In Kashmir, a shortcut gets students to exam halls but fear persists

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On Tuesday, parents gathered outside the Kothi Bagh girl’s school in Srinagar, anxiously waiting for their wards who were writing their Class 10 board examinations inside. When the students started trickling out of the gate, they surrounded them, curious to know how the first question paper was. Similar scenes played out at the nearby Sri Pratap Higher Secondary School.

At least 35 arson attacks on schools across Kashmir during the four-month-long unrest, which started with the killing of militant Burhan Wani by security forces on July 8, means that the examinations are being held under tight security at over 500 exam centres. A police truck was parked at the entrance to the Kothi Bagh girl’s school and a dozen police and security force personnel stood guard. Only students and staff were allowed in.

Parents voiced concern for the safety of their children at the exam centres as well as on the commute from home. Referring to the arson attacks, which have not ceased despite the gradual return to routine in the Valley, a parent who identified himself only as Singh said, “There is, of course, some insecurity in our minds because of it.”

Singh said that though the children have the option of writing the exams in March – with the state government deciding to hold it twice this year – sitting for it in November itself seemed the prudent thing to do. “The children had been confined for a lot of time with nothing to do,” he said. “They became focused because of the exams. They were already prepared for the exams, so instead of sitting at home, giving the exams was a better option.”

This seems to have been the general feeling. For, despite apprehension over the attacks and opposition to the exams from some sections, a majority of students have opted to appear for the board exams. On Monday, 94% of Class 12 students appeared for their first test, and a day later, 99% of Class 10 candidates.

Concession lure

An evaluation concession to students taking the exams in November – they can choose to attempt only half of the questions – seems to be the reason for the big turnout. An elated Tabish Habib, a Class 10 student, said she had covered most of the syllabus at a private school she had joined after her school shut down during the unrest. But she chose to write the exams right away as she had “got a shortcut”.

At the Sri Pratap school, candidate Indupreet Singh said the question paper had more choice and “we had to attempt only half”. He said he had opted to sit for the exams in the first round itself despite the fact that his school had managed to cover more than 70% of the syllabus.

Some parents, however, were still concerned that students had not had the opportunity to properly prepare for the exams. One of them, Mushtaq Ahmad, said there had been no mock tests. “They are all nervous about giving board exams for the first time,” he said. But he added that it was “still better than wasting time till March”.

Habib said she could start preparing for her next class as soon as the exams got over. Many others agreed. Students in the Valley usually join private coaching centres during the winter vacations, where they cover significant portions of the syllabus for their next class.

Education disrupted 

In a particularly bad year for education in the Valley, with schools and colleges shut for most of the summer, preparing for various exams was not devoid of hardship for candidates.

Aspiring to be a medical student, Naziya Ashraf, who is appearing for her Class 12 exams, had been taking tuitions after school from 4 pm to 7 pm for the last two years. “The hartal broke my routine,” she complained. The 17-year-old said she had begun preparations for competitive exams as soon as she became a Class 11 student. “This (hartal) started when I was closest to the exams in two years,” she added.

With private coaching centres also shut during the unrest, Ashraf had no choice but to study on her own. Once the situation eased around September, private tutorials re-opened and community schools were set up to assist students. And once it was safe to go out again, Ashraf started leaving home at 5.30 am every day for classes that would begin at 6 am and continue till 9 am.

Even then, students’ troubles did not end right away. Classes were often interrupted by neighbourhood boys. All this weighed on the minds of those in the classrooms. “There was always talk of half syllabus and exams not being conducted at all,” said Ashraf. “We would try to study but these things were obviously there on our mind.”

From resistance to participation

Many students were against exams being held in November, mostly because they had hardly been to school in the summer. For Wajid Ramzan of the Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Soura, a neighbourhood in Srinagar, the reason was because “our brothers were in jails”.

But he is now sitting for the exams. “I have taken up a non-medical stream and have to prepare for JEE (Joint Entrance Examination),” he said. “So I decided to go for the exams.” He added that he had managed to cover 60%-65% of the syllabus at school and at tutorial classes.

There are concerns over the syllabus relaxation offered to candidates, with many teachers against such a move. A government school teacher in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal, who did not wish to be identified, said it may lead to students “expecting concessions in other exams as well”.

Ghulam Nabi Var, president of the Kashmir Private Schools Association, said exams had been turned into a saleable commodity and the only purpose of the government now was to restore normalcy in the state. “When you give discount, anyone will go,” he said. “Class 12 students thought we will give the exam and start preparing for entrance [tests]. Other students who would never pass [board exams] saw an opportunity thinking we will pass now.”

Comparing the current situation to that in the 1990s, when mass cheating followed by mass promotions had paved the way for an entire generation to be called “namath pass” (’90s pass), Var said, “Those candidates are still seen with doubt wherever they produce their certificates.” He added, “The students who pass this time… everyone will think they are 50% qualified.”

On September 23, the government’s announcement of exams in the state was met with massive resistance from schools, students and other sections. It sparked protests with students saying they would not give exams till they got azadi.

On October 31, Education Minister Naeem Akthar said that by conducting exams, “we are only trying to safeguard the careers of lakhs of students, whereas separatists, with their shutdown calls, are trying to destroy their academic careers”.

Now, with the majority of students opting for the exams, the party has received a boost.

“Education is the only liberating force and the surest way to freedom,” Javaid Trali, a youth leader with the People’s Democratic Party, said. “But separatist don’t want our kids to go to school as it would be difficult for them, in future, to find cannon fodder to practise their politics. Society has realised this and any compromise on the education of our kids is impossible.”

On Thursday, the government announced that it had decided to promote all students studying in Classes 5 to 9 and 11 in state-run schools and recognised private schools in Kashmir.

 

The Article First Appeared In SCROLL.IN


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