Rashid Paul

Banning sale of text books by private schools

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The opposition political parties in India term the actions and governance style of PM Modi as ‘acts of spectacle’. But if somehow we are able to convey them the recent action by the Directorate of School Education, Kashmir (DSEK) banning sale of text books and uniforms by private schools they will call it a “spectacular nothing”. Our anaesthetized bureaucracy is far advanced in the art of creating spectacles than anyone else. Examinations have already been conducted in October up to class seven in almost all the private schools. (Examinations class seven onwards where there is uniformity of textbooks across the schools is going on). The seasonal “black” business of selling text books and stationeries in the schools or “referring” the parents to specific bookshops and kiosks has also concluded.

The Director DSEK through a circular in 2nd week of November has directed his district education officers to find out whether any school is violating his order so as to invoke action.

The dramatic behavior designed to attract attention by politicians and bureaucrats connected with our modern school system has been a pattern over the years. In 2015 the then chief of the DSEK, Shah Faesal issued an order 002 -004/3015 in November when the sales had already finished off. Faesal’s order asked all the deputy commissioners of Kashmir to form squads to check the arbitrary whim of the private school managements resorting to unfair business. His order also warned of deregistration and disaffiliation.

Faesal expressed his anguish that private schools in Kashmir were not allowing reuse of text books of one sibling by another- a practice we experienced during our school days. But so far nobody has been brought under the heels of the law in the textbook business mafia.

On 17th of May, 2018 the then minister for education Choudhary Zulfkar Ali at a function organized by private schools association in Srinagar sermonized, “You have a mandate to impart education to the students, not to sell the shoes, the text books or the uniforms”, the minister said. But the illegal practice continued very much under his nose.

It is a common refrain that people are being fleeced by most of the private schools including the ordinary and the “extraordinary”. Their text books, note books, stationary, uniforms etc are overrated. As a parent I too have an acidic experience of this sophisticated extortion in the name of service at door by two “elite” schools of Kashmir. I along with countless parents have been forced to purchase books and uniforms at prices dictated not by the content or the quality but the will and whim of the new age knowledge entrepreneurs.

It is a practice explicitly in conflict with law but those tasked to execute the law seem either to be partners in this underground business, or they are acting in an exaggerated way just to appeal the popular wishes, as has been the allegation against Mr Modi by his “clueless” opponents.

Why have the people of Kashmir acquiesced to every kind of injustice ranging from political, socio, economic to the ones inflicted by private schools? Public school system here is suffering a crisis of confidence.  Living in their own world of fantasies why should the power elite be concerned to revive public schools, a basic sector of human capital development of the general masses. The public schools in urban Kashmir have now earned the notoriety of being places of time pass for the women folk of this privileged class. At most of these sarkari schools these women teachers outnumber the student enrolment. These upsetting circumstances have forced not only the elites but even the low and middle income families like mine to register their children in the private schools.

Powered by this wave of low and middle income class the private school sector has witnessed a remarkable rise in Kashmir in the past three decades.  Enrolment in approximately 2750 such schools is nearly 5, 89, 000, which makes 40 to 45% of our total student population.

Guestimates suggest that the study materials especially the text books and notebooks in private school in Kashmir is a market ranging between Rs 100 crore to 150 crore. Since there is an absence of the printing and publication industry in Kashmir more than 99 percent of these school materials is manufactured outside Kashmir. The school managements are reported to have secret arrangements with printers. Hefty amounts are acquired by them by overrating the text books and other materials. In certain other cases commission rates are fixed with the publishers and printers. Crores of rupees are exacted in this black business from the parents who have been rendered as creatures destitute of free will.

Since the poorly resourced government school system has long lost its credibility and people see them as areas of darkness, private schools with comparatively better infrastructure and accountability have emerged as an alternative. They may not be what an American educationist terms “good schools”- schools where children learn things that help them to make a strong start in life. They have at least provided us with an option of “the effective schools”- schools that look at learning in terms of test scores in a few academic areas.

If the government is genuine in putting an end to black business by private schools it can make J&K Board of School Education textbooks mandatory for all the schools for all the classes. But the material ought to be attractive. More importantly the content should help creating rational, analytical and critical minds. It should aspire a society where a “single judgment does not represent the collective will”, values Modi Ji’s detractors say have been rendered inconsequential in his rule.

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