Making private schools to fall in line

  • JAVAID MALIK
  • Publish Date: Nov 18 2018 8:57PM
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  • Updated Date: Nov 18 2018 8:58PM
Making private schools to fall in lineFile Photo

After resorting to selective de-recognition of a few private schools in Kashmir, the Education department has once again tightened its noose around the private educational institutions this time for selling books and stationery items. It looks like that entire official machinery has been activated to act against the schools where books and stationery items are being sold these days as the new academic session has commenced. The officials are claiming that the drive against the private schools was started after receiving complaints from the people about these institutions resorting to “loot” at the pretext of selling books and uniforms.

Farooq Ahmed, a parent, while talking to the Kashmir Ink said that every year parents have to spend huge amounts on books, stationery and uniforms of their children. “This amount increases every year and parents have no choice other than to pay through their nose,” Ahmed said.  Another parent said that it’s strange that people have made a “mountain out of a mole hill.” “They are behaving as if they are buying the books and uniforms for the first time. This practice has been going on for years together and it’s obvious when children are promoted to higher classes new books have to be purchased,” he said. The parent said that people who believe that they are being “exploited” by the private schools should send their children to government schools. “In these schools everything is provided by the state, except quality education,” he added.

Principal of a private school alleged that their institutions are being targeted for not following the “diktats” of the government. “Just one month before schools were asked to introduce religious books. Even a government order was issued in this regard. This move evoked sharp reaction from the people following which the order was withdrawn,” he said. The principal alleged that the attempts are being made to “hijack” the private schools in Kashmir as these institutions cater to ninety percent population in cities and towns. “An attempt is being made to take control of everything, including the young minds,” he claimed.

It may be recalled that the Jammu and Kashmir government in October this year had ordered schools, colleges and public libraries to ensure that Urdu and Kashmiri versions of religious scriptures Gita and Ramayana be stocked in their libraries. The government communique, which was signed by the school education department's under secretary to government, said: "The School Education department, Higher Education department, Director Colleges, Director Libraries and Culture department will consider purchasing sufficient number of copies each of Urdu version of "ShrimadBhagwat-Geeta" and "KoshurRamayan" authored by Shri SarwanandPremi for making these available in schools/ colleges and public libraries etc. of the state," the order read. However, the J&K government withdrew the order after it threatened to snowball into a major controversy. Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and vice-president of National Conference Omar Abdullah was the first to question the government’s go-ahead to “only selective religious books” to be placed in schools, colleges and government libraries. “Why just the Gita and Ramayana? If religious texts are to be placed in schools, colleges and government libraries (and I’m not convinced that they need/should be) then why is it being done selectively? Why are other religions being ignored,” Omar had written on twitter.

Owner of a private school claimed that the people at the helm at that point of time had asked the private schools to introduce the religious books at their own level without creating any hype but the private schools owners turned down the suggestion and demanded that a government order should be issued in this regard. “The government order became major news and embarrassed the people at the helm. We are being targeted just to settle the scores,” he alleged. An analyst said that Kashmir is not the only place in the country where books, stationery and uniforms are sold within the school premises. “It happens in every state but nowhere are the schools targeted for doing so. Kashmir perhaps is the only place where all rules and laws are applicable,” he said and alleged it could be “vendetta” also.

The analyst was of the opinion that the state government should “stop fiddling” with the education sector and concentrate on bigger issues. 

Chairman of the Private Schools Association Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK), GhulamNabiVar, told the Kashmir Ink that private schools are functioning because of the failure of the government-run education system. “In the government schools everything is free-  books, uniforms, stationery and even the mid-day meals - despite that parents prefer to send their children to private schools. The million dollar question is why do people prefer private schools over the government schools?” Var asked. He said that the government spends Rs 6000 crore every year on just 18% of the students who are studying in the government schools. “Instead of spending so much money on the government schools authorities can come up with a different plan to prove their sincerity towards the children and their studies. The government can provide education vouchers to the students so that they can choose their schools and pursue their studies,” he added. Var rubbished the allegations that private schools are “looting” the parents and books and stationery are being sold at “exorbitant rates.” “The books which are being sold in the schools are available in the open market also and the rates are same,” he added. He said, “Children of the government employees, including school teachers and the employees of the Education department, study in private schools. Someone needs ask them why do they send their children to private schools? ” Var asked.

He said that it’s “unfortunate” that from station house officer to superintendent of police and from clerk to the top official everyone has been asked to “use his power” to see what’s happening in the private schools, which during the years have emerged as symbols of quality education. “The government should stop treating us like criminals,” he added. Var alleged the government “has set up school fee fixation committee to harass the private schools”.  “We (the private schools) submit our files to seek permission to hike fee but the file remains under process for more than a year. The committee is nothing but a centre to rehabilitate the retired employees,” he said. 

Undeterred by the hue and cry raised by the private schools association, Governor’s Advisor Khurshid Ahmed Ganai has issued directions to the Directors of the School Education, Kashmir and Jammu, to examine the complaints about sale of textbooks at “exorbitant prices” by private schools in the state and recommend measures to regulate the rates. “The government will issue guidelines to regulate prices of textbooks and uniforms of private schools in the state on the analogy of regulation of fee structure of these schools. Strict action would be taken against those who resort to extortion and illegal profiteering by selling textbooks and other items at exorbitant rates,” an official spokesman quoted Advisor Ganai, who also holds the charge of the Education department.

The face-off between the private schools and the government is snowballing into a major controversy. Private schools are spilling the beans after feeling the heat while the people at the helm are not ready to relent. There needs to be a meeting point. If the government and the PSAJK keep on locking the horns it can ruin the career of thousands of children who are studying in different private schools across the Valley.  Mudslinging won’t help anyone’s cause.