What About Education?

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Under the new dispensation, the education has been worst hit. And the government doesn’t seem to care

IT has now been over a year since schools in Kashmir have been closed. And as things stand, it is unlikely that the schools will function normally until early next year – the government’s order to reopen them on September 21 notwithstanding. That too will be possible only if we have got a grip on the runaway contagion and there is a vaccine for it. However, the Covid-19 related closure of schools is just six months old. Our educational institutions were earlier shut for seven months following revocation of Article 370 in August last year. The sweeping security lockdown and the snapping of the communications brought life in the Valley to a halt. Schools could have hardly been an exception.

What has set the education further back is the lack of high speed mobile internet for the virtual classes. The government has consistently refused to restore 4G in J&K, saying it is necessary “in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state and for maintaining public order”. The government also deems it important to prevent the “misuse” of high speed internet for various “anti-national activities”. It was only last month, however, that the government made an exception for the two districts – Ganderbal in Kashmir and  Udhampur in Jammu.

Over a yearlong closure of schools and the difficulty in accessing online education has put a question mark on the future of lakhs of Kashmiri students. But this is an area that has drawn very little media and political attention. In a sense, this doesn’t hold true for the last year only. Over the past three decades, the education has been easy and the least focussed casualty of the ongoing turmoil. Schools have intermittently remained closed for months and no one in the Valley seems to lose his sleep over this depressing state of affairs.

There were several reasons for this: the frequent hartals, the constant disruption in public life due to the unrest following mostly a human rights excess or a government move deemed provocative by the people. This alongside everything else politicized the education too. In the midst of an unrest, the Government saw the re-opening of the schools as a major step towards normalcy and the separatists for the same reason were determined to prevent it.  Government also couldn’t provide security to over 15000 educational institutions and the schools also didn’t want to be seen playing along with the Government in defiance of the separatists and at variance with the popular sentiment.

Often, the Government and the separatists mouthed platitudes about their concern for education, but in practice sought to use the school children against each other – at times spinning the issue into a competing moral-cum-ideological argument. From three successive summer unrests to 2010, followed by the one in 2016 and the situation over the last year, a student who will be studying in 10th class now must have lost almost five years of schooling. One can only imagine how much this must have affected his or her knowledge of the basics of all subjects.

After the erasure of J&K’s semi-autonomous status last year, the government-separatist dynamic that largely dictated the state of affairs in the Valley has temporarily ceased to operate. But under the new dispensation, the education has been worst hit. And the government doesn’t seem to care. It didn’t care when the lockdown and communications blackout kept schools shut for seven months. And it doesn’t care now when the lingering ban on high-speed mobile internet in all but two districts is making it challenging for the students to access online education. And this ban has nothing to do with the ongoing pandemic, but continues for a very specious reason, almost for the sake of it. It seems unlikely that the government will review the ban in the near future, something that hardly helps the cause of education.

What about the post-pandemic situation? There is no reason to believe that the schooling will return to normal. The ongoing calm in the Valley has nothing authentic about it. It has been held in place with application of great force and is likely to come unstuck as the suppressed underlying factors of the situation resurface.  And that can happen sooner than later.

The situation as it stands is thus as follows: The uncertain and interrupted schooling deprives Kashmiri youth proper education and skills. The lack of employment opportunities denies them a future. And the lingering conflict over the region frames their worldview and determines their lives and choices.

If anything, this renders Kashmir of today structurally unfavourable to its children. And this scenario can only be expected to replicate itself endlessly unless there is a fundamental change, shift or alteration in the factors in play.

But together we can will it otherwise, by making an exception for the education across the ideological divide. We need an educated new generation not only to make informed choices about ourselves but also make a better sense of our situation and to articulate it for ourselves and the world.

 

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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