IN order to provide basic education to the children of the migratory population, the J&K Government envisaged a scheme in late 1970s called Mobile Schools. This was especially meant for the Bakerwal Community.
During the PDP – Congress coalition Government (2002-2008), a scheme of seasonal schools was introduced in J&K. These seasonal schools were set up in different hilly districts of J&K to reach out to migratory populations (Gujjars , Bakerwals , Chopans etc). At present, seasonal schools are operational in Poonch, Rajouri, Doda, Budgam, Shopian, Kupwara, Baramulla and few other districts of J&K. Nearly 40,000 students are enrolled in these schools.
Every year, the Government seeks services of more than 1100 Educational Volunteers (EVs) for providing education to the nomadic children who would otherwise remain illiterate or will be school dropouts if they are not given formal or informal education during the seasonal migration. Unfortunately, the seasonal schools are not reaching out to a large migratory population who settle at high altitude pasturelands located at an elevation of 3500 meters or more. On papers, the seasonal schools are shown to have been set up in such high altitude meadows (bahaks) but when we see on the ground these so-called schools are completely defunct.
Additionally, the Mobile Seasonal schools are supposed to provide Mid-Day meals to the enrolled students. But according to reliable sources, a majority of the mobile schools do not provide these meals. The tents that have been provided to the mobile schools many years back have been damaged and have never been replaced till date in the majority of these schools.
Children are forced to sit under the open sky. Parents of the students allege that there are no blackboards and the stationery is also not being supplied to their children in majority of the educational zones across J&K.
The problem isn’t limited to students and their families only. The Government through the respective Zonal Education Offices takes services of local educated youth known as Educational Volunteers. These volunteer teachers are provided a monthly stipend of mere Rs 4000 which is clear violation of Minimum Wages Act wherein nobody can be paid less than Rs 225 per day. Infact, Rs 225 per day payment is mandatory for unskilled labourers and the educational volunteers are since skilled people and they should be paid at least Rs 500 per day which amounts to Rs 15000 per month. The Government has never bothered to enhance the honorarium of these poor school teachers. They used to get Rs 4000 per month in 2004 or 2005 and even after 16 years they get the same amount as stipend. The salaries of Government officials have been increased under 6th pay commission but these poor educational volunteers have been totally ignored.
Moreover, due to non-availability of tents the seasonal teachers (educational volunteers) are also forced to take shelter in Gujjar Kothas or they live with shepherds sometimes. These volunteers work in harsh weather conditions, living away from their homes but no allowances are paid to them. The monthly stipend is spent on the purchase of ration and that too is only paid after moving from pillar to post.
For the past 5 to 6 years, seasonal schools are not operational in many bahaks and with the result, children of the shepherd (Chopans) and Bakerwal community are deprived of their Right to Education. Additionally,in these highland pastures, virtual classes can’t be held due to poor internet connectivity. Therefore, the Department of School Education should make seasonal schools operational by all-means especially in High altitude areas.We need to ensure that the children of Chopans, Gujjars and Bakerwals get better education. The Chief Educational Officers and Zonal Educational Officers must take this issue up on an urgent basis and ensure the functioning of these seasonal schools by paying them visits.
Moreover, because of very little remuneration, a large number of educational volunteers don’t attend their duties which affects the education of children. Therefore, the government should ensure that the local youth, who are empaneled as educational volunteers for such high-altitude seasonal schools must be paid more than their colleagues working in lower altitude pastures. This will not only encourage them to carry out their work dutifully but is also the right course of action given that low remunerations have worsened their working and living conditions over the years.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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