Studied neglect by successive governments for decades has distorted the academic landscape of Kashmir into a travesty where a parallel system driven solely by mercenary considerations negates the heavy public expenditure on high and higher secondary schooling. The pandemic of private coaching centres overshadowing schooling at the most crucial and decisive level of students careers has ramifications far beyond the issue of these centres being run with or without government permission and registration. Gambling and prostitution do not become less harmful to society by being legalised; so with these money-spinning hovels which actually blunt budding intellects by serving sterile information in prefabricated capsules rather than stoking curiosity and a passion for learning and independent inquiry.
The huge and unwieldy government apparatus supposedly supervising the education of successive generations has proved to be nothing more than a conglomerate of file-pushing clerks who administer transfers, salaries and, in the rare case, attendance. Beyond that, the real issue of whether the system run on huge public funds really delivers on producing truly enlightened and emancipated individuals with the capacity to make intelligent choices and moral and intellectual judgements is none of its concerns. It has even abdicated the rudimentary task of being a carrier of information, and outsourced it out of campuses into the hands of tuition masters whose operations are little different from mass production assembly-lines
By calling for the registration of coaching centres, and thus implicitly condoning their existence, the government has made a candid admission of its abject failure to turn educational institutions into a reliable mechanism of nurturing and enriching young intellect and a custodian of native genius. Not that coaching centres fill the gap, but this open acknowledgement of their necessity is a confession that schools and colleges, a heavy majority of them being run at great cost to the public exchequer, are but a mere formality for students to stay eligible for board and university examinations. Besides being a vast recruiting ground for coaching centres to thrive on.
That private coaching has become such a rage in Kashmir – a phenomenon unheard of in advanced societies- is a direct reflection of the state of academics in schools and colleges whose students feel compelled to take supplementary tuitions in order to make the grade in examinations. As a matter of fact, schools and colleges function with the foreknowledge that their students are being coached privately, and therefore classes are nothing but a perfunctory exercise solely to justify employment and salaries for teachers.
In any case, what educational institutions, or more precisely their illegal proxies, coaching centres, have reduced education in Kashmir at a very formative level to is an exercise in spoon-feeding where students are encouraged to park their brains along with their shoes – and now increasingly motorcycles and fast cars- and unquestioningly lap up whatever their tutors dish out in the form of notes. This readymade material meant for faithful reproduction in examinations suspends the students critical thinking and turns him into a passive receptacle of second-hand labour. With such an easy shortcut at hand, students rarely take the trouble to take their actual classes seriously or use them as a healthy interactive medium with teachers they are meant to be.
An argument being advanced these days about tuition centres helping students to compete in taxing entrance examinations is as specious as the origins of the coaching syndrome itself. What the students are being encouraged to put to test is not their understanding of concepts and their critical faculties but their ability to memorise long blocks of print dispensed so expensively by their tutors and to reproduce them on the examination sheet. If coaching centres are so indispensable for Kashmiri students, why spend hundreds of crores rupees of scarce public money on schools and colleges which, by inference, are then defunct?
The government has to act, and urgently so, not only to make the practice of private coaching unnecessary (except in the cases of severe academic disability in some students) but to overhaul the art of pedagogy in its entirety. Teaching in schools and colleges has to be drastically refashioned on lines adopted by more enlightened societies in order to make learning an intensively active exercise for students where they are encouraged and groomed to bring their intellectual faculties into full play and not just bank on passive reception and mnemonics to score high marks.
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