Jammu: Ramshackle and
damaged buildings are being repaired, teacher-student ratios are
improving, enrolment is rising and so is the literacy rate. After
over two decades of militant violence and disruptions, there is
good news from Jammu and Kashmir as its education system is slowly
coming back on the rails though problems remain.
Not only were 800 school buildings burnt after militancy erupted
in the state in 1990 but the system too was shattered with endless
strikes and violence.
However, different governments in the state made restoration of
education system their priority and have seen some success with
the literacy rate now reaching 64 percent, against the national
average of 74.04, from 54 percent in 2001.
Education Minister Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed recently said that the
dropout rate was enormous from 1990 to 1995 when militancy was at
its peak. "But now in last five years, it has come down from
367,000 to 39,000."
"Militants burnt schools in the early 1990s and an atmosphere of
fear due to militancy and counter-militancy operations kept
children away from schools in many parts of the state in the past
two decades," he said.
"First, the government reconstructed the damaged school buildings.
And now new buildings are being constructed so that the schools
have proper infrastructure," he added.
In a reply to query by IANS under Right to Information Act, the
education department stated that now there are sufficient number
of teachers in all levels - primary, middle, high and higher
secondary. The teacher-student ratio in primary and middle schools
is 1:16, it is 1:22 in high schools and 1:25 in higher secondary.
There are over 1.7 million students and around 75,000 teachers in
20,000 government schools. Data about the number of private
schools was not available with the department. An official of the
education department, requesting anonymity, said there could be
over 5,000 private schools in the state.
"But we were dragged back by over two decades of militancy. The
schools would remain closed in the Kashmir Valley, particularly
remote areas, because of regular gun battles, curfews and cordon
and search operations by security forces, as well as shutdowns,"
observed the official.
According to the RTI reply, 4,242 primary and 616 middle school
buildings have been constructed in the past five years.
Recruitment of new teachers is being taken up at fast pace by the
state subordinate services recruitment board which has selected
6,000 teachers in last two years and more vacancies have been
referred to the recruiting agency.
"There is a significant improvement in quality of studies in
government schools," Majid Qureshi, a Class 10 student in the Doda
Government Higher Secondary School, told IANS over telephone.
"I am sure of getting distinction in Class 10 this year," said
Majid, who wants to become an engineer. His confidence is a far
cry when his father Altaf, a poor farmer with three daughters
apart from Majid, was in a fix about how to get his son educated.
But there are still hurdles in that path of progress of the
state's education system.
"Studies of students get hindered when teachers are frequently
deputed on special duties like elections, census, VIP visits etc,"
Sajjad Hussain, a retired principal in mountainous and border town
Poonch, told IANS over telephone.
"We need to take immediate corrective steps on this," he said,
noting that last year, the panchayat elections were a three-month
affair during which the teachers were posted on special duty. Then
came the census and teachers were again drafted for enumeration.
Another incentive for poor people to send their children to school
is the mid-Day meal scheme. "Honestly speaking I started sending
my son Ayub to school as he would get meal there. Gradually he
developed interest in studies and is now among toppers in Class
5," said Jahangir Matoo of Assar village near Doda. He observes,
"There is a lot of improvement in schools as compared to a decade
ago. But still we have heard that many schools do not give mid-day
meals and uniform and books to the poor."
Asif Iqbal, a journalist in Kishtwar area, told IANS that there
were many cases in the remote mountainous areas where teachers
take children home and make them work as domestic help.
Besides this, teachers in remote areas "rarely go to their duties
as there is lack of accountability in this regard," he added.
(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)