Schools are open now, but what about hearts and minds of students?
The schools in Kashmir opened on February 24 after a gap of almost seven months and the moment carried enormous emotional weight. Parents –whom I talked to with regard to opening of schools after four months of uncertainty-driven-closure and three months of winter vacation — got emotional while describing the feeling of sending their children to school once again. They expressed the hope that educational institutions would function smoothly during this academic session and avoided any further discussion in this regard. When I asked the students to describe the feeling of attending their schools after a prolonged break, I didn’t receive any heartfelt responses from them. They lacked the usual excitement of going back to schools and resuming their classwork; sounds discouraging, but it is a reality. This is when I felt that schools are open, nevertheless the hearts and minds of our school-going children need to be reopened too. The hearts and minds of these children have closed after being robbed of the right to education not just once, but time and again. Even I can vividly recall the days of my school-time, now almost a decade gone by, when I missed my classes for months together due to political and social reasons combined. The feeling of not being able to attend the school left me discouraged and bitter.
Last year too, the functioning of educational institutions got disrupted in the midst of an academic session, for reasons best known to government, leaving the students high and dry. What unfolded in Jammu and Kashmir after August 05 had a direct and indirect impact on everything — subject to variation –. As soon as J&K state was bifurcated into two Union Territories and its special status revoked, the people found themselves in dire circumstances which made them believe that they are living in difficult, different and strange times. These abnormal feelings were palpable and widespread. Which section of the society got most affected in the wake of the post August 05 clamped is everybody’s right to assert, nevertheless I would like to highlight the impact of situation on the education sector. At the start of the August 2019, the academic session had reached to a point where students were preparing for midterms, semester and final exams. It was on August 05 that every event, plan, activity in Jammu and Kashmir came to a standstill. Being no exception, classwork was also suspended in Schools, Colleges and Universities followed by the postponing of upcoming exams. Initially, the parents preferred to wait for almost a month hoping the situation may improve but it didn’t and then began their struggle to arrange tutors for their children. Some students got a chance to study with a teacher, whereas others studied alone without a teacher. The struggle of students did not end here, but became more daunting when the authorities announced dates without consulting the students and their parents, for the board exams. Public transport was off the roads and students had to reach different places for writing their examination and also return to their respective homes