EDUCATION’S purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. Thus spoke Malcolm Forbes.
But often, the line between education and qualification tends to blur. It’s never enough to keep clearing the grey areas around the concepts and defining the concept of true education. Simply because, what we learn is what we create & manifest.
The process of facilitating learning, acquiring of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs and habits is called education. Qualification, on the contrary, is the certification of any competent authority of your one particular set of skills that can help you attain a good job. Education means that you are enlightened, literate, knowledgeable which again is reflected in your personality.
You are visionary, tolerant, progressive, accommodative, informative, mentally, physically, emotionally upright and strong and above all, you are less vulnerable to political, religious, emotional exploitation. However, your competency is mirrored by your qualification again, a specific set of skills required for a particular work or job. The skilled labour force which have some sort of specialisation in a particular trade or work are, therefore, qualified, immaterial whether they have attended a school or not.
- Turmoil & the absence of real education
Though we have a huge army of qualified youth in Jammu and Kashmir, the fact of the matter is that education has suffered unimaginable losses in the 33 years of violence, turmoil and unrest here. Our students were still awarded degrees and were eligible for jobs both in the public and the private sector; however, there should be this candid admission that because of the unfavourable conditions, we could only produce qualified men and women holding degrees with the least exposure to education. At the same time, the youth could not be blamed for being highly qualified with less exposure and education in its real sense. Circumstances were such that one could only yearn for somehow getting degrees.
The chaos in the streets of Kashmir, the bloodshed, the insecurity could not provide a congenial atmosphere to the students in the Kashmir valley to attain education. We had more strikes than normal working days; even normal days were never normal in the true sense, owing to the insecurities and depressive atmosphere we lived through in three decades. The uncertainty took a heavy toll on learning and education. We had literally lost the classroom culture. The loss to education system had been irreparable in the sense that the students of that era are now teachers. They were qualified enough to be selected as teachers. And they are certainly within their rights to have jobs in private and public sectors. That said, the question which we should be asking ourselves is – are we in safe hands?
- Train the teachers first
Well, for a long time, I have been arguing that we need to teach the teachers first before thinking about the students. We need to train and educate the teachers. In fact we need to take a holistic look at our teaching capabilities, arrange for special training courses and make them mandatory for all – schools to colleges to universities. We, of course, have a God-gifted advantage and that is – the sharpness inherent in the race. Genetically, Kashmiris are sharp and intelligent and their potential is outstanding if channelised constructively. So the first prerequisite for a better education system is proper education and training to the teaching community.
- Keep the peace
The second important thing that we should be collectively working towards is a peaceful atmosphere. Without peace we cannot even think of putting the education system back on its rails. Peace brings stability within and without and offers security where you could aspire for a better life. As mentioned earlier, we lost almost everything to violence. We suffered hugely on every account because of the disturbances and the distractions in the Valley. Now that we are witnessing a transition from a violent phase to a relatively normal atmosphere, efforts are there and rightly so, to revive and revamp the education system.
- Open up to the world
The third important dynamics is greater interactions with the outer world. We are fortunate for being a mesmerising tourist destination. And Kashmir has been a great seat of learning historically because of the travellers who travelled through the length and breadth of this Himalayan region, had interactions, offered services in many ways for our enlightenment and exposure to the outer world. The concept of formal education, if I am not wrong, was actually introduced in Kashmir by the travellers. The point I am trying to make is that greater interactions with people of various, faiths, races, colours and regions contribute enormously in shaping one’s worldview. In this era of globalised thought processes, we can’t afford to be frogs in a well. That syndrome has to end. Interfaith interactions actually inculcate symmetrical human values which lead to tolerance, cohesiveness, compassion on one hand, and on the other, prepare you for competition and competency. Someone has rightly observed that homogeneity is a curse which only leads to extreme thought processes and creates walls of hatred. Love and compassion go missing in homogeneous societies because such societies finally suffer from the ‘majoritarian’ syndrome which goes against the core human philosophy. It manifests in violence, turmoil and unrest. We have observed it in our immediate neighbourhood and keep watching and hearing about it in far-off societies. It leads to sectarian clashes within the people of the same faith, race and religion.
- Tune out of the smartphone
It’s very crucial that there be a pause on smartphone usage which poses an unspoken but unimaginable challenge to the classroom teacher. My first-hand experience about this smartphone syndrome is frustrating. I’ve been in and around universities and colleges for so long. In the last few years, I’ve observed an astonishing “tuning out” taking place in the classroom.
In an Anantnag college, I’ve seen a student in a course where cell phones and laptops were not allowed in the classroom, slip his phone out of his pocket every two minutes, check for messages and occasionally tap out a quick reply under the table, apparently convinced that the professor did not notice. I’ve seen students indulging in online shopping while the teacher is trying to give his/her hundred percent to the subject. I have seen students chatting with girlfriends and boyfriends apparently convinced that nobody notices as he or she is doing it all under the table. I have seen students spending class period scrolling through Instagram and Facebook accounts on a cell-phone, pausing to watch every moving GIF and video clip.
In such a scenario, the authority of the classroom teacher stands completely diluted. And students turn wayward. Street Romeos are replaced by classroom Romeos and a teacher watches all this helplessly and hopelessly. I have seen a student putting his hand around the shoulder of his teacher while coming out of the classroom!
It is depressing to watch that teachers have lost credibility because they are only ‘skilled labour’ and then the smartphone culture has come and compromised a teacher’s respect and authority ever more. Both ways, the trend is despicable which needs to be arrested sooner than later. And it’s most crucial that the education we offer helps younger generations really ‘learn’ than just gather degrees and scuttle off into the world with nothing solid to offer.