A Year Without School

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ON August 5 also, the schools in Kashmir completed one year of closure. After COVID-19 pandemic plunged Kashmir into a lockdown within a lockdown. Kashmir was already under a  lockdown since August 2019, when New Delhi revoked the region’s autonomous status. This makes Kashmir’s lockdown one of the longest in the world.   The  consequent disruption in activity has hit the economy hard with some of the sectors being completely wiped out. But the education has been one of the biggest victims. Schools had reopened just for a fortnight when the region ran into Covid-19 lockdown.

Making education further difficult is  the government’s refusal to restore the high-speed mobile internet. Though the internet too was shut since August last year, in February the government allowed people a grudging access to only a slow-speed 2G internet.  As a result, children in Kashmir can only study online with difficulty. Schools have struggled to get the online coaching or lectures to the students. Jammu and Kashmir  has more than 2.5 million students with more than 10,000 schools.

Though, according to a statement by the director school education the education department is broadcasting video lessons for class 6-12 on a regular basis, and more than 400,000 students have benefitted. The government, he said, is planning to establish a full-time community radio station that will cater to primary and secondary-level students.

But this is unlikely to make any redeeming difference. In the absence of a high speed mobile internet, the education can only be restored if the schools reopen and this is something that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. It is not that the government hasn’t tried to do so. In June, the Director (Finance) in the school education had directed schools to ensure safety measures to arrest spread of coronavirus to students and staff. He had asked  the directors of School Education in Kashmir and Jammu to instruct heads of all government schools to provide a pair of reusable masks and a pair of gloves to every student and ensure availability of 1000 ml hand sanitisers and 1200 ml liquid soap at entry point of each government school. But the  order became a source of some contention in J&K with no less than Union Minister of State in the Prime Ministers Office Dr Jitendra Singh asking the local administration to defer reopening of schools. Similarly, the National Conference’s provincial president Devender Rana asked the UT Government to take a decision regarding reopening after consultation with parents.

The best way out for the government under the circumstances would be to restore 4G so that the students could properly study online. But for reasons that carry little conviction with people, the government has consistently refused to do so for the past one year.

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