A 1999 batch KAS officer, Shabnum Shah Kamli, heads state’s Department of Technical Education (DTE).She tells Syed Asma, despite huge potential to change lives, DTE is secluded and disconnected
Kashmir Life (KL): What exactly does Department of Technical Education (DTE) do?
Shabnum Shah Kamli (SSK): In simple words our department has huge potential to make society a better place to live.
The job of Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) is to convert non-technical people into technical people. These ITIs cater to skilled labour class, thus not in the limelight like other institutes. Besides, people who are trained here belong to the lower-middle class of the society.
Similarly, polytechnic is a very vast sector. Mid-level technocrats are produced from this department as well.
They might not belong to the crust of the society but they help to make the crust. But saying all this, DTE is a secluded department.
KL: How many polytechnic colleges we have in the state?
SSK: There are 24 government and nine private polytechnic colleges in Jammu and Kashmir. Half of these are in Kashmir valley. Before 90s, I am told the state and status of these institutes was much better.
KL: Is there an effort to retain its lost glory?
SSK: I was recently appointed director of Koshaliya Vikas – a centrally sponsored skill development mission.
Every state was asked to identify skilled people whether employed or unemployed, illiterate or literate, organised or unorganised, from a specific age group who will be encouraged to sprout and get employed.
KL: The department is producing skilled labours already. How is this scheme going to make any difference?
SSK: The scheme was introduced recently, so not much has been done on the ground. Former CM had directed us to revive the traditional arts.
We have identified wood carving, papier-mâché, Pashmina work, Basoli arts and Phulkari. We have already started the admission process.
KL: How is the response?
SSK: Response is very poor. We literally were on our toes to make people understand the importance of these courses. Most of the students had no idea what we were offering.
KL: What could be the reason for such a poor response?
SSK: I think people have lost interest in promoting the traditional arts. These traditional arts fetch nothing to an artist, so why would he encourage his children to take it up as a full time profession.
But out newly designed courses will help artisans to become an entrepreneur. We are getting trainers from outside who will help these artisans start small units on their own.
KL: But how can an expert from outside help in reviving Kashmir’s traditional arts?
SSK: It is entirely going to be our thing. We are only hiring people who could guide; nothing more.
As we lack an industrial presence in the state, we have no expertise in this sector as well. When our students go outside Kashmir to work, they face many issues as they have no working exposure. They don’t even have the exposure to handle latest machinery as they have not seen them. These outsiders help our students to stay connected with the outside world.
KL: Do you think our institutions lack infrastructure and exposure?
SSK: I think it is because of lack of industrial presence in the state. It is basically co-related. Almost 80 percent of the syllabus in technical education in on-job, and we are supposed to take students on industrial tours for practical training. But we have a very few industries in the state, so that defines the lack of exposure. We are trying to get some latest automated machinery in Kashmir, but it will take years to match the industrial standards outside valley.
KL: Is the department working on measures to fill the gap?
SSK: Skill Development Mission is part of the same measure. We are in the process of learning new techniques to boost the sector in Kashmir. Besides, our focus is on building our won infrastructure rather than sending students outside for training.
KL: Any deadlines for the projects?
SSK: We are in a process of setting up a school in Udhampur and other places. Big changes are in the pipe-line.
Our administrative work is done and we are waiting for approvals from Delhi. We are planning to involve big names like Jawed Habib, and request them to adopt courses in our ITIs. But to implement any such plan we require lots of money, which we have to seek from GoI.
KL: A number of new polytechnics opened recently lack required infrastructure.
SSK: Eighteen new institutions have been started. We were given a sum of Rs 8 crores to start a polytechnic. Then state government pitched in additional Rs 5 crore, but that is not still enough. Lack of funds has hampered our work.
The campuses at Samba, Kathua, Kulgam, Budgam and Islamabad are almost complete and in use.
It takes time to complete a project in Kashmir, but we will soon shift nine of our institutions to new buildings.
KL: Is poor infrastructure reason for lack of interest among students?
SSK: I am yet to figure out the reason. I will try to exemplify my confusion. In an ITI we are running two courses, one is self-financed and other is for free. People will opt for the first one. The reason is we think whatever is given free is not good. We offer the same infrastructures, same teachers but people still opt for the first one.
KL: Isn’t that good for you? You can start earning from it.
SSK: Yes, I am thinking of revising the fees structure. It will help us improve the overall standard and infrastructure.
KL: Any other reason that is keeping students away from these polytechnics?
SSK: As I already mentioned, the main problem is we lack proper industrial infrastructure and poor private sector. In J&K government is both buyer as well as the seller. So the opportunities to innovate are very less.
I am trying to convince students to start their own units, like opening a small plumbing unit in their locality. Looking at the construction boom in Kashmir, such a unit can be highly profitable. It will take time but we need to change the attitude of people.
Besides, we need to improve communication skills of our students. The need is to properly communicate, propagate and market our skills and start earning from it.
KL: How many success stories are there from these institutions so far?
SSK: Honestly, not many. It’s still the beginning. But the response I got is overwhelming and I hope things will change for good. I visited Rajouri and Poonch last year to promote our new courses, and the response was overwhelming. I think students lack proper guidance. If we talk to them and motivate, things will definitely change.
Perhaps bureaucrats don’t think that way, but I need effective results and for that I have to stay connected with the people. I know what we are doing, but people too need to know what we are doing. All my projects and planning is futile if people are unaware about it.
KL: September 2014 floods damaged most of the infrastructure in polytechnics completely. How much has been restored?
SSK: It pains to see these institutions in shambles.
Most of our institutions were submerged but now our staff and students are rebuilding the infrastructures on their own.
I am really proud of them. However we need lots of money to completely restore what has been damaged by the floods. It looks like this sector is not on the government’s priority list.
KL: Do you offer courses for specially-abled people as well?
SSK: There are a number of schemes for specially-abled people. We even have reservations in ITIs as well. But we need to work on it.
KL: Two years back a young boy committed suicide after there was negligence on part of an examiner. What happened to that case?
SSK: I headed the enquiry. I got the paper re-evaluated and it was found that there was negligence on the part of the examiner. He wasn’t from our department so I could not take any action. I handed him over to the Department of School Education where another committee was held, headed by their director. But I have no idea about its status right now. Besides, we took the measures for revamping our department. We now check the credentials of the paper setter and paper marker and do not outsource any of the departmental activity.