A BRIGHT YOUNG Kashmiri man, barely 25 years old, has the ability and talent to become an artist of great and global fame and renown. He is young, and effervescent with ideas; he also has the oomph and the gumption required to make it big. A 29 something year Kashmiri old woman knows her stuff so well that she can articulate it with panache, confidence and equipoise. She’s a natural-in the sense of being a gifted teacher or academic. Both are gifted with and by natural intelligence and talent. But, alas, both share a common template in terms of their life trajectories so far and sadly perhaps even fate. Both come from working class back grounds where their parents have done their best to give them an education, clothed, fed them or in short, helped them grow up.
However, in both instances, structural constraints inhibit and preclude their chances of making it big in the wider world. They can, unless and until, something dramatic happens, succeed only up to a point. These constraints pertain to the nature of education they receive-limited and not broad based- and the limited exposures-intellectual and practical- to the wider world overlaid by social expectations (which make them conformist) and a utilitarian approach towards education. The horizons and grooming of these bright and talented sparks of Kashmir then get circumscribed and the success quotient is radically reduced. If only they had a wider canvas , they would touch the stars, so to speak. I am not asserting these out of a romantic notion of ethnic fidelity and solidarity with my ethnic kinsmen (Kashmiris). I have lived, studied and worked in four continents; this has exposed me to diverse and different cultures and peoples. Much learning has accrued from this process and one prong of this learning is the ability to gauge talent and intelligence. I think I have developed and acquired reasonable insights and my judgment is fairly accurate. My assessment of young Kashmiris or many young Kashmiris might be spot on. This is what makes me sad and even disappointed: the wastage or under utilization of immense reservoirs of talent in Kashmir.
(I may make a digression here and state that I have been privileged to study in the best schools and universities in the West. I have been enriched by these experiences and I want that every Kashmiri child or student should have similar or even better experiences. Our state and society will be better for this and perhaps even the world. Importantly, the natural talents and intelligence of young men and woman in Kashmir might not be wasted.)
What accounts for the dissipation and wastage of this talent?
Multifarious reasons account for the wastage of talent in Kashmir. The most salient, however, are unequal access to education complemented by a dismal opportunity structure in Kashmir. There are only a few schools of merit in Kashmir; only the children of privilege can enroll and study in these. This makes the playing field uneven in the vale with the children of the moneyed classes privileged over the less fortunate ones. (I dont have a grouse with the elite here; I am merely pointing out a structural lacuna in our education systems). The skewed playing field impacts the nature and structure of opportunity with those imparted education in the top schools a leap ahead than those who get educated in mid rung and government schools. Inevitably, the life chances of both cohorts get affected. The lesser privileged children, in this sense, are doomed to suffer. (There are rare instances when these students make it to the top). Dreams are shattered and talent wasted.
Similarly, the opportunity structure in the vale is limited and bounded. The absorptive capacity of the state is limited; it can absorb only an n number of aspirants but the pool of these aspirants is vast. Markets cannot absorb the rest given that they are seriously underdeveloped. There are hardly any organized sectors here; the scope and depth of markets is underdeveloped which is reflected in the hardly developed private sector in Kashmir. Given these structural constraints in terms of opportunity, the options that aspirants in Kashmir have are very limited: these are reduced to either suffer in Kashmir or exit the place. But again the problem here is that it is only a few that can exit: the fortunate few. Economics of exit are taxing and it is only who can afford an education overseas that can really live decent lives elsewhere.
Can this condition be remedied?
Yes. Of course, to a large extent. But changing this abysmal condition requires a total and comprehensive redesign of public policy pertaining to education and the involvement of concerned and conscientious private players in the sector. Public Private Partnerships (PPS’s) can be devised that redound to public as well as private good improving access to and equalizing opportunity in the process. The design of education systems can be altered to incorporate the best and latest developments in the field of pedagogy, instruction, teaching and teaching materials to students. Teacher training modules can be imported from the developed world and technology made central to the learning process. These are well known and well understood techniques and themes than improve access and quality of education in Kashmir. What, however, is key is developing models of education delivery that make access to quality and good education affordable and accessible to most, if not all. It is doable. Key here is will and determination to do something substantive about it. We have talent and intelligence in abundance in Kashmir. Our Gen Next is especially gifted and talented. They need to be nurtured by according and imparting them quality and robust education that is affordable and accessible.
In a politicized milieu and environment as ours, issues of great significance and import get obscured. These issues and themes are economic, environment, social and even cultural. All are overwhelmed and overshadowed by the conflict in and over Kashmir. Ignoring these issues can only be detrimental to the long term welfare and sustainability of our socio- economic, cultural and even political future(s). Central to obviating and remedying these issues is education and making it affordable and accessible. This is a social issue and challenge. Governments can only do so much and given the inertia that defines governments especially in this part of the world, expecting more or much from the government is a mug’s game. The onus and even responsibility lies on conscientious private players in the state take up the challenge and alter the education paradigm in Kashmir. The benefits will percolate to both the private players and society at large. Is anybody listening?
Wajahat Qazi is an Associate Editor at the Kashmir Observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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