Director of School Education Kashmir, Tassaduq Hussain Mir is a busy man these days. He has to ensure that the government schools adopt and adapt to the online mode of teaching. In an interview, Mir tells Khalid Bashir Gura that the government schools are better placed in terms of infrastructure and the faculty than the private schools.
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Recently a teacher’s son committed suicide as his father’s salary was not paid for more than two years?
TASSADUQ HUSSAIN MIR (THM): Whenever any person is recruited in the government services, there is police verification followed by remarks. The majority are marked as nothing adverse. But in this case, there were “ambiguous negative remarks” and not even clear negative remarks, which has resulted in the withholding of salary. A committee has been set up to investigate the case and hopefully, the result will be positive since the concerned is living the normal life and has shunned the path of violence. A journey from gun to pen is a great change.
KL: Why did it take a six-year-old girl’s online plea to change policy on online classes rather than policymakers? Many stakeholders and experts said they were not taken on board and termed it as “bizarre”?
THM: Health is the priority and everything comes next. All academicians, experts, stakeholders were consulted before capping online classes through a formal order. We were giving the alternative for offline classes when this video emerged. Now, we are also monitoring whether every school is following the guidelines. There is a less physical activity because of more screen time, which results in an increase in stress levels. Parents should ensure they involve kids in indoor games. We have established mental health counselling cell in the directorate and in all districts with a toll-free number.
KL: Since August 5, 2019 schools in Kashmir have opened only for a couple of weeks. The pandemic has compounded the problem. What is the administration doing to compensate for the loss of the physical classrooms?
THM: No doubt, there have been fewer physical classes since August 5, 2019, and more online classes following which the education department took initiatives. Last year we started with Zoom classes and Learning Management System, teleclasses, radio classes to reach students. We also started community classes in the areas where lack of internet and digital divide created hindrances.
As the second wave hit again, we followed the same methods to ensure no academic loss. We have also a system in place which enables us to keep track of the number of students, teachers present and also the study material being uploaded.
We also conduct radio classes six days a week at specific times and from June 1, we have also started teleclasses. If the situation becomes normal and the pandemic curve flattens and the districts are declared green zones we may soon go for community classes especially in far-flung areas where a teacher will teach students in the school of his own vicinity.
KL: Despite government spending so much on teachers training why we lack tech-savvy teachers on the ground?
THM: It is a generation gap. In our time internet and online classes were unimaginable. Even now if I have to download something I ask my kid as they are more tech-savvy. Every teacher in present times has a smartphone and there is no complaint of such a struggle with technology.
KL: Why cannot government bring technology to classrooms?
THM: Government is trying to bring technology to schools. Some of our model schools are equipped with digital classrooms. It is a process of upgrading of technology in every institution.
KL: A digital disparity exists on the ground especially when it comes to government school-enrolled students. How government ensures education in a pandemic is all-inclusive?
THM: When we notice that many students are not able to join online classes due to a lack of digital devices and access to the internet we started teleclasses and radio classes to reach them. Once the virus surge goes down we will start community classes.
KL: Many 10+2 lecturers complain they have not been regularized for years. They gave the prime of life to education with the hope they will be regularized but all in vain. They say they have been the victims of the system’s use and throw policy?
THM: Contractual lecturer is only for a specific period of time. They should know what contractual and permanent appointment is. There are government orders wherein their engagement with the department is specifically mentioned. If they are not able to get government jobs, it means they have not been able to compete.
KL: Why despite enrolment drives in the past government schools continue to witness less enrolment?
THM: In the last two years, the drive has taken a hit, and also saving lives has become a priority. Now we are planning to start. We will go for seminars, campaigns to highlight our strengths especially in Srinagar and far-flung areas to woo people towards government schools.
KL: What are the strengths of government Schools?
THM: We have the best teaching faculty, better infrastructure than private schools. We have a balanced teacher-student ratio and above all support of government.
KL: Many teachers have been teaching for years at the same school. Why? Does the government have a sound transfer policy?
THM: There is a definite transfer policy in place. This year we started an annual transfer drive wherein teachers were given options. If you bring to my notice any person who is serving at the same place for years I will issue transfer orders.
KL: There exists a disparity in teacher-student ratio at many governments run schools, especially in far-flung areas?
THM: We are working on the rationalization of such disparities in ratios in classrooms.
KL: In terms of result, infrastructure, curriculum, pedagogy private schools perform well? Why is the outcome not matched despite hundreds of crores of investments in the sector?
THM: Our results have been good and the pass percentage is increasing. There is an academic review of every institution to keep track of results. It is the mindset that needs to be changed. We started an enrolment drive to attract people to government schools, to highlight our strengths and facilities and highly qualified and trained teachers.
KL: Charity begins at home. Why the majority of government teachers prefer to enrol their wards in private schools?
THM: We have to change minds, I repeat. There have been some incentives for teachers who enrolled their children in government schools. They have been awarded and given out-of-turn promotions. We are trying to persuade teachers and set a pattern for the change.
KL: Why parents prefer enrolling their wards in private school?
THM: We need to persuade people about the strengths and schemes at government-run schools in terms of faculty and facility.
KL: A 2020 survey by the ministry of Human Resources and Development found that 80 per cent of government schools of Kashmir lack the basic facility of electricity, drinking water, and even playgrounds. Why?
THM: There is a scheme that every school should get these facilities. As of now, 90 per cent of government schools have electricity and toilet facilities even though exceptions may be there. The land is costlier and we are trying to avail facilities especially playgrounds. The department of youth services and sports is also tackling sports facilities.
KL: There have been mass promotions, reductions in the syllabus in the last few years because students have not been able to attend schools. Will, it not adversely impact their future competence?
THM: In extreme situations, there is an option of mass promotion. Last year we reduced the syllabus. This year if we have to reduce the syllabus we will not exclude any chapters but there may be a change in the weightage of marks if required.
KL: “The virus is here to stay and we have learned to live with it,” say, doctors. When can schools be expected to open?
THM: The decision-making body meets periodically. Once this infection level goes down, we will take a call on offline classes.