Stressed Schooling

A series of decisions taken with regard to the private school education sector has brought back the debate over how Kashmir is going to implement the universalisation of basic education, reports Tahir Bhat

Owing to the diversity of the curriculums’, a number of students end up losing precious years in the maze of education set-up. CBSC students who passed their twelfth in 2021, waited till June 2022, to get their admission forms for joining colleges. Others who also joined the queue for registrations were their juniors in CBSC schools, last year. The policymakers wanted to get Jammu and Kashmir to follow the national academic calendar and it coincided with the New Education Policy (NEP-2020) implementation, so it triggered a delay at the cost of the student.

“The process has barely started,” one senior faculty in a major city college said. “It will still take a month to get the new class work start.” A number of non-BJP ruled states are reluctant in implementing the NEP-2020 unlike Jammu and Kashmir, which is directly ruled by the central government since 2018 summer.

The pleasant development, however, was followed by decision-making that was not taken positively by society.

New Rules

The first was the drafting of new rules that would oversee the operations of the private education network up to the secondary school level. The existing private education players, under the new rules, will have to renew their registrations with new documents that include many things like submitting rent deeds of the buildings for ten years or the ownership rights over the land on which the school operates. They will also have to submit certificates that the Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Board will issue.

“The policymaking is being done in a vacuum at a level that is delinked from realities on the ground,” G N Var, who heads the private school association, said. “It was initiated with propaganda suggesting that the private schools are looters who fleece parents. Seemingly, this was aimed at the creating a perception.”

A number of orders were issued in its follow-up by different departments, some about transport fees and some about the weight of the school bags that kids carry. Even one order by the School Board of School Education sought details of the enrolment for making books available to the school students. Then came fundamental shifts in the school registration system as additional requirements were added.

Var said they had requested the Fee Fixation Committee officials to visit the schools so that they will have some basic idea about these institutions and consider these experiences when they sit in decision-making about the fees. In response, they were told the Committee lacks enough time and the adequate human resource to consider such a request. Instead of visiting the schools, the Committee issued a number of orders in which “grossly wrong figures” were sent in the public domain thus damaging the reputation of various individuals running a number of schools.

The policymakers, Var said should have understood the situation the private school network is facing on the ground. It is for the first year since August 2019 that the private schools are operating in 2022. “A number of schools became unviable as they had no source of income,” Var said. “We have more than 150 schools that closed because of market issues. In the Zaldagar zone of Srinagar, we had 42 schools operating and in the last three years, 19 were closed automatically because they lost their income as Covid19 and security situation prevented students from attending the schools.”

As the new registration process started lot many schools are on the margins of closure. “There are interesting things that we are being asked about. When we go to the pollution board for the no-objection certificate, they say they do not have a mandate because neither the kids nor the study material is pollution,” Var said. “The private sector schools are being asked to have facilities that the state-run schools do not have. There should be a level playing field.”

Regretting that the private sector is being harassed, Var said the schooling new generation is a national priority that the constitution mandates. While the government should have been supportive of the efforts that the private sector is making with the least costs, they are being pushed to the corner instead. What is interesting in Kashmir and parts of Jammu is the new admissions taking place at zero level (3-6 years), private school network has more than half of the stake and in certain cases like Srinagar, two-thirds of all the new admissions take place in private schools. Those sending their wards to the private schools include more than 50,000 teachers who manage state-run education setup.

Under the new rules now, the school owners will have to prove their right over land or the premises. The revenue department will issue the certificate. Since more than 150 schools have their buildings on community land (usually referred to as state land), they are encroachers technically.

“Given the education is a priority at the national level, the ideal way-out should have been that these schools should pay the costs for the land and get it regularised,” Var said. “I do not know what will happen in these cases. I keep my fingers crossed.” He said that communities across societies do offer available community lands for the larger common good and most of these cases fall under this category.

