The political developments in Kashmir always come at a cost and the abrogation of Article 370 was no different with education bearing the worst brunt. Ajaz Rashid pens down a comprehensive report on how the education of children and young suffered and the alternate means Kashmiris developed to overcome the crisis.
After 100 days of winter vacation, having 120 days off during one academic year can happen only in a place like Kashmir.
Schools in the Valley remained deserted this academic session following the abrogation of Article 370, hitting the academic work adversely. However, Kashmiris showed tremendous resilience by starting community classes.
The schools on their part also developed creative ways of dealing with the situation.
As schools in Kashmir continued to remain deserted following the government’s decision to reopen them in phases, the management of various schools started asking students through advertisements to collect video lessons and assignments.
An advertisement issued by Delhi Public School, Budgam in a local daily requested the parents to collect video lessons and study material in a pen drive of a minimum capacity of 32 GB or a hard drive.
Similar “important notice for parents” were issued by other Srinagar-based schools like Dubai Grand School International Dr. A G M’s City School.
Muhammad Nawaz, a parent in Srinagar, said he first bought a pen drive and then headed to his son’s school.
“After seeing the notice appearing in a newspaper, I visited the school and collected the assignment,” he said.
The Education Department officials said while there were no specific directions to provide assignments to students, schools were taking these initiatives on their own.
Around a month after the abrogation of Article 370, the government decided to reopen the schools but the educational institutions remained deserted due to the continuous shutdown observed by the people of the Valley.
The government initially announced the opening of primary schools followed by middle and high schools across the Valley.
While the teachers reported for duty, the students mostly stayed away from schools.
While the majority of the education institutions continued to remain, local female volunteers established a community school for local and non-local students, providing a respite to them to secure their academic year.
Besides the shutdown, the education system in Kashmir was also hit by continuous communication blockade. The examination of students also got affected by students failing to access important information on the internet due to communication curfew. Others suffered as they were not able to apply online for different entrance examinations in the absence of internet services.
The students said they fetched study material from local booksellers and tuition centres but were not able to get access to online websites.
They said that the communication gag imposed by the authorities had left the future of the students at stake.
“The students of the Kashmir valley lag in this competitive world and the frequent communication blockade is adding to their woes,” said Javaid Ahmad of Fateh Kadal area of Srinagar downtown.
Another student, Naveed Ahmad said he has got admission in Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) for the course of Bachelor in Arts and was not able to get the study material.
He said IGNOU students were supposed to get study material through the university authorities but due to the communication clampdown, they were not aware whether it had been dispatched to their respective addresses or not.
Another student, Fayaz Mehraj said he had skipped the admission for Bachelors of Science and Bachelor of Medicine (MBBS) and was preparing for the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET).
“Most of the times, when I didn’t understand any problem or the equations of the chemistry, I used to look for tutorials online but I have been sitting idle and feeling insecure about my future,” Mehraj said.
Adding insult to injury, the concerned authorities closed down major libraries in Srinagar, leaving the students to suffer.
“The SP Library in Lal Chowk and the Alama Iqbal Library at the University of Kashmir (KU) remained non-functional, leaving us to suffer,” said Majid Bazaz, a student from Nishat.
This academic year, most of the Kashmiri students who would secure admissions in educational institutions outside the Valley failed to do so in the absence of internet facilities due to communication lockdown after August 5.
Irfan Baba, the owner of Baba Consultancy Educational Services, said, “In August, the educational consultancies in Srinagar used to send nearly 400 Kashmiri students outside the Valley to different colleges of India. Since the authorities imposed barriers on all communication channels, the students could neither communicate with the respective college authorities they desired to get admission in nor with the educational consultancies through which they get admissions.”
He also said some of the students had even paid the admission fee but had no idea whether the classes have started or not.
Another consultant Tanveer Wani, who runs the E.COM Education Private Limited at Parraypora Srinagar, said the admission session in most of the colleges of different states in India gets closed in the second week of August.
Kashmiri students seeking admissions for medical seats through National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) said they were apprehensive about their future due to unavailability of communication channels to fetch the study material for preparations of entrance test.
The University of Kashmir’s 24×7 library also remained dysfunctional for four months, taking a toll on the career of students and scholars.
Sabreena, a student, said, “The students are being left at God’s mercy. The varsity’s authorities seem to be least bothered to provide respite to the students.”
One of the students who live in a KU hostel said, “We used to study till late evenings in the library but for the past four months I haven’t studied anything. Now I feel I have forgotten everything I read earlier as well.”
Apart from the major libraries in Srinagar, district libraries too have not been functional since August 5.
The communication gag also affected the travel programmes of students.
Abdul Asad, 48, of Bemina area of Srinagar, said his son Farhaan Asad was supposed to return home from Bangalore on Eid-ul-Adha on August 10 but could not due to the communication gag.
After August 5, troops also took over many schools across Kashmir.
Director of School Education Kashmir, Muhammad Younis Malik said in Srinagar, the forces were stationed in two schools but had been shifted from there now.
The shutdown, undeclared curfew and communication curfew affected the studies of students, particularly the children who missed on all the schooling during these months, remaining confined to the four walls of their homes doing “homework” when they should have been doing the “classwork”.
After 100 days of winter vacation, having 120 days off during one academic year and following it up with 100 more days of winter vacations, can happen only in a place like Kashmir. No one would compensate the students for this loss.