“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
- Malcolm X
On 24th January is observed the International Day of Education. Although it is too early to comment on education and the challenges given the significance of this important and celebrated day, but an early start might be useful, particularly because the examinations, results and tuitions in Kashmir are hot topics these days.
The Right to Education is enshrined in the Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As per the declaration, free and compulsory elementary education is a human right. The Convention of 1989 on the Rights of the Child stipulates that countries shall make higher education accessible to all.
Education being essential for sustainable development, the UN has asserted that when it adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, the international community recognized education as essential for the success of all 17 of its goals. Sustainable Development Goal four, in particular, aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities by 2030 for all - regardless of religion, caste, social position, gender and skin colour.
The UN believes that education offers children a way out of poverty and a path to a promising future. About 265 million children and adolescents in the world do not have the opportunity to enter or complete school. More than a fifth of them are of primary school age. They are deprived of schooling by poverty, discrimination, armed conflicts, emergencies and the effects of climate change.
Moreover, migration and forcible displacement affect the achievement of the education goals, as presented in the 2019 Global Education Monitoring report.
According to the UN, by proclaiming the first International Day of Education, the member states have recognized the importance of working to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels. The aim is that all people may have access to lifelong learning opportunities that help them to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to access opportunities to participate fully in society and contribute to sustainable development.
In Jammu and Kashmir, we do have a free education policy for the elementary education but the free education policies have undergone changes. Education has become very competitive as can be seen from the mushroom growth of private schools and private coaching canters where in most cases the children are deprived of their play time and other recreation by being forced to go for tuition classes sometimes till late at night.
Private tuition has become a big business and some teachers do not complete the syllabi at school, forcing the children to go for private tuition. Fortunately some schools have prohibited teachers from conducting tuition classes to teach the children of their own schools.
In the rat race for higher grades, students in the age group of 6-18 years leave their homes early in the morning to study in the crowded and congested classrooms at coaching centres. Heating, seating and eating hardy matters.
Under pressure to succeed at all costs, students seem to realize that if they cannot pass in a fair manner, they can use foul means and this distorts their future life in society.
Unfortunately, we do not provide opportunities for students to get actively and creatively involved in vital issues such as the fight against poverty, deprivation, suffering, global warming and climate change.
Once they are given the opportunities to fight social evils and poverty, students will become responsible citizens and also play a role in building a society of diversity. This will propel the society towards a just, peaceful and all-inclusive society.
Sadly, our school education has been commercialized to such an extent that a child just needs loose sheets to study and pass an exam. Book reading has become unattractive and uninteresting task for students today. That is why a majority of students prefer to stay off their schools and they just attend coaching centres to get notes on loose sheets for passing an exam.
Moreover, our school education has been politicized. We have more than eight trade unions/forums in school education. These groups apparently fight for the denied or delayed salaries of teachers working at the elementary level. Surprising enough is that we have 41000 teachers in the state whose salaries are withheld for four to six months, besides they have been denied the service benefits such as the pay revision/commission, transfer and timely salaries. This leads to the politicizing of the teachers' miseries with no fast track action taken to save the teachers from the sufferings. Ironically, these unpaid teachers are expected to lead school education to glory!
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that unless we understand the practical value of education for the progress of society we will not build a humane, cultured and responsible society. And due to that attitude, our school teachers will continue to be criticized and demoralized and never praised and encouraged.
Yes, some school teachers do perform poorly in annual exams but criticizing and punishing them is no solution. We need to support the teachers and remove the challenges that hamper their performance.
Most importantly, we need education that can enable our students to fight against prejudice, discrimination, deprivation, poverty and suffering. Only such education can build a society where fairness and justice reigns.
BOX: Unless we understand the practical value of education for the progress of society we will not build a humane, cultured and responsible society.