Experts pitch for semester system in Kashmir colleges

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Girl students inside Women's College on Maulana Azad Road Srinagar
File Photo | PTI

SRINAGAR — Experts have called for initiating the long-cherished reforms in the state’s education system by utilizing the six months of ‘literal vacations’ provided by the floods as an opportunity.

The state cabinet recently announced the postponement of all examinations right from Kindergarten to post-graduation level till March 2015. As most of the schools and colleges have completed their syllabus, the six months before the examinations may become the most unproductive time if nothing is planned to utilize it effectively.

“To take advantage of the opportunity in the adversity of flood 2014, there is a need for us to think out-of-box,” said Prof Siddiq Wahid, former Vice Chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology.

He added, “We have to initiate conceptual reforms that will change our perception of education from being schooling and fact-collecting to being about life, and how to live it.”

The experts came down heavily on the mode of study in school classrooms which has become unproductive. “Our classrooms must become a place to ask questions, not to note answers; not a space to learn how to pass examinations, but a place to examine life,” said Wahid.

He said, “It must be a place where teachers will not only teach but listen and learn; where the students will not only learn but question and challenge. A classroom will have to become a place of dialogue.”

Some experts even called for changing how grades are given to students for class participation. “Here class participation usually means how many days a student has attended the class and sometimes a small bribe or recommendation gets him full marks,” said Mukhtar Ahmad, who has done a masters in public planning from the US.

“In the US or Europe, class participation means how interactive a student has been during the classes. How many questions did he ask and how much did he discuss while thinking over any issue or a final project? All this invigorates the brain and induces creativity,” he adds.

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Ahmad lamented that the education sector is still stuck in the medieval era in Kashmir even as the world has raced on to the 21st century.

Educationists opined that floods might have unknowingly provided answers to some burning issues. “Every year thousands of our students are disqualified from competitive exams like the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) as the concerned bodies consider two of our winter sessions as a single summer session due to session disparity inside and outside the state,” said G N Var, chairman Coaching Centres Association of Kashmir.

Var called for continuing the process of holding exams in March-April as it will take Kashmiri students at par with Central and other boards of education and provide them with more opportunities. “Floods have pushed our session to spring, so let us continue with it, as it was the norm during earlier days too,” said Var.

The need for a credit system and a semester-type system are also some of the main demands of educationists in the valley. “Credit system is a global standard and it will pave the way for our students to pick and choose subjects of their choice,” said Var.

He added, “As of now the students of History or say Geography get undue advantage in some competitive exams but with a credit system everybody can learn anything they want and there will be a level playing field.”

The proposal for introducing a semester system has been pending with the government for many years now. “If we had a semester system much like the whole of the world, the floods would have threatened just six months of our academic session and not a full year,” said Var.

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“They should immediately initiate the process of starting the semester system in schools and colleges,” he said.

Minister of Higher Education Muhammad Akbar Lone admitted that his ministry has been looking into introducing the semester system for a while. “We have introduced it in Jammu and for many courses in Kashmir. If everything goes right we might introduce a semester system for colleges from 2015,” said Lone.

The current administrative system has been a target of criticism from various quarters for being highly hierarchic. “To get a sense of this hierarchy, hear how a room becomes silent when a principal steps in. Where an educational administrator’s worth is measured by how many friends he or she has in government, where the government helps institutions best when they’ve mastered the art of begging for funds,” said Sidiq Wahid, adding, “All this has to change and we need to ensure that administration exists in the interests of academia, not the other way around.”

Var called for including the opinion of all stakeholders in forming any policy for education. “Currently we live on the whims of few people and their policy usually lacks any scientific or logical reasoning,” he said.

He adds, “That needs to be changed and a proper inclusive and democratic system be put in place where parents, schools administrators, educationists and students should have a say.”

Echoing a similar opinion, Wahid said, “Students need to become activists in their cause, faculty need to introspect and administrators need to go back to, well, school and learn best practices in 21st century educational administration.”

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