Director School Education Dr Shah Faesal, an IAS topper who wants to be remembered as an Iqbaliyat scholar, tells Saima Bhat that it is a good sign that education is back in public debate
Kashmir Life (KL): Directorate of School Education is in news since you took charge. Any particular reason?
Shah Faesal (SF): This post is both important and challenging for me. It is in news quite often because it has 40 percent of the J&K’s total recruitment, one lakh employees in Kashmir division alone. Thus it touches everybody’s life in Kashmir in one way or the other. Another reason for being in news is that people have started taking pains viz-a-viz education. It generates lots of debate now.
KL: What are the challenges?
SF: Biggest challenge is the size of the department in itself; we have around 11,500 schools in Kashmir division, around 70,000 teachers, and almost 14 lakh children. But ironically, in spite of the investment, our learning level, pass percentage and dropout rates are not optimal.
As per National Achievement Survey and the surveys done by Pratham and Acer reports, our learning levels in English, Science and Math are terribly low. I think outcomes, teacher accountability, personnel management are our challenges.
It is a fact that directorate of education is reduced to a transfer industry. Even if ten percent of my staff opts for transfer it means around seven thousand teachers knocking at your door, which consumes our valuable time and resources.
Then there are still schools which do not have adequate space, for a middle school you have only 3 rooms, when you actually need 8 rooms, which means two or three classes are being run from the same room. Another pressing issue is of Pahari speaking people. They need to have teachers who can speak Pahari language and are good in other subjects as well, a rare combo.
KL: What are the achievements so far?
SF: I am happy that people have started to discuss our achievements, and at the same time are scrutinizing our performance closely. Education is back in public debate. It is good to see people ask questions like ‘how and where you are spending tax-payers money’. The scrutiny is more intense because people know that most of the students in government schools come from poor families. Influential and moneyed class has long ago moved their children to private schools. So in a way we are the custodians of children from poor and underprivileged class.
Right now our focus is on the implementation of policy of consolidation. We want to have quality schools, rather than too many schools. Let us have a few good schools than too many bad schools. We are shutting schools which do not have good infrastructure. Teachers are asked to move to the nearby schools so that we can give them proper PTR (Pupil Teacher Ratio).
We have achieved very high levels of enrolments and dropout rates have reduced to a large extent.
KL: What happened to the ‘model schools’ initiative?
SF: It was a flagship programme of the department and we began with around 100 schools. Idea was to provide very good infrastructure in these schools for which a token provision was kept in financial year 2015-16.
Lot of work is already done. Many schools got high tech computer labs and smart classrooms etc. Training of teachers in these schools is done in a better manner.
These schools are provided highly qualified and specialised staff so that they can serve as models for the local cluster, then the model can be passed on to the schools down the cluster.
KL: Quality of books and syllabus is still an issue in government schools?
SF: No doubt in that. There is a lot of adverse feedback coming about the quality of text books particularly at elementary levels.
Discussion is going on that should we adopt CBSE or NCERT text books directly. Matter is actually under the consideration of J&K BOSE and I think they are seriously considering the revision of text books. In near future you will see a decision on it.
KL: Are you thinking of any reforms in present examination system?
SF: Yes, we are considering some reforms. This year we might introduce competency based exams for Class 1 to 7, where our learning level is quite low. In these classes exams are conducted in-house, but under the new system questions regarding basic competencies in certain subjects like Math, English and Science will be asked.
KL: Is there a system where teachers are held responsible for poor results?
SF: An incentive system is already in place where low performing schools are penalized, or put on notice. This year, there were 22 schools where Class 10 result was zero. But rather than punishing them straightaway, I listened to their side of the story first. After two-way discussions, I put these teachers on show-cause telling them if they don’t improve then action will be taken against them.
KL: Tell us about skill improvement of teachers.
SF: Out of 4500 teachers we appointed in last six years around 60 percent are BEd, meaning they are already trained. For rest, we conduct continuous skill up-gradation programmes. This year, we fully utilised winters for training of teachers in subjects particularly Science, English and Maths.
In addition to this, I want teachers should inculcate the book reading culture, particularly english literature, and history of Kashmir.
KL: Are private schools money making machines for government officials?
SF: This is a big issue. I have recommended to the government that the period of recognition and management committee approval should be enhanced for private schools. It will avoid unnecessary interaction between the government officials and private schools. Unnecessary interaction breeds corruption, red tapeism, and creates problems for the private schools management.
KL: There are no takers for government schools in cities. Is it? If so, why?
SF: Urban enrolment is actually a serious concern. At times people feel like we have given up on Srinagar, but that is not the case. We are very much present in Srinagar as students from poor families start with us. As the performance of government schools is improving, there is reverse migration happening as well. I think the signs of change are there, it may be insignificant or small but the change is there.
KL: Since 2011, 8 committees were formed to draft an education policy, what is its status now?
SF: It has been almost 20 years since last education policy was framed. But at the same time there is need for thorough discussion as new policy will stay effective for next 30 years.
Things are changing fast, thus education has to be modulated to respond to those changes. That is why it is taking time.
KL: What is the teacher student ratio?
SF: It is 1:30 or in certain schools it is 13:1! We have declared some schools as ghost schools, where there are no children but only teachers. Around 2000 schools have been collated.
Problem is that the manpower has not been rationalized. There are schools where we have too many teachers, and same time there are schools without teachers. But now we are consolidating quality while rationalizing the resources.