Jammu and Kashmir’s Education Commissioner Dr Asgar H Samoon tells Kashmir Life, insisting that the department’s experimentation with remote teaching using a sluggish internet speed was highly encouraging
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): The education sector in Kashmir was always vulnerable to the unpredictability of the situation. What were the new additions to this crisis after August 5, 2019, and now with the Covid-19 pandemic?
DR ASGASR SAMOON (DAS): Although the education sector has remained vulnerable to uncertainties over the last three decades but for the last one year we have taken these vulnerabilities head-on. For the first time we have avoided in giving mass promotions to students which had become a norm and it gave encouraging results during the previous academic session. First time in public schools study material and assignments were ensured at the doorsteps of the student, which changed perception in society about Government schools and was widely acknowledged.
During the current academic session in view of Covid-19, our department switched over to the hybrid teaching with, online classes, on-air classes, community classes, preparing e-content and repository and by physically reaching students with study material so as to avoid any sort of disparity in student outreach
KL: What are the measure that the education department initiated to manage the situation in which you had to impart education virtually?
DAS: We switched over to hybrid teaching by using all available resources which includes on-line classes, on-air classes, Learning Management System, Preparation of e-content and making it available to students through various platforms like e-Diksha, e-Patshalla, Awo-Padhen, YouTube channels, a repository of study material and nevertheless preparing study material for students at tail-end who do not have access to digital platforms. Continuous evaluation and feedback of virtual teaching gives an indication that it has given good results at grassroots
KL: We are a 2G space. How much has it impacted the teaching and learning process?
DAS: We are using certain online applications which are giving optimum results even at 2G speed. Although sometimes it is cumbersome to download e-content at this speed but with little patience both by teachers and students, it is manageable
KL: Jammu and Kashmir is a territory with high penetration of cell phone technology. But more than one-third of the cell phone users do not have access to a smartphone that is key to learning and education now. How is your system managing that part?
DAS: We don’t have smartphones in every family but we have found a way out. Students with simple phones are attended through conference calls in small groups, in some cases, students pool smart phone in groups of four to five and attend classes accordingly. Now we are working out to prepare a repository of audio lessons which shall be available and accessed by students through simple phones
KL: What is the problem in holding open-air classes in the periphery if not in space-deficient Srinagar and Jammu?
DAS: In Srinagar maximum students are attended through online classes, and in peripheries with open spaces community classes are also going on like in Dal Interiors, Dara and other places.
KL: Was TV and Radio utilised in imparting education?
DAS: Through Radio and TV eight classes are aired daily and maximum syllabus has been covered through this medium. This initiative has been widely appreciated and replicated in many states.
KL: What will happen to the examinations? Are we moving towards an open book examination (PBE) system?
DAS: Examinations will be conducted. We are still left with at least 70 working days in winter zone as per the academic calendar and we are trying to make maximum reach out during this leftover period and can hold offline exams with SoP’s in consideration.
KL: So far, there was no biannual examination by the Board of School Education and the University of Kashmir. Has the practice been abandoned?
DAS: Bi-annual examinations are held regularly although due to Covid-19 it was not held during instant March but we are holding the same by October.
KL: There were reports that in certain classes the syllabus has been changed. What were the changes and what was the compelling factor for that change? Are more changes in pipeline and at what level?
DAS: In view of re-organisation of Jammu and Kashmir a few changes were made in some subjects.
KL: There are reports that the Kashmiri language is being rediscovered with Devnagri script. Is it correct because an order was circulated on social media about your department offering an expert?
DAS: Nothing as such in the pipeline
KL: How is your department managing the national aptitude tests and professional examinations in the pandemic?
DAS: We are providing logistic support to NTA in holding the ensuing NEET/JEE examination.
KL: People for the last one year have not been earning anything, barring people with assured incomes like government employees. How will they be managing the tuition fees of their kids enrolled in privately run schools?
DAS: We have tried to strike a balance keeping in view the interests of both schools and parents and charging of only tuition fee has worked and accepted by all with a few complaints here and there.
KL: Do you think that the situation that prevails in Jammu and Kashmir for the last one year will add to the drop-out rate and impact the percentage of new admissions across the sector?
DAS: Some migration of students from private to government schools has been observed maybe because of this impact. At the same time, the provision of free education in the public sector will not lead to many dropouts.
KL: How will your department manage the deficits in schemes like mid-day meals and the health cards when the schools are closed?
DAS: Mid-day meal scheme is going on wherein instead of cooked meals, dry ration and coming cost is provided to students. For the first time, health card scheme has been introduced in schools at +6 onwards and modalities are being worked out for regular health check-up of students.