In more than one year of experience as the Principal Secretary to the government for the School Education Department Bishwajit Kumar Singh in an interview with Rising Kashmir’s education correspondent Riyaz Bhat says that his primary focus has always remained to bring quality education in government schools, motivate the teachers for a better outcome and complete and implement the pending works and policies.
What are the main things you have focused on and worked on?
I would like to share that barely after a month I joined as Principal Secretary on October-19-2020; I felt like there was a need for motivation for teachers because their level of confidence was somehow downgraded. I visited some schools wherein I met the teachers. My primary focus and perspective were to motivate the teachers at the maximum level so that the quality of the education would improve. The second challenge for me was to utilize the service of 35,000 Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers. The funding in Samagra Shiksha was very irregular. Although, the School Education Department was receiving very less funds (10 percent) from the State budget and the salary bill had increased to a large extent. As we were spending 98 percent of the funds as a salary to the staff, it was very important to focus on developmental works besides the salary.
Samagra Shiksha Scheme has been extended for five more years, what is the main focus for the School Education Department for these years?
Our primary focus would be to improve the quality of education and the completion of pending civil works. Besides, we wanted to establish the model schools, at least one at the district level wherein we wanted to setup all facilities. The School Education Department will also focus on improving digital education in which our primary focus would be to provide all the basic facilities required for digital education so that all the parents of those wards studying in the government schools will feel that their wards are getting advanced education.
There seems to be no regulatory authority to govern the kindergartens, what is the government doing in this regard?
School education department is starting kindergartens of their own.We are also focusing on the policies and plans to regulate them and we will see what kind of facilities should be for the kids in the kindergartens.
Currently, 700 kindergartens are functional and 1800 are in the pipeline. We are procuring the goods required for these establishments. This year we will establish nearly 2,000 kindergartens across JK. In total, we will have 4500 kindergartens in the primary schools. We have already planned it and we have a budget for it. In the coming 2-3 years, almost all kindergartens will be completed.
What is the School Education Department doing to implement the National Education Policy (NEP-2020)? When will it get fully executed in Jammu and Kashmir?
We cannot give any deadline for the complete implementation of NEP-2020. Like the national curriculum framework that is likely to be completed by 2025, we will draft the framework and will submit the comprehensive report to the NCERT by June-2022. In over 9,000 pre-primary schools, classes are being given to the students but the basic facilities that should have been for the students aren’t there. I hope these major issues will get resolved soon.
As the NEP-2020 is mostly focused on skill-based programs, had School Education Department started any skill-based programs for the students?
See, under the Samagra Shiksha, we are already providing some skill-based education under vocational education. In some Islamia High schools, we are providing skill education about tailoring so we are trying to accommodate more students of the catchment area to pursue the same skills in the school.
Helth department has said that the surrendered schools of the department will be utilised for the health centres.Was this initiative already in the pipeline?
See, the School Education Department has no mandate to decide as to whether the surrendered schools will be used as primary health centres or anything else. We have submitted the list of 720 schools that have been merged including the 250 such schools with zero student enrolment. Now the health department is trying to utilize those schools. We have no problem with it. There was no proposal or plan to handover these schools to the health department.
Is there any proposal or plan with the department to provide transport facility for the students who walk miles to reach their respective institutions?
Under the Samagra Shiksha, last year we decided to provide Rs 500 as transportation charges to the students. This is under consideration. Instead of constructing new schools, the government is of the view to provide all the basic facilities to the students of existing schools including the transport facility. It takes crores of rupees to establish the new school. It would be better to provide all the facilities to the students instead of establishing new ones.
In the online classes that were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the reports say that the students of Jammu and Kashmir have performed poorly in attending them. Why is it so?
Yes, that is true. Teachers are saying that they have conducted the online classes but I cannot say whether the teachers are lying or the survey reveals wrong figures.It is true that the community classes were done at a large that compensated for the academic losses suffered by the students during the pandemic. Nearly, 4.8 lakh students were going for community classes during that period. During the COVID-19, nearly 40 percent of the students attended the classes through different mediums.
In some areas of Kashmir, students are receiving free books and uniforms lately or in the mid-session. Why?
It will not happen now. Earlier, the funds that were being channelized to procure and provide free uniforms and books to students were going through the directors of school education of Jammu and Kashmir that was resulting in the delay. But now we are directly making payment from the Samagra Shiksha to the Board of School Education.
The Government Fee Fixation Committee (GFFC) often notifies violations of its orders regarding the fee, admission fees, transportation and other charges by the private schools. What actions are being taken by the government to streamline the issue?
If the parents come up with proof of violation of government orders by the private schools, I assure you that we will de-recognize them. The GFFC can’t de-recognize them, but they can refer the complaints to us and we will accordingly take action against the respective private school. They can only recommend it. Admission fee is banded by law and act 20 (E) of the School Education Department. I am appealing to the people that if they feel that they are being forced to pay the banned fee, file a complaint with us; we will deal with such private schools.
Some schools are functioning despite being declared unsafe. Why?
I don’t know exactly but I am sure that there are very few such schools. We are working on it. In civil works, it is our priority to take up the unsafe schools for re-construction or renovation. We are gradually resolving the issue.
Why are many institutionsfunctioning headless?
No, there is a big development in this regard. In a very short time, we will be promoting 1000 masters as headmasters in high schools of Jammu and Kashmir.
The director of both the Jammu and Kashmir divisions has already prepared a list of around 2100 masters to be promoted as headmasters in both divisions. In 15 days, we will be promoting 2100-2500 masters across Jammu and Kashmir. Then after the vacancy of masters will be available we will promote teachers and masters as per their seniority. All the Chief Education Officers (CEOs) have been directed to identify the postgraduate teachers and post them accordingly in the schools.
Government schools are being criticized for having less or no accountability and transparency for teachers and schools. What is the department doing in this regard?
We are trying to bring transparency and accountability by starting a scheme wherein we will assess the teacher’s performance after every three months and that will be accordingly uploaded on the web portal. As of now, nobody is observing the changes but once the data of such teachers will be available, changes will be visible.
Annual Transfer Drives (ATD) haven’t gone smoothly over the past few years and this year too it seems delayed. Why?
Yes, there has been a delay in the ATD-2022 by 15-20 days due to some administrative reasons. Because the concerned staff that was doing it is not presently not there and I am in the process of making a new team.
There has been a consistent dropout in government schools. Why are the students of government schools quitting their studies midway? What is the school education department doing for those students?
There are several reasons for the dropout rate in government schools. The most important reason for the dropout rate in government schools is the quality of education. When a student fails to solve mathematics problems and finds it difficult to read and write, in these cases, they are likely to become dropouts in school. To overcome it, we are trying to improve and enhance the quality of education at the kindergarten and primary levels. If there is a good quality of education at these levels, I assure you that there will be no dropout rate. Nowadays, no parent will want their child to be illiterate. We are working on it and in the past year, the dropout rate has reduced from 6.8 percent to fewer than 4 percent. Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) has also doubled.
What will be the major policies of the School Education Department to improve its functioning and performance?
I believe that the teacher is the most important element in the education sector that teaches and provides education to thousands of students. A teacher is a key point. When a teacher is motivated and passionate enough to teach the students, he can make the future of the students. My major focus will be on nourishing and motivating the teachers for the betterment of students.