Beyond J&K Limits

Mudasir Ahmad Yatoo
When you think of writing about the educational structure of  the J&K State, in particular the higher education, it is very hard to decide where to start because ours educational milieu is so broken that it looks implausible to rectify it. The major problem, we (a group of  students/scholars) believe is the limited educational outlook there. So, we are looking into it and are in the process of broadening these limits at least. I will be looking into what we call, “Oxford Dream” in this particular piece.
If someone asks me if it is possible for a J&K student to get into Oxford for her/his higher studies, it will certainly take me few minutes to come up with a calibrated and coherent response, given the complexity of the question itself. My response will broadly create four categories of students- average (plus above-average) and below-average students of lower middle class (plus lower class) families, and average (plus above-average) and below-average students of upper middle class (plus upper class) families. The clean fact is that it is pretty easy for the average daughter/son of a politician, business tycoon and strong bureaucrats to get into world’s top 200 ranking institutes/universities for their education by the financial support of her/his family; and for below average it takes somewhat more energy but it is fairly possible for them as well. However, when it comes to the other two classes of students belonging to lower middle class and lower class of our society, the odds stand very clear and high enough to be coped restfully, even for the talented students. The reasons are manifold with few among them being the major contributors, but luckily the major hurdles can be negotiated if we have got the required will.
The two factors which look to me as primary hurdles are local apathetic educational (read higher education) ambiance we have there in J&K and lack of information about outside educational domain of world. Our local environment is highly discouraging for education, in particular higher education. This dispiriting locale is further compounded by the political and social volatility. It is very hard to find a credible doctorate in most of the villages and towns of J&K; and more importantly and unfortunately, only a few seem interested in pursuing higher education. The most ill-fated part of the story is that neither is our local government and nor are our local educationists, educated elders interested in encouraging and inspiring the youth for higher studies. In around 1990s, there was a consensus among global and to-be global powers that producing PhD (educated workers) is a key to higher economic growth and thus to be among global hegemons. The race went unnoticed till the time we have now Nature, the prestigious international weekly journal of science running a news feature, ‘Education: The PhD Factory’ with asking question like; the world is producing more PhDs than ever before. Is it time to stop? Now you see the irony and unfortunate settings of our society. The world is getting saturated with PhDs and we are still to realize that higher education is the only key to overall empowerment of our society. This uninspiring local educational atmosphere is further compounded by the lack of information on the part of students and teachers about the educational opportunities outside the Indian realms. It is very hard to find the university student there who knows about the best universities of different countries and keeps track of international rankings of world universities by different agencies. There are many prestigious national and university scholarships run in almost all the developed world universities and the students aspiring to won these scholarships ought to know about them at least one or two years before filing their application for these awards. In fact this happens in the most parts of world but when you encounter a Kashmir based students, the name of the scholarship itself seems foreign to her/him. My personal experience is that the more you have information about the educational world of outside; more are your success rates.
The other two factors which again pose the major challenges in pursuing ‘Oxford Dream’ in a place like our State are financial aspects of studying outside India and the personal connections with the people studying outside the borders. There aren’t many people from the State   in top ranking institutes studying outside India; and the few who actually are, aren’t connected to the wider student body back home. The tuition fee and living expenses in developed world universities are no less fearing than the Chinese dragon. The combination of all these factors plus the loads of negative energy there in J&K just synergizes the overall impossibility.
Now the question remains. How does the economic creamy layer negotiate these difficulties? The answer is simple. They generally have personal connections, even if they don’t have, everybody (me including) is ready to help for obvious reasons.
Furthermore, the all-time soaring tuition fee and living expenses doesn’t frighten them and if you think of studying as self-financed student, there are many universities ready to welcome you even if your grades are below-average.
Out of the above outlined four negatives, three of them are easy to tackle and we are in fact working for that. We are here to disseminate to you, all the information which is needed and will become your personal connections. Another hurdle of high tuition fees and living expenses in top class institutions can be easily managed by the multitude of scholarships available, given that we all have the will and determination to do it. The remaining fourth one of dispirited educational feel there in J&K is the difficult one and will need time to overcome. But the fortunate aspect of overcoming downhearted educational environment is that if we are able to tackle the other three negatives in balanced and coherent manner, it will also work to gradually uplift the educational atmosphere there.
In future articles, we will look into specifics of things involved and if you have any questions or queries, do write to us, we will cover all these enquiries in our forthcoming articles.
Note: Please disseminate this to your friends and needy, and do write and consult us if you have any inquiries/questions/suggestions.
(The author is pursuing Research Masters in material chemistry at Tohoku                             University (Japan)