It is unfortunate that under the most exploited term ‘reform’ a class of people behaving like experts jump to fiddle with the career of our unfurled children., Shahjahan Afzal walks across the border district Kupwara to find the impact of policy on poor and needy children.
Kupwara: The school education department Kashmir recently closed many government schools besides downgrading some across Kashmir valley. Technically the schools have not been “closed” but “merged” into nearby schools in what is called school rationalisation; however the manner in which this exercise has been done is pushing poor children amid soaring tuition fees into private schools.
While SSA guidelines guarantee accessibility of schools, Education dept has used it to make schools distant. The aggrieved parents and teachers believe that most of the underprivileged student’s ill-afford or worse drop out of schools altogether.
This scribe visited many schools in Khumriyal and Kupwara education zones to understand the impact on the ground. The story that emerged was disheartening. The transfer ratio of students from the officially clubbed schools was uniformly low. On paper, 100 per cent of the students have been automatically enrolled in the target school, but based on conversations with the teachers it was found that very few students are actually coming to school.
For instance, Afroza daughter of Abdul Rahim Ganie used to walk few yards to attend her Girls Middle School in Takiya Khurhama in education Zone Khumriyal. With the school’s amalgamation with Boys Middle School Khurhama, Afroza would have to walk 2 kilometres to Kuligam village – or 04 kilometres daily.
Another student Umaiya, who has just qualified her class 7th exam at the school, is determined to continue with her studies. But after shifting of upper primary and middle classes from her school she with her other classmates, have dropped. Umaiya is now helping her ailing mother in their household work besides extending her support to mother in kitchen.
Gulam Mohidin Ganie a mason says that after downgrading of the school he discharged his grade 7th daughter from the school. Mohidin is now mulling admission of her daughter in a Darul Uloom for Islamic teachings where her daughter would get free of cost education besides food and accommodation.
At Kalaroos dozens of students of Government High School Nagsari earlier this year denouncing the education rationalisation policy blocked local road for hours. They were demanding teachers for their school.
The anger erupted in the area after education department ordered transfer of 4 teachers out of total 11 from the high school.
The school as per the official records has 250 students on rolls, 05 classes but 8 sections – 1 extra section each in 9th, 8th and 6th classes. However only 7 teachers left to teach as many as 50 classes a day.
This move is being vehemently criticised as it compels students to travel long distances to go to school.
Dr. Habibullah Shah, a scholar at Jawarherlal Nehru University Delhi questions rationality of what he says so-called rationalisation process if it makes schools once again inaccessible for children?
“The rationalisation policy, introduced in the valley, will create more hurdles for children.” He believes, “Kupwara district is already facing challenges in the education sector, with thousands of children out of school in the region.”
He pointed out, “More schools need to be constructed and more children need to be educated.”
Dr Shah believes that the closure of government schools has definitely helped increase enrolment in private schools. However anecdotal evidence suggests that many children enrolled in private schools at first but then drop out on being unable to pay the fees later.
The Takiya village in education zone Khumriyal with 150 households has a Girl’s Middle School with four rooms for over 100 students. After, government ordered clubbing of its 05 classes with boys middle school Khurhama – almost half a Kilometre away.
Ziaud – another student and his schoolmates will have to walk half a kilometre pedestrian alongside Bhatnaad Nallah to reach their new school. “How can I let my 10-year-old walk a kilometre every day back and forth through the flood prone nallah?” said one of the parents.
For Shabir Malik a senior Journalist from Kupwara, Edu Dept’s failure to provide adequate infrastructure and staff in the state run schools can’t justify the controversial move of clubbing. In majority areas he says in rural Kashmir where a nallah, forces camp, firing range or a busy road stops a parent to let his/ her child to attend his/her school even at the distance of few yards.
The topographical limitations have even been relaxed in the norms laid down in prestigious SSA. However, it is unfortunate that perhaps under the most exploited term ‘reform’ a class of people behaving like experts jump to fiddle with the career of our unfurled children.
When asked if the school rationalisation order that deprives children of basic schooling is justified, a cluster head wishing not to be named, said, “I only followed government orders”.
“School rationalisation is an idea with merit which could lead to much better utilisation of resources and improved education for students. However, Kupwara experience shows how a good idea can be thwarted by sheer administrative callousness – with tragic outcomes for children already on the margins of our society”, a senior officer of education department argues.
The example of “Primary School Kulpora” in education zone Kupwara was merged with Middle School Sulkoot is revealing. Not a single student from Kulpora School attended the Middle School Sulkoot – simply because it was too far that too separated by flood prone Hayhama Nallah.
At Shaligund and Warnow Lolab, parents of both closed schools protested and the merger was nullified. All students in both schools returned immediately to resume studying but lost a full one month of class work in the meanwhile.
Similarly, in Sogam Zone, former education director’s school with 15 teachers for 50 students and 8 classes has escaped any merger. Of the 18 students enrolled, only nine transferred. School after school that I visited revealed the same problem – of schools having been merged without consideration of actual distances.
A notice at Primary School at Handwara informing its students that one teacher was absent while the other had to leave suddenly to attend some important assignment. The school remained closed.
Successive governments have been claiming to provide governance at door steps, but for an exercise of this magnitude, it found mobilisation of opinion among the students, teachers or parents unimportant. Consequently schools were closed arbitrarily and no supportive measures (such as transportation services) put in place to ensure 100 per cent transfer of students.
It is incumbent upon the government to clarify how many students of these “merged” schools actually transferred to their target schools over the last 2 months and efforts made by the Government to minimise dropouts. It is also not enough to simply rollback these school closures as the government has done wherever enough political pressure has been applied.