to contrary. A close look at the education system in Kashmir will point towards the huge gap between the ‘required’ and ‘implemented’, a lack of will and policy. On the face of it, education systems in Kashmir continue to survive because of a natural tendency to survive, they are not flourishing because of any policy in place.  The education policy here seems like a ‘family heirloom’ for the government, passed on from generations of circulars and claims, safely tucked away in the safety of oblivion.

The 2003 J&K development report for the literacy figures of J&K state reflected to rural literacy of 48% and urban literacy 72%. The ‘2006 Annual Status of Education Report’ pointed out that 36% of 3rd to 5th grade students cannot read, and 33% cannot do simple math like addition or subtraction. Such a pathetic state of affairs in the education system was on part of the government’s failure to create contingency plans for rescuing systems from perpetual deterioration. A close look at the existing systems will reveal that educational and economic policies in Kashmir over decades have been created as a part of the political agenda, often missing requirements and achievables. And this politically driven ‘education policy (sic)’ has been there for decades. According to noted bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah “These political leaders did not develop these policies with the majority of Kashmiri people in mind, causing conflict and an entrenched distrust between the people of Kashmir and the political representation in Kashmir” (My Kashmir: Conflict and the Prospects of Enduring Peace. 2008). In such a deliberate policy vacuum you would only expect the politician to ‘facilitate’ education credentials for his wards at the expense of merit and still get away with it.

The performance of state education systems can be gauged from the fact that in December 2011, 10th class (Matric) results, 21 government schools in Kashmir had zero percent result, while nine government schools in Srinagar alone had not a single pass out. Majority of the nine city schools which had zero results are ironically located in the heart of capital Srinagar, while eleven other schools in Srinagar performed almost as badly with less than 20 percent pass percentage. As a knee jerk measure, following the dismal results, government ordered suspension of 21 principals of these schools. Suspending the principals was reactionary; the root cause for such collective failure of the department remained unaddressed. When apathy flows from the top, they will only be looking for scapegoats, correcting course will not be a priority.

And if this lack of education policy was not enough, the conflict in Kashmir has scarred the young generation most of all. A study conducted at SKIMS (Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences) in 2011 October, revealed that 55% of Kashmir’s population suffers from various kinds of mental stress disorders. The effects of this ‘conflict stress’ could be severe among children who see themselves garrisoned with an overwhelming military presence in Kashmir. Owing to the fact that young minds are still in the process of developing psychological systems and mechanisms, they are more vulnerable to ‘conflict stresses’ and post stress syndromes in early years.

There is not only a need for the government to change its outlook towards the education sector but also in conducting governance fairly. This sector needs policy reform and deliverance at the grass roots, driven by people who are ethically strong, surely not the ones accused of manipulation. Neither has the government been able to reign in the haphazardly mushrooming private education sector in Kashmir, often growing at the cost of standards; nor is the government been able to improve the condition of its own ailing educational setup. The only easy fix that government has been able to provide its own education setup are the 1500 Rs per month paid government teachers (RET); contrast to it a non skilled laborer gets paid 400 per day here. With pathetically failing infrastructure, policy vacuum and great mismatch of talent v/s emoluments, teachers here are made by chance not by choice.

There is no dearth of talent among the young crop in Kashmir. Many Kashmiri students have been performing extremely well, not because of the education system and over bearing conflict here, but in spite of it. They had surely outperform and excel if education in this state was driven by a will to educate and not as a political policy agenda. Till education (and governance) in Kashmir is held hostage by politicians to their power survival, the “do ikai do” way of parroting education shall continue to prevail.

In Kashmir they attempt to teach you ‘state convenient history’ and ‘text book logic’, a mass Xerox machine at work. While schools here teach students the addition of numbers; the system teaches them unhindered multiplication of graft and fraudulency. While every teacher (conventional or otherwise) aims to prevail, every surrounding influence moulds. Children emulate from the system that they see around, more than the text books they read. When such exploitative and contaminated processes rule the roost, what future will these children be molded for?

4th March 2010