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Books, not bullets in J&K

Muneer Alam, an engineer-turned-math teacher, sprays disinfectant before the start of an early morning outdoor class at Eidgah in Srinagar on July 18, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AP

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has witnessed more than three decades of proxy war and violence. The most adversely affected among all sections of society have been the children and youth of the region. Young minds which were supposed to be aspirational, educated, skilled and equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century were instead initiated into violence, terrorism, indoctrination and anti-national sentiments.

But on the historic day of August 5, 2019, there came a paradigm shift in the history of J&K. The newly-carved out Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh opened new avenues and created a plethora of opportunities for the people. Before August 5, 2019, the burning of schools and educational institutions was a ritual and a matter of pride. In the last year, it has been heartening to find that news of the burning of educational institutions has just evaporated. Children, teachers and Education Departments are ecstatic to shoulder new responsibilities. The education ecosystem in the State has changed and the Centre has taken up the key challenges of ensuring quality, equity and access in education to the last child.

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Welcoming change

Within a few weeks of the Union Territory being formed, I had an opportunity as the Union Minister of Education to interact with more than 1,500 teachers and educationists. People of the Valley were very warm and welcoming and reposed their utmost faith in the government’s policies. It is the sheer commitment of teachers, the Education Department and the administrative machinery of the Union Territories that ensured that the academic year was not wasted despite the inevitable lockdown and demographic challenges. During my interaction with Vice-Chancellors, heads of educational institutions, teachers and parents, a point that emerged was “enough is enough”. There was unanimity about getting into the mainstream and moving onto the developmental path, discarding decades-old outdated, orthodox and regressive ideologies.

In the last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reviewed several projects at regular intervals in the newly formed Union Territories. Approval for a Central University in Ladakh has been granted in tune with the commitment made to the people of the hilly region. This university will be a landmark in providing quality education to students of not only the Ladakh region but also the border districts of Himachal Pradesh. The university campus will also have a Centre for Buddhist students, fulfilling a demand of local populace. To ensure universalisation of education, the Right to Education Act 2009 being extended to J&K is in the final stage. Capacity building of the education infrastructure in the Jammu-Kashmir region is another focus area along with large-scale curriculum reforms, teachers’ training, infrastructure upgradation and integration of education technology.

A range of projects

The upgradation is being undertaken on a war footing. The government is committed to the welfare of the people of the region, and all possible measures are being taken to ensure that no child is left out. In addition, 23,405 children with special needs have been identified and are being enrolled in school. Also 1,417 seasonal centres for learning have been set up to provide training to children of Gujjar and Bakkarwal communities owing to their unique migrant lifestyle. Further, 88 Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas along with hostels for girls are being made functional. Fifty new government degree colleges in J&K have been sanctioned and made operational. Nineteen new modern schools (on the pattern of Kendriya Vidyalayas) will be developed in the next three years. Upgradation of smart/IT-enabled classrooms to deliver e-content will bridge the gap in the post-COVID-19 scenario. A Jammu and Kashmir Education Investment Policy 2020 has been framed and finalised. Projects worth ₹327 crore for a hi-tech education city and colleges/universities have been received by the Administration. It is indeed a new beginning in the history of the violence-torn region.

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With the arrival of NEP 2020, the Union Ministry of Education is committed to make India a global knowledge centre at a fast pace with a focus on basic literary, numeracy, vocational skills. With the Prime Minister’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat, the government is fully committed to ensuring that the developmental agenda in both Union Territories is not derailed. I firmly believe that education is the best gift we can give to our generations. Quality education is the best investment which will pay us dividends in the years ahead. The NEP 2020 is only the beginning of this transformation.

Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ is Union Minister for Education, Government of India

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Printable version | Oct 1, 2020 2:35:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/books-not-bullets-in-jk/article32279650.ece

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