Fearing ‘radicalization’, the Indian army chief lately asked for control in Kashmir’s schools. But beyond the military talk, the Valley-based schools do need some control to shed off its herd-mentality-producing image to emerge as a creative endeavor.
As Lala Sheikh Restaurant’s unwashed walls match with the color of his skull cap, Nawaz Zehgir keenly observes the people sitting around him. In this crammed tea shop at Srinagar’s Poloview—once graced by the likes of Ali Mohammad Jinnah—he is cooling his heels to have an interactive session with his friends.
This 19-year-old youth often turns up in this smoke-filled restaurant to articulate his views on varied topics and subjects. His wait lasts till some hippie bunch of young boys and a girl walk in. For the day, they’re to talk about the prevailing education system in Kashmir.
It’s depressing, Nawaz begins, as the commotion inside grows. “I believe the real education comes from here — from tea shops and streets,” he says, turning chirpy. “I find more interesting talks and teachings in a tea shop than in the classes.”
Much of this worldview has been shaped by his regular hangouts with his street-smart friends—who discuss almost everything under the sun on the shop-fronts, rather than in classrooms.
“Spaces determine who you’re,” he continues, as others sip tea and play his captive audience. “If they’re suppressive, restrictive and controlled, then it’s bound to cull one’s creative acumen. I see our classrooms no different.”
The opinioned youngster reckons that one just needs to travel across Kashmir to access the state of dismal education. “But such controlled spaces can only produce literates than educates.”
He takes calculative pauses to veer the conversation towards the Indian army chief’s latest talk. Addressing the media on the eve of the Army Day recently, General Rawat had said, “In the schools in Jammu and Kashmir, what teachers are teaching should not be taught. In schools in J&K, there can be seen two maps, one of India, another of J&K. Why do we need a separate map for J&K? What does it teach the children? Most misguided youth come from schools where they are being radicalised.”
Nawaz takes a dig at the general’s remark to delight of his friends. “Here is this General making us believe that our schools have become ‘radicalized’ centres,” he says to rapt attention of his friends. “Somebody should tell him that our schools aren’t even inspiring us for critical thinking—leave alone radicalizing us.”
The existing system of learning, Nawaz continues, has only reduced our campuses as time pass spaces “where we only clear the futile exercise of exams and acquire those meaningless degrees”.
Much of these remarks resound in the restaurant hosting different crowd of people from different backgrounds, seeking different directions in life. Perhaps, the informal chat spaces like these do play their part in the narrative building—which otherwise is hardly being encouraged in formal spaces like classrooms and educational campus, where even student activism is banned.
Memorizing is understood as learning, the 20-year-old medical student joins in. “Most of our teachers make no effort to develop the soft skills in students,” Haris Khan thumps the table with his clenched fist.
Most of these students—calling themselves wanderers, seekers, learners—speak quite aloud, thus frequently grabbing the attention of others in the restaurant. But the boys don’t seem to mind stirring what many inside are probably dismissing as ‘the storm in a teacup’.
With his animated facial expressions, Haris expresses regret about his school days. The focus out there remained only scoring big marks, he says.
Even the bigger menace remains how successive governments have failed to address the student problems, says Ifra Malik. “Every student is exceptionally gifted in particular ways,” reckons this Class 11 student. “But then the omnipresent teacher-student communication gap often wastes the student potential.”
Though being a girl prevents her becoming a part of shop-front discussions, she compensates it through discussing matters with her friend circle in cafes and tea shops. For her, the entire education system is an oppressive unit.
“At times,” she says, “even my parents thought of de-schooling to save me from becoming a lost and confused soul. They equate education with pure business. And they were quite disheartened how students are being punished for every single mistake rather than to groom them into a well-meaning person with polished skills and talents.”
For much of the mess, they blame Kashmir society’s illusion to create a ‘settled-future’ job image of the government teacher.
“So,” says Nawaz, “once you’re a government teacher, you’re hardly accountable—though lately they tried to stop promotions of some teachers for producing poor results. So in a way, for most of the government teachers, teaching is merely securing a settled job than a service to help grow the young minds.”
As long as teaching is a desperate employment seeking option than a matter of conviction, till then, “we poor souls will continue to suffer.”
Such spoken concern simply defies the image of the valley, which for centuries, has remained the home of the great scholars, visiting it in search of learning and knowledge. Education was imparted from madrasas, maktabas, khanqas and patshalas. Even during the medieval period, Kashmir stood as a pioneer of progress and a beacon of enlightenment for the other parts of the world.
“Teachers at school need to foster the process of interaction between students,” says Hadi Wani. This 17-year-old student believes that until and unless students are not provided a platform where they can engage in interaction and share their ideas, the system is not going to change.
The friends nod their heads in agreement.
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