As higher educational set-up is gradually limping back towards offline mode, Director Education, Kashmir Tasaduq Hussain talks about the challenges in the last two years that the education department faced
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Kashmir is witnessing a Covid19 surge again, though not alarming but if it picks pace, it could be dangerous. So what are the challenges you are facing?
TASADUQ HUSSAIN (TS): It has been two years since our children have been to school physically, barring 15 days in March. In every developed or developing country, education is a very important aspect and for that, we are taking many initiatives to stay in touch with the children. We started to conduct real-time classes using the Zoom app, but the main problem we faced was that children who had only one smartphone at home couldn’t keep up. For that, we set up a delayed mechanism system called LMS through which we could record classes and give the students as well as the teachers’ full freedom to access information through it.
The second issue was monitoring the children. We didn’t know if the child is actually there or just had joined the class and left. So we set up monitoring systems for both the teachers and the head of the institutions. Not only for the students, we set up this system to keep an eye on the teachers also. And it worked. We had set up this system at the zonal level and the district level as well. During that period of time, we got many complaints from teachers who weren’t joining the classes. But with this LMS system, it was a huge convenience for us as every evening we used to check if the education system was going smoothly and the delayed classes were also helping the children.
We have six lakh children who are studying in Government schools and almost 12 lakh children are studying in private schools across Kashmir. And with the help of LMS, we found out that 40 per cent of these children had no phones or internet to begin with. To tackle that, we started radio and teleclasses. We started recording lectures and uploading them every day for fifth to twelfth classes. We used to record four lectures daily. And with the grace of God, we have completed almost 90 per cent of the total syllabus.
But the main issue was practicals which we were not able to do online, especially for the children of tenth and twelfth. To tackle that, we started to hold offline classes with 50 per cent attendance. With that, we filled the educational gap which was between the teachers and students and gave the students an opportunity to get their education properly.
But I would like to say this on record that online classes are not as impactful as the physical mode of teaching.
KL: As children started owning smartphones, instances of abuse of phones and eye diseases cropped up. Kashmir has vast areas of grounds and parks, have you ever considered giving children open-air classes?
TH: This is a real problem. We do see children misuse these devices. For that, we have urged the parents to keep an eye on them all the time while they are using certain gadgets. It is a responsibility they will have to take care of.
Secondly, a young girl tweeted about the eye problems she was facing while attending so many online classes. We kept 3-4 classes per day so that these children don’t strain their eyes staring all day at their devices.
When the numbers of Covid19 started getting lower, we did start a community and open-air classes and these are going really very well. We set up teams to reach the outskirts of Kashmir to teach the children in an open-air environment. Although rural areas are the best spots for community classes because of open spaces but it hasn’t been done yet in densely populated urban areas.
KL: What are your plans for holding the 10th and 12th board examinations?
TH: The education department and the Board of School Education held a meeting regarding this issue and we have decided to go for offline mode of examination with the reduction of 30 per cent syllabus in the month of November for which the Board authorities are making the preparations. If people follow the proper protocols for Covid19 and somehow it stays at a lower rate then Inshallah we will conduct these in offline mode following all SOPs.
KL: There is a lot of confusion about the new education policy in Kashmir. Can you kindly explain this policy?
TH: The new education policy called NEP2020 was released last year and it has come with a timeline up to 2030. The main purpose of this policy is to prepare children up to 3 years to get into the online mode of study.
Secondly, it has a continuous evaluation system.
Thirdly, we are focusing to make the whole education process joyful because, without it, there will be no point in generating interest in the younger generation.
With that, we have stressed self-assessments, teacher training, innovation and communication. It’s a good document overall and we hope to implement it in a timely manner.
KL: Will this new policy affect the traditional way of joining the schools at the right age?
TH: No, it’s a process. We are stressing how we will prepare these children in three classes, pre-nursery, LKG and UKG, and till a child reaches first class, he will be six years old so no change in the traditional way of learning.
KL: For adding three classes before the first primary, do you require a lot of infrastructure and human resources?
TH: We had no concept of pre-primary. So we have started creating resource persons online in early childhood care. This training is in the final stage. We will be starting it next year and admissions will be at the age of three. We have also created additional classrooms. Right now, we have 2000 classrooms already and we are creating 5000 more this year.
KL: Your department is quite a populous one. There could be a lot of issues involving human resources?
TH: Our people, despite being under pressure, are doing a great job. On one side they are dealing with constant inspections, secondly, with all the problems that came with the pandemic, they fought through it as well so they are doing an exceptional job.
The main concern for them was salary increase and promotions. We have solved the salary problem and with the help of our Principal Secretary, the promotions are being handed out as well to well-deserving candidates. About 1100 people have been promoted, so far.
About 50 per cent schools and educational institutions were headless and let me put this on record that our new Principal Secretary has been working really hard to clear promotions and incentivise the workers for all the good work.
(Sarmad Dev processed the interview)