Does Kashmir produce enough and good academics?

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The argument of whether Kashmir produces good academics has been around for a long time. As many people hold a belief that Kashmir actually produces good and enough academics, many others refuse that there are enough produced every year. We asked two Kashmiris about how they see it. Here are their arguments:

Rouf Bhat, 30

Media researcher

Year after year, Kashmir produces hordes of academics but the question that merits to be asked is whether the numbers are enough to meet the ever-growing need of academia in Kashmir. Every year, thousands of Kashmiri students graduate from different universities, in and outside Kashmir, however, only a minuscule of these graduates opt for academics as their career—the reasons being innumerable: from less number of work opportunities, paltry remuneration, et cetera.

A good number of people who get to work in academia treat it like any other job, which ensures their economic safety, resulting in the shrinking of the numbers of dedicated academicians who take up this field for their love for it. Kashmir does produce a good crop of academics but the number, as mentioned above, is very minuscule. This small population, in the articulation of their voices through the curriculum, gets sidelined and hence fails to bring the desired results in the form of research, the solution to problems, etc.

We are dependent on the scholarship of an outsider scholar like any other place in the world is. However, our dependency on the scholarship of non-local academics has many reasons behind it—not that Kashmiri academics are incapable of producing any quality work but the lack of opportunities, funding to carry out work, and the autonomy to research is not the same to a Kashmiri scholar as is enjoyed by a non-Kashmiri scholar working on Kashmir. The freehand and easy availability of resources to non-Kashmiri academics has over the years resulted in the swelling of the body of the knowledge produced by them, leaving behind Kashmiri scholars in their race to produce knowledge.

This has resulted in over-dependency on the scholarship produced by outsiders. Any outsiders’ observation or a scale developed to measure the quality of academia would not yield the desired results. As an insider of academics at one of the highest seats of learning in Kashmir, I think the utter dissatisfaction of students and colleagues around me is the best measurement of the quality of academics here. The uncertainty with which the affairs of academics are run in Kashmir and unaccountability towards students in particular and society, in general, has degraded the quality of academics to the lowest levels.

One of the best measures of the quality of education in society could also be measured by the solutions to the societal problem drawn from the works of local academics. Unfortunately, we don’t have many such examples— either due to the lack of problem-solving academic activities or the utter disregard for the solutions of local institutions, if there be any, by those in power.

Dr. Suhail Ahmad, 36

Head/Assistant Professor, Journalism & Mass Communication

Academics have been subject to much stereotyping and cynicism. Does Kashmir produce enough academics? It begs the question- how much is enough? Does Kashmir produce good academics? Again the answer can be quite subjective. The problem is that when we try to standardize or impose measures on a field like academics, we may end up drawing misleading conclusions. We also end up creating false expectations and reinforcing negative assumptions. Even the appraisal system tends to measure a teacher’s efficiency in absolute terms like the total number of classes or office hours put in by academics per week. This ignores the fact that there’s a lot of work that academics do beyond the stipulated office hours.

Much of the criticism about academics is based on comparisons, both in time and place. We keep hearing about the great traditions of teaching from our elders- of selfless, dedicated and inspirational teachers. The new generation of teachers is not seen with the same reverence. They are seen as indifferent people who are in the profession just for monetary reasons. The current phase was preceded by a time when knitting or gossiping in the sun became the defining image of a ‘sarkari’ teacher.

Like any other profession, academics come in all shades. There are competent and conscientious teachers. There is also a mediocre lot, not worth the pay and grade. They grow into deadwood once securing a substantial job. It’s unfair to paint all academics with one brush.

With my limited experience of a decade as an academic, I must concede I have come across some apathetic teachers. But I have also seen many passionate individuals mentoring students in the best possible way. They more than earn their salary.

There is also a tendency to blindly compare the local academics with other places notwithstanding the differing scenarios.  If we take the pandemic phase as the reference period, Kashmiri academics like their contemporaries elsewhere have put in their best efforts to impart education online. Perhaps they have done better, considering the excruciatingly slow internet speed. In terms of research also, many Kashmiri academics have been quite active. Just as coronavirus was raging across the world in early April, I received a questionnaire from a friend for an international study he was part of. I came across many other such instances.

The local academics, especially the young recruits, have been contributing fairly regularly to reputed journals. Even otherwise, given the tough competition, those vying for teaching jobs in higher education can’t secure an entry unless they have sound research credentials. The recruitment process, by default, rewards quality scholarship. Now some people may expect research papers on particular themes with political overtones. They wonder why local academics can’t work on these areas while the foreign scholars do it with ease. They have to understand the local constraints before passing judgment. It’s like a reporter not able to do a story he so much would love to because of certain editorial policies of the organization.

Nevertheless, the debate on the role and contribution of academics is welcome. We must keep asking questions. At the same time, we need to base our assessment on sound arguments and evidence. In fact, the subject has been explored in several international surveys. In the United States, Gallup polls have been revealing the public opinion about teachers besides people from other professions. For the 18th year in a row, Americans rated the honesty and ethics of college teachers highest after medical professions among a list of professions in this year’s Gallup poll.

More recently, UK-based Varkey Foundation released the report ‘What The World Really Thinks of Teachers’. It ranked countries by respondents’ impressions of teachers when asked to indicate whether, for example, they think teachers are trusted or untrusted, inspiring or uninspiring, caring or uncaring, intelligent or unintelligent, so on and so forth.

Before we can have an objective debate on the contribution and output of academics, we need to dispel the misgivings and devise sound assessment tools and methodology.  We also need to address the trust deficit, which may have partly crept in due to the general disenchantment with ‘the system’ in which we see even medical professionals and journalists being demonized at times despite their contributions.

This was first published in the 2 – 8 November 2020 print edition.

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