Naeem Akhtar, a former bureaucrat who after joining politics rose through the ranks and became state’s Education Minster, tells RS Gull that state’s education system is a fit case for a major reform as the focus is not on students but on the welfare of government teachers
Naeem Akhtar (NA): The biggest challenge is the distortion in the system. This is not aimed or orientated to provide education but employment. It is full of employment related things: contracts for construction and mid-day meal. Everything that has nothing to do with education. It is the teacher whose employment problem, whose postings, whose regularization is in focus. The child has unfortunately gone out of focus.
KL: So, it needs surgical intervention both in curriculum, its implementation and infrastructure? You already know there are colleges in cow sheds?
NA: That is already a failure because GOI has been so generous with scheme like SSA, RMSA, RUSA etc. All these are very well crafted, well-drafted and well-thought scheme but unfortunately they have been prostituted in our state and that is the word I use intentionally. I have come across instances where the entire block where you have appointed ReTs for running the SSA units, but they are alone. One single teacher and no students. That is the kind of thing we have done. Then there are instances where the teachers have been appointed but they do not exist. Although, salaries have been drawn against their names. Precisely, scandalous things do exist. Like you have schools in city where you have 15 students and 20 teachers. You have a school where you have 20 teachers and 73 students.
So, it basically is a fit case for a major reform. The reform to change minds. And I have set in motion the trend of training and refresher courses with the department. So, that the teachers are involved in the curriculum all the time and they are academic oriented.
KL: You have been reviewing the department for a few days. What are the challenges that you as a mangers of education see. How the bureaucracy sees its challenges to manage education?
NA: I think I am myself against a huge mountain. I don’t know why Mufti sahib chose me for this job. Obviously, he is perhaps having more confidence in me than I deserve. But that I am responsible not just to my God, not just to my conscious but to a third factor also which is the faith that Mufti sahib has placed in me. I will try to do whatever I can and I have started off well. I have good team of officers with me trying to reorient the whole thinking in the secretariat. I am yet to go out of secretariat. I am yet to familiarise myself with the problems and the potentials that we have within the given scheme and perhaps how we could possibly get those back on rails which have been de-railed as RMSA and RUSA which could form the basis of the revolution.
KL: One great change that has taken place in last 15 years in government schools that more percentage of admission is taking place in private schools than in government schools? The trend was earlier urban now its sub –urban. And the rural part is still manageable. How can this be tackled?
NA: That is huge challenge. We are the largest providers of employment. We have 130,000 teachers working in school education alone. So, we are the biggest organisation in the government but we are not the best providers of education. That is a challenge how we make government schools working proactive. We have certain ideas. Mufti sahib has given certain ideas. We are working on them and hopeful we are expecting to create parallels to your best private sector schools.
KL: I personally have studied this issue. The government schools in certain districts are performing better. For example the Jammu city, where you have got major enrolment in government schools than in private schools. But the trend in Srinagar is completely different. We in Srinagar city have reached a situation where you are left with only a little number of students. Is there a possibility that you will create a model school for these under privileged students?
NA: We are working on that. Let me break this news to you. I have had a meeting with the Vice Chancellor of University of Kashmir and we are working on that. He was very kind enough to except my suggestion that he should take over one of the schools of Srinagar which would be a university school and would be run by them only. It would be a model perhaps and would be a parallel to the best of your private sector schools. Similarly we will work in rest of the government school. There is a scheme in the government sector where you have to establish government run model schools with boarding and lodging facility. But till now not a single such school has come up. It is one of the areas in which we can intervene. And after that we are thinking of creating some model school because we have the amenities and infrastructure and we have the best teaching staff who come, at least, through some screening process. Who come with big degrees and who carry salaries and perks which are 10 times more than what private sector offers. So, we think we can perhaps bring it around.
KL: On the ideological front of education you live with a partner (BJP) who thinks completely different on the issue of history, on the evolution of mankind, on issues of science and technology. How will you manage that deficient?
NA: I think we should rise above this. We have the issue of modern secular education that leaves a big gap in J&K. So, let us talk of science, technology, magnetic, and other subjects. This is best left to academics. We should not get into any controversy.
KL: Is there any situation that we are moving from NCERT to CBSE kind of syllabus?
NA: I have not given a thought to this.
KL: This early summer, are we changing the session?
NA: No, there is no chance.
KL: Will we be looking at some changes in the policy of private sector because it is emerging very fast and is comparatively coming up with better results?
NA: I know they have been doing well. They are in for some competition from the government sector.
KL: Are you planning to start English language at a slightly early stage in Government schools at Class 5?
NA: We will try to do that as well, as it gives an added advantage to students.
KL: Is there an option of Kashmiri language becoming optional and not compulsory? It is a huge burden on students?
NA: You will talk that to Kashmiri enthusiasts first. We will have to take everybody on board.
KL: You met the VC of University of Kashmir? He recently told the press that “he would rate his university 5/10 because my university is reduced to an office”. This is the confession that one of the best VC of our times has made.
NA: I told you the same. Our educational system has become employment oriented rather than education oriented.