“I would do whatever it takes to ensure Kashmir’s prosperity.”
PROFESSOR Veena Pandita, who held twin positions as Director of the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), J&K, and Chairperson of the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education (JKBOSE), retired from government service on June 30, 2022.
The extended opportunity to serve “my people, who attested to my honesty and applauded the move,” Prof. Pandita added, was an exciting experience.
In a tête-à-tête with Farooq Shah, she said that she would like to finally call it quits and spend the time with her family and friends.
You started your career as an Assistant Professor in the Higher Education Department in 1983. How did you end up working in the administration?
Even though I enjoyed teaching, the fact that there were administrative flaws and that not many colleges in J&K offered courses in commerce occasionally bothered me. I started my initial indulgence with administrative issues in 2008 after being promoted to the position of Principal. I spent almost 29 years working for the Higher Education Department until being appointed Joint Secretary JKBOSE in 2012.
As Joint Secretary for two years, I worked in various positions to implement numerous JKBOSE reforms. Thereafter, I served as its Secretary from 2014 to 2017, then in 2017, I was appointed its Chairperson.
You started off working in a variety of capacities at the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education (JKBOSE), eventually becoming its Chairperson. What motivated you to work at the Board?
The fact that I was the first woman to be named chair of the JKBOSE filled me with pride. JKBOSE has played a crucial role in elevating J&K to the forefront of the nation ever since it was founded. I’m proud of myself for being a member of JKBOSE for more than ten years. Moreover, I never saw myself as an administrator but a facilitator for the public in general and the student community in particular.
You began working at the JKBOSE at a time when technology was rudimentary. The office setting quickly became obsolete with the introduction of computers and the internet. How challenging was it for everyone to transition to the online format, especially the administrative staff?
Yes, switching from old-fashioned ways to a solution-based on current technology was challenging in the beginning. However, I have always had the good fortune of being surrounded by motivated staff. It was difficult, but not impossible, to make the transition. The people did take some time to adjust to the new technology, but it was eventually made possible. One JKBOSE project that comes to mind is the services the organisation offers through Digilocker, a platform for online services that is only used by a very small number of Boards in the nation.
What JKBOSE achievement would you consider to be ground-breaking during your time as Chairperson?
Conducting annual exams in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2014 floods is one such accomplishment. One of JKBOSE’s key accomplishments during my tenure has been the timely provision of textbooks, the absence of paper leaks over the years, and fair and copy-free exams. JKBOSE is now a leading organisation in the modern era as a result of the transition from antiquated ways to technologically advanced solutions.
Many people weren’t happy with your re-appointment as JKBOSE Chairperson for two more years in 2020. You must have had a difficult time coming to grips with the government’s decision to grant you an extension.
Some people may have been upset by my extension, but since I have a positive attitude on life, I wasn’t too bothered by it. I saw it as a challenge, and rather than being concerned about what some people would think about the government’s choice, I was grateful for the chance to serve my people, who attested to my sincerity and applauded the decision.
In the meanwhile, you were assigned the additional responsibility of leading the State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT) as Director in September 2020. How did you manage the added responsibilities?
I was grateful that I was picked to be the organization’s first Director, and I was both excited and nervous at the same time. There’s no doubt that managing two important organisations at once is difficult. However, the people associated with these organizations have been my strongest supporters during this journey.
While serving as Director, what SCERT accomplishment would you regard to be a game-changer?
SCERT came into being by reframing and restructuring the erstwhile State Institute of Education in 2020. Since then, I don’t remember a day when SCERT has not worked for the betterment of the teaching community. Whether it be the NISHTHA training program, where J&K performed exceedingly well at the national level, or the results of the National Achievement Survey 2021, J&K demonstrated a substantial improvement over the last NAS of 2017.
Did you feel at ease in your role as Director SCERT or Chairperson JKBOSE? Would you prefer to be associated with JKBOSE, SCERT, or both? Which job was the most difficult one and why?
I count myself fortunate to have been connected to such organisations during my service years. Both professions are neither difficult nor simple, but an administrator must be prepared to handle any issues that arise. Fortunately, both organisations provided me with a committed team, which helped to lessen the stress of my work.
How do you envision your future post-retirement?
After more than 39 years of service, I believe I can claim with confidence that I have fulfilled my purpose in life. After giving everything that I had, it is now time to be with my family and friends. They have been tremendously supportive of me throughout and have made significant contributions to my growth. But I would want to be with them right now for as long as I can.
In contrast to Kashmir, where you were born, you have spent a lot of time working elsewhere. How closely do you feel about Kashmir as a daughter of the soil? Do you have any plans to help out where you were born?
At my core, I am Kashmiri, and I am proud of who I am. Since Kashmir is where I began my professional career, I’ll never forget my roots. I would lend a hand in whatever way I could, whether as a citizen or an academic, because I’ve always wanted Kashmir to prosper and I’ll do anything I can to make it happen. However, Jammu has also gained my heart through the years.
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