In subsequent lockdowns, Kashmir’s education sector dwindles in darkness

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For the last seventy years, Kashmir has been an epicentre of huge political moves. But the biggest setback that it — as a society — has suffered is the gradual mortality of education. Schools are being shut every now and then; syllabus left incomplete; classwork unattended; lack of proper grooming is unquestionably leading the students of Kashmir Valley into a darker tomorrow.

It’s a torment that the Valley is facing for decades now. Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) is a place where nearly 50 per cent of the population is young, jam-packed with sparkling ideas; the shutting down of educational institutes is a very serious hindrance in nurturing those ideas.  Frequent shutdowns usually cost the students of Kashmir on an average at least a month of their academic calendar every year, be it the phase of the 1990s or the turmoil after 2000. Apart from losses in businesses and other sectors, the lags in the education sector have affected the psyche of the future generation of Kashmir deeply.

After August 2019, when the erstwhile state of J-K was stripped off of its special status and statehood, classwork was halted for about six months, barring a few instances when annual examinations were held for board standards. And then the winter break. The educational institutes largely opened up for senior classes in February 2020, followed by junior classes in initial March.

Then the coronavirus lockdown came. In these subsequent lockdowns, examinations, and classwork were postponed and preponed and afterward again postponed; there’s a lack of proper grooming which is fundamental for budding minds to progress in an affirmative manner.  By talking about education, we aren’t necessarily limiting it to the textbooks only, but the elementary idea of education involves continuous learning of new things around, of traveling, of taking part in extracurricular activities, being a participator in sports, music and much more. It is undeniably absent from the lives of the majority of students in Kashmir.

Kashmir has suffered drastically over the years due to continuous tensions and ambiguity, one never knows as to what the next day will bring. The comparison between students of Kashmir and the rest of the country is a striking contrast: in Kashmir, students are surrounded by violence and conflict so much that they have forgotten what it means to learn and live peacefully. The uncertainty has also affected the dimensions of their social life, which is in contrast to the fast and dynamic world we are living in. 

The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) report on mental health in Kashmir in 2015 founded that 45 per cent of Kashmir’s adult population is suffering from some form of mental distress. The mental distress in adults also has an impact on a student’s mind as she [he] is surrounded by them at all times – from the teacher in a school, a parent at home to a shopkeeper in the locality. 

As the government consistently speaks of empowering Kashmiris through education, it would be an understatement to state that the educational institutes in Kashmir saw major shutdowns in the last thirty years, where students in Kashmir are not in a position to attend their classes around the year unlike their counterparts in the rest of the country. It also drives students usually to different parts of the country to peruse higher education or prepare for a competitive exam.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day complete lockdown in the country on 24 March amid the coronavirus scare, the major varsities and schools have moved to online classes. Meanwhile, students in Kashmir, without high-speed internet, look at another major academic loss.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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