Trust Ban

In another decision, the government directed the sealing of the schools affiliated with the Falah-e-Aam Trust (FAT), a trust that was initiated by now banned Jamaat-e-Islami. BK Singh, Principal Secretary School Education Department issued a four-page order directing the cessation of academic activities in FAT-affiliated schools. It asked Chief Education Officers of various districts to seal the institutions within 15 days in consultation with the district administration.

“All students studying in these banned institutions shall admit themselves to nearby Government schools for the current session,” the order said. “No new admissions shall be taken in these banned FAT institutions.”

The order offers details of a long legal battle that the erstwhile FAT fought in the court of law. On May 11, 1990, when the then-governor Jagmohan Malhotra banned FAT, the Trust was already in the court seeking permission for the students to sit in the Board examination. The court issued various directions in the course of the petition and twice asked the government to facilitate the transfer of the enrolled students to the government-run schools. FAT was operating on basis of an interim order and the government was also not contesting the case.

“Now, therefore, in pursuant to the directions passed by the Hon’ble High Court on 16.04.2005 in OWP No. 598/1989 followed by order dated 15.12.2021 passed in CM No. 7939/2021 in OWP No. 303/2010,” Singh ordered the transfer of students to government schools, cessation of admissions in FAT affiliated institutions and sealing of these institutions within 15 days.

In following up on the order, Board started working. On June 16, it sought details of enrolment from the education department about ten schools affiliated with FAT. Named Islamia Model Schools, they operate one each at Barzalla, Batamaloo (Srinagar); Lolab, Handwara, Kupwara (Kupwara); Dooru, Baramulla and Sopore (Baramulla); New Chowk (Anantnag); and Safapora (Ganderbal).

10 Schools

Though a general perception is that the FAT schools are more than 300, the actual affiliation, according to the government’s own records is ten. The fact is that a lot of changes have taken place since Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah (1975) and Jagmohan (1990) banned the FAT.

“It is correct,” one key insider in the private education sector said. “There were 332 schools that FAT was running in 1989. After the government banned the Trust, the communities that had contributed to making these schools started de-affiliating these institutions from FAT as a result of which there were only 11 schools that were FAT schools.” These schools created their managerial systems at the community level, and are registered and operational.

Showkat Ahmad Var, who is presiding over the now illegal Trust told TVNews18 that only seven schools, two of them up to secondary level, with a total enrolment of 700 students, were with FAT at the time of the ban order. “Var said almost all the schools previously running under FAT have snapped links with the Trust, applied afresh and appointed new faculties,” the media outlet reported. “He said in the majority of cases, local communities have taken over the schools, picked new management and stuck to the curriculum of the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education.”

In Budgam, TVNews18 visited a school “abandoned” by FAT as a result of which its enrolment fell to 200. Locals took it over and in 13 years its enrolment reached 600 with 45 staffers managing it.

Politicians React

The FAT closure, however, was strongly reacted to by a section of the political class. “Selectively cracking down on institutions, which have religious affiliations, is grossly unfair and unjust. The administration must understand that J&K is an overwhelmingly Muslim majority state. They cannot possibly ban every institution because they have a bias against the Muslims,” Sajjad Lone of the Peoples’ Conference said. “It seems they are intentionally targeting the Kashmiris for petty electoral gains in the rest of the country.”

Central Office of Falah-i-Aam Trust
Central Office of Falah-i-Aam Trust

Terming the ban order “unwarranted” and “uncalled for”, Altaf Bukhari of the Apni Party said the “FAT is an apolitical” organisation. “If at all there were any complaints against any of its Trust members, the same could have been addressed in a more humane manner. Banning FAT schools is totally disproportionate to those claims as it will not only dislodge the students but will create joblessness.” Insisting that the order violated community decisions in a democratic set-up, Bukhari said people are used to donating community land for building schools in view of the poor infrastructure available in the government-run education sector.

“It is an issue between the Trust and the government,” Var said, “But what I am really concerned about is that it will add to the drop-out rate and it violates the right of the child that is guaranteed by the constitution. Why is the government forcing students from moving away from privately run budget schools to government schools? Why the government does not get them admitted to private schools of their choice?”

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