Students cleared by the state-run school system in Kashmir often barely make the grade in rudimentary literacy, particularly in rural and remote areas. This is sought to be cloaked by the performance of a handful of private schools in the city, with no thought for the colossal amounts spent on running a vast network of under-performing institutions. Howsoever sound the system may appear on paper, on the ground it is as rickety and run-down as the school houses spread all over rural Kashmir chronically starved of staff and proper equipment. Reports of under-manned schools, particularly at the primary level, are a routine feature such areas, while institutes in the city appear to bursting at the seams with needless staff, Schools in far-flung areas function at the sweet discretion of their often lone teachers, and instances of just one or two tutors handling multiple classes and hundreds of students are common. The standards of such schools and the education they impart can well be imagined. By an ironic twist of circumstance, the teaching profession has been for long, the last resort of the capable and the destination of choice for those who are unable to fit in anywhere else. When the screening process for entry into this field - on which the entire social edifice rests - should have been highly stringent, it had largely become a hit- and-trial exercise with the barest minimum regard for talent, skill and temperament. Societal trends guided by the political elite have shorn the teaching profession of its status and sanctity, turning it into just another vocation with little to distinguish it from, say, hawking garments on the streets. The adventurous, glamorous and challenging enterprise of kindling, illuminating and enlightening tender young minds has become a lack-lustre and uninspiring activity devoid of a sorely-needed missionary spirit, mainly because successive leaderships (if they deserve that name) have been too occupied with other, more lucrative, concerns to bother about what is the corner-stone of the well-being of a people. This has had a direct bearing on the condition of our schools and their performance.
Having been active partners in ruining the state-run school system, the ruling classes now abdicate all responsibility by dumping the educational sector into the private lap. This is seen in the lavish support to fashionable and prohibitively expensive private schools and the mushrooming of lesser copycats who are making a financial killing in the absence of a dependable and affordable public structure. It is nothing short of a scandal that parents should avoid sending their wards to government schools on account of the latters dismal record, and prefer seedy and crowded private options no matter how mercenary they are.
The situation has been allowed to drift for far too long in the hope that with time the growing, engineered preference for private schools would phase the government system out of existence. It remains to be seen how well measures taken in desperation, like recruitments scrounged in haste, are able to turn the tide for society, particularly low-income, rural and agrarian classes for whom state-run schools were the mainstay of hope.
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