What had once been a mission has now been reduced to the level of a mercenary exercise; a slur on the names of pioneers who had undertaken the task of spreading education and opening schools as a sacred obligation, and endeavoured to dispel the dark shadows settled on this land – once a great seat of learning – because of centuries of alien suppression. Today, the Biscoes, Rasool Shahs and Hussain Shah Jalalis are rare, as is the selfless dedication with which they set about transforming society.
Their drawbacks notwithstanding, Kashmir’s feudal rulers, particularly the last Dogra potentate, had played a pioneering role in spreading education in the state. Many schools were established and people were forced to send their children to these schools. The “people’s government” which followed, strengthened the legacy further. The government made education its thrust area in tandem with land reforms and abolishing of landed estates. Services of eminent educationists were hired to put education in Kashmir on modern lines. Schools and colleges were established all over the state and education was free from Class I to the post-graduate level. Special scholarships were introduced to attract students from the economically and socially backward sections. Particular emphasis was laid on women’s education, and girls’ schools and colleges came up to advance the cause.
If education was a priority sector for the government, it was a sacred mission for the teachers. A good student was an asset they were proud of, and moulding a rough-hewn youth into an enlightened person was their only dream. There were only a few private schools in the valley. Most of the students received their education in government schools. There was hardly any difference between the standards of education in schools run by the government and those in private hands. In fact, a majority of government institutions were far better than many a private school. It now seems that education is no longer a priority for the govrnment despite the fact that the state has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country. Standards of education have fallen abysmally in government schools. Most employees of the education department have taken teaching as a secondary vocation while their principal occupation is private trade. This is particularly true about villages where most school teachers, besides running their personal businesses, function as satellites of the political parties. It would not be an exageration to say that government schools have lost their utility.
Education is now commerce, and educational institutions have been converted into mints. The legacy left by people like Biscoe and Rasool Shah is forgotten. The Christian and Muslim missionary schools working in Kashmir have been converted into money churning-machines. Every year, most private schools make substantial increases in tuition fees and charge exorbitant admission fees for various classes. The education departments either have no control over these private schools, or are hand-in-glove with them. Coaching centres and private tuitions have become a major industry for school and college teachers, and there is no law to regulate their functioning. The government needs to check private schools from arbitrarily increasing their fee, and bring private coaching centres under the purview of the law.
If you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil. (Henry Fielding)