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Enduring development

Enduring development

In what has been a left over of the Partition, Jammu and Kashmir has for long suffered the impacts of withheld development, perpetuated instability, and prolonged uncertainty. The occupation of the northern regions of the state by Pakistan began the cycle of dangerous uncertainty and has since then, caused several normal ways of civil life to be shaped by frequent disruptions. Conflict has come to define the region which already grapples with a host of social, administrative, and economic problems. The way to address persisting problems of a region is essentially by means of education, and more importantly, empowering the people with education; and the fact is that it is education that suffers the most in the politically volatile state. Although uninterrupted education in its entirety is a challenge, political decisions further compound the situation. The government of India's August 5 decision to strip J&K of its state hood and split it into two UTs of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir caused a stir that has still not settled. The overnight decision of scrapping the special status of the state and making inoperative Article 370 which granted it the special status are without a doubt bold decisions but the implementation of these decisions have caused the local people to pay a heavy price. Of all the losses borne in the wake of this political development, education taking a hit is one of gravest repercussions. Schools and colleges were closed after the shutdown was announced but even after they were opened, they remained empty and lifeless as lives of students would not be risked owing to the fragile situation in the state. Attendance is minimal and that speaks of the worrisome state of education in the region. The challenge is to not only ease the condition of education and make it available normally but also to understand that disrupted education will only further compound the situation.

In seeking to ameliorate the situation in with respect to education, the J&K administration has asked the Centre for Rs 2,700 crore for the development of higher education in the state, with funds sought for vocational training, entrepreneurship development, student exchange programmes, and adding of 2,000 new positions under the Prime Minister's Special Scholarship Scheme, among other things. This proposal comes after the Centre had the region visited in late September. The proposal indicates that about Rs 110 crore has been earmarked for the development of sports infrastructure (comprising cricket stadium, football turf, etc.) in colleges and about Rs 4 crore is meant for student exchange. All Union ministries have been tasked by the PM's Office to draft special packages for the development of J&K. In line with this pursuit, the MHRD is examining the proposal sent by the Jammu and Kashmir administration for the development of the state of higher education in the region. It remains a subject of debate to look beyond this initiative for how the educated youth will be absorbed for both fulfilment of their aspirations as well as for the service of society at large. The proposal in context states that, "The students enrolled in the colleges of the State Government do not get the exposure to the latest trends in the field of education and are also not acquainted with the methodologies and the techniques adopted in various reputed institutions of learning for imparting curriculum and skills… Accordingly, a draft student exchange policy has been devised which will entail short-listing about 3,000 meritorious students each year for national and international programmes on student exchange in the reputed colleges and universities under a Memorandum of Understanding with these Institutions." With the purpose of promoting research and innovation, the proposal seeks 22 research and innovation laboratories to be established at 22 degree colleges. Rs 820 crore has been sought for setting up 30 degree colleges, 20 women's colleges with hostels and 10 professional colleges. Under the head of employment enhancement, the 15-page proposal pitches interventions such as employability tests, internships for third- and final-year students of polytechnics at 10 IITs and GATE coaching for final-year engineering and polytechnic students. The list of targets and the initiative are indeed admirable but what must be reiterated is that for these initiatives to endure and actually bear any fruit for the commoner in Jammu and Kashmir, normalcy and stability are indespensible as they are the locus of all developments. The two UTs of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir will officially come into existence form October 31 and will begin a fresh chapter for these regions. Given that there is now direct accountability of the Central government in there, a change for good may be expected. Education is the first step in this direction.

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