Political interference in the appointment, posting and transfer of teachers have virtually destroyed the educational system in Jammu and Kashmir, says Education Minister Naeem Akhtar, who says he wants to make government schools "models" for private schools in the state.
Akhtar is determined to set right all that has gone wrong in the educational field, particularly after militancy gripped the country's only Muslim-majority state from 1989.
A confidant of Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and having been entrusted with the "uphill" task of revamping the educational system, he is focussing his attention on school education because he believes it forms the foundation of all good learning and training in the educational ladder.
About his vision, Akhtar said he was determined to make government schools "models for the private schools in future and not vice versa".
"Teachers will be made stakeholders in performance of educational institutions. Their career advancement will be directly linked to the performance of students," Akhtar told IANS in an interview, while appealing to "highly-trained, dedicated and socially responsible citizens to associate with government schools in their locality".
He gave the example of a university teacher living near a middle school in a north Kashmir district, who is "very popular among university students for communication skills" and has been requested "to associate with the improvement of the middle school as a voluntary effort".
"Such experiments can be done throughout the state," he said.
Son of a school teacher, Akhtar, who belongs to Garoora village in north Kashmir's Bandipora district, feels for government schools.
"I fully understand the left-handed deal a student would get in a government school in comparison to those in private schools during my days.
"The tragedy is that, over the years, that void in standards and achievements has widened. In the recent Class 10 results, the performance of government schools has been around 50 percent. That is not something any education minister can be proud of," he said.
The minister said government teachers often got paid for doing little. "I don't mean every government school teacher is doing injustice, but I am afraid most are.
"Government teachers are well paid, highly qualified and professionally better trained in comparison to those in the so-called public schools.
"Teachers in private schools earn less, are less qualified and mostly not trained. Yet, these schools far excel in performance."
Who does he blame for the mess? "Political intervention in appointments, postings and transfers have destroyed the system."
"The education department is more than half of the state government in terms of manpower and establishment.
"This department has the largest reach and presence from the primary school in the farthest corner of to the multi-disciplinary universities.
"And yet, I am ashamed to admit that the biggest disservice to the people of the state has been done by this department," Akhtar told IANS.
Jammu and Kashmir's education system suffered heavily during militancy because scores of school buildings run by the government were burnt during the last 25 years in the Kashmir Valley.
And as the government's focus remained on security during these years, copying in exams, the non-serious approach of teachers and frequent shutdowns called by separatists have also pushed the state further back with respect to education.
Akhtar disclosed that there were some government schools with teachers but no students. He asserted that such schools being run to keep influential teachers posted at places of convenience will be closed.
The minister is also worried about the future of teachers engaged on a temporary basis by previous governments with false promises of regularisation in the future.
"Teachers have been engaged in a centrally-sponsored flagship programme on a monthly remuneration of Rs.1,500 with the promise of regularizing their services after five years.
"The fact is that the flagship scheme envisages a monthly payment of Rs.6,000 for the engaged teachers with a clear-cut policy of disengagement after five years.
"These engaged teachers have been hitting the roads for regularisation.
"There is no provision of permanent appointment in the centrally-sponsored scheme under which they have been engaged.
"How do I get these people permanent employment in a scheme limited to five years in the rest of the country?" Akhtar asked.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)