Kupwara (Jammu and Kashmir), Oct.19 (ANI): The last three months' turmoil in Kashmir took a heavy toll on everyday life of ordinary people. As is often the case in areas of conflict, the worst hit and the most vulnerable have been the children.
With the schools not allowed to function properly, anxious parents cloistered their wards at home, as they faced a disturbing scenario of uncovered syllabus and perhaps even the possible loss of an academic year.
Mercifully, after a long gap of 100 days, schools in Srinagar and parts of the valley re-opened signaling a phase of peace, normalcy.
Perhaps now it's a good time to ponder whether all is well with the education system in the state, not only in times of stress but in its normal functioning.
Does the education system, which is widely accepted as the key to the development of any region, really reach the children in districts, in rural pockets of Kashmir? Is the opening of schools in the valley enough reason to cheer for the hundreds of students across Kashmir?
In 1975, the J and K State Board of School Education was constituted with a view to make elementary, secondary, higher secondary education accessible to all. The vision was far-reaching and the purpose lofty.
Let us remember that this was also a different period of Kashmir's turbulent political history, long before militancy had set in. To nurture talent in the youth, ingrain the best values in them and enable them to join the mainstream in the country were the guiding principles. The introduction of professional courses and university level education was also visualized at that time.
Today, that dream seems far-fetched. For children in rural areas as in the border district of Kupwara, school systems are in shambles.
In Kunnan village, a mere seven kilometer from the district headquarters, it is a story of neglect of basic facilities. Abdul Aziz Shad, Numberdar or, the village headman of the village, said, "There are 400 houses in our village. But even with such a large population, we have been ignored by the government, whether it is education of healthcare facilities. We approached concerned authorities and political leaders many a times but sent back with promises. I wish we had educated youth --they would have certainly helped the village."
Kunnan village as indeed the whole of Kupwara district, in fact Kashmir itself, today has a role model in Dr. Shah Faisal, who recently made his region proud when he topped the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) exams.
Sadly, the situation of schools in Faizal's home district is far from desirable. Ghulam Muhammad Dar from Kunnan says, "We have two schools, a primary and a middle school in our village. But there are no facilities available. The quality of teaching is very poor. Besides, the students don't have proper seating arrangements."
The primary school in Dar Muhallah bespeaks this sorry state. Basheer Ahmad Lone, the school headmaster recalls that the school was opened in 2005 under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) or, education for all scheme with only 33 students. Though the number of students gradually increased to 66, the infrastructure remained the same.
The school is today being run in a rented place which is in bad shape. There is no toilet; no playground, no drinking water facilities.
Lone says, "I am also suffering with the children. Who should I go to narrate this story? When I visit education department, officials avoid me. The progress of children is suffering."
Villagers, who would like to send their children for quality education, know in their hearts that this remains elusive; it is the preserve of only those who can afford private schools for their wards.
Lone is quite categorical when he says, "While government schools lack in basic facilities, private schools even have playing facilities. Our children have talent, but no means to nurture it".
The contrast is painful. Muhammad Irfan, a villager says, "Private school delivers 100% result in standard VIII every year. In government school only three students of the total 33 passed in 2009."
Nilofar Jan, supervisor of the Anganwadi centre perceived it from the larger perspective of education playing a crucial role in enabling the village children to join the mainstream of society. Sadly, there is much to be desired in the quality of education these children are getting.
"The question is in this age of computer and technology, if children are deprived of basic facilities can one say that the Education Board is fulfilling its responsibilities? Are these only tall claims on paper?," she asks.
So is there any room for euphoria because schools have opened in the valley after a long gap? No, this merely indicates that the conditions, which prevented normal functioning of schools, have been removed. This has been lauded by different sections of society within Kashmir about the value of education, the importance of regularity in school routines and curriculums. What one is not hearing are voices addressing the gross lacuna on the ground.
According to Charkha Features, euphoria apart, there is something telling about the pattern of response to the reopening of schools and educational institutions. The Minister for Education, Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, recently stated that in all 80 per cent students attended schools in rural areas whereas urban centers recorded a 30-40 per cent attendance. This surely indicates that despite the violence that has wracked the region in recent months nd the complex tapestry of political forces in the state today, rural Kashmir has given thumbs up to quality education. By Basheer Ahmad Peer (ANI)