By Ashaq Hussain Parray
Traditionally, education has been conceptualised in sacred terms— it brings us closer to light and helps us reach our highest potential. However, in our techno-driven secular societies, education is purely thought of in consumerist terms. We invest in education in the hope of finding some returns at the end of the day. There is no scope for education that can only feed our minds while leaving us deprived of the select ‘privileges’ of capitalist economies. Our vision today conceptualises education in sync with the demands of a politico-economic system. The fact that the focus is now on skill-oriented courses may signal hope for many unskilled students to help them earn a living, even though at a very high intellectual cost. We view education through a purely consumerist logic of investment and returns policy. We expect students to learn a skill than encourage them to ask critical questions. In other words, we don’t question the governing structure that creates asymmetries in the place. Instead, our judgement relies on the sense of supplying the demands of the market without questioning its logic of operationality. A skilled student in the new scheme of things is the new cultured, educated labourer with a set of skills to earn a livelihood. In this context, how does one encourage students to learn and ask questions when the nature of college as a space of liberty and growth has transformed?
One of the primary problems that we currently face in our colleges is the student absenteeism. One wonders why, despite the government’s efforts to better the system, students are demotivated to attend college? As someone who has been observing the situation for some time, it breaks my heart to see students not appearing for their classes. Every day, I wait for students to show up for class, only to get disappointed. I call friends and colleagues in various colleges who narrate the same ordeal. What could be the reasons for this sudden lack of motivation and absenteeism in colleges?
The issue of student absenteeism is not as simple as it seems. Many people tell me that students are not interested in education anymore. But there must be underlying factors that produce this condition of demotivation and indifference to traditional college courses. For me, the answers have to be sought somewhere in the socio-economic and consequent individual psychologies dovetailed with the political anxieties surrounding the student community. Most college-going students today have seen through the tumultuous epochs of our history that witnessed extended periods of closure of educational institutions. For instance, students who have lived through the ruptures of 2008, 2010, 2016, and 2019 have seen formative years of their lives being deprived of education. Calamities like the 2014 floods and three long years of pandemic made sure to seal their creative energies. However, this is not all there is to the issue.
A significant portion of Kashmir’s college-going student community comes from outside Srinagar and from unprivileged sections. The individual and family demands of these students leave them with no option but to struggle within an already fragile economic ecosystem to meet inflation. I have spoken to hundreds of students and inquired about the reasons for their absence. Not surprisingly, many of our students enrolled in degree colleges work as unskilled labourers, masons, carpenters, apprentices to painters, tailors and other low-paying jobs to help their families stay afloat. The formative years in the public school system have damaged them beyond repair. Battling dispirited teachers and underdeveloped school systems, what does a college degree like BA/BCom/BSC has to offer these students in terms of an immediate hope of employment in a system that already battles a skyrocketed rate of unemployment?
We have not bothered to deliberate on the issue, and it is not surprising at all. Most of us, the tenured faculty in colleges, come from privileged spaces, and there is a gap between the teacher-taught that ensures the inculcation of class norms in the student community. The gap between the teacher and the student creates a sense of mistrust in students besides making them believe that they are floating lonely islands who must struggle on their own to make sense of their identities. I have not heard of too many college professors, including myself, acting as mentors, offering individual feedback on writing samples or encouraging students to experiment with their ideas. We are more worried about photo ops describing and reporting not-so-important events at the cost of academics. Someone must ask why we are doing activities that contribute to nothing. We don’t have strict measures to ensure whether a class was delivered or whether the syllabus was completed on time or why a certain professor failed to show up for class. However, we are not entirely to blame.
Over the years, the nature of academic space in colleges has undergone radical transformation. Colleges are understaffed, leaving faculty with burdensome administrative work at the expense of class work. It is not a surprise to see professors in district administration meetings and engaged in other works like preparing bills and, purchasing equipment, operating various management systems that are far away from academics. I do understand that our work is intricately linked with the public realm, but we must see our priority within an already existing system and focus on the work at hand.
Against such a scenario, one is tempted to think about whether college education is dying. It may sound like an exaggeration, but given the current situation, it will not be surprising if, in the near future, such conception of education falls irrelevant, particularly the courses in humanities, social sciences and pure sciences. While humanities and social sciences have already seen a decline the world over, it won’t be too long before other traditionally valued fields are overtaken by techno-based courses and degrees. Perhaps, it will be the time when the traditional conception of education as leading to self-realisation will eventually fall out of place and die a slow death. Maybe, it is time for us to wake up before it is too late.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author teaches English at GDC Ajas Bandipora
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