It was on November 29 that Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, the Director, School Education, Kashmir announced that there would be no winter break. Schools and colleges, he said, will remain open through the winter without any break to cover the pending syllabus and make up for the time lost, as educational institutions had remained shut for the last five months due to the unrest following militant leader Burhan Wani’s killing in early July.
However, on December 14, the same Education Department announced winter vacations for schools in Kashmir division and other areas falling under the winter zone of the state. The schools are scheduled to reopen on March 1, 2017. Earlier, the state government had promoted all students to the next level except for 10th and 12th standard students who appeared in annual board examinations last month.
This from a government which through the summer showed itself most concerned about the closure of schools and made it appear as a far bigger issue than the prevalent killings and the blindings of the youth. The education minister Naeem Akhtar even wrote an open letter addressed to Hurriyat G chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani in a local daily, urging him to help re-open the closed schools. The Government kept blaming pro-freedom camp for holding the education hostage to the unrest in an ostensible bid to reclaim the moral high ground. But when it came to make up for the lost time by keeping the schools open during winter, as the government itself had ordered, it conveniently went back on it.
True, it is difficult to keep the schools open through winter, what with almost all of the government schools without heating arrangements and many of them without doors and windows, and a number of them operating from the cowsheds, the government could at least have kept the schools open while the sun shone. Over the past two months, the Valley has been experiencing dry weather with days largely sunny and relatively warm. So there was little need for hurrying up the vacation. With normalcy setting in, the schools could have continued to function and if for nothing else, the children could have got a chance to get at least re-acquainted with the schooling. But this hasn’t happened. Why? It is hard to find a good rationale for the move. Or was it because a tiny section of the population, most of them the bureaucratic, business and the political elite move to warmer regions of India to spend winter with their families?
Now, with almost three months of the winter vacation, schools will remain closed for eight months of the year. Imagine that for eight months, Kashmir has taken a vacation from education. And just when there was a chance to keep the schools open, it is the government that moved quickly to shut them down. This is something that should make the heads of all of us across the ideological and political divide hang in shame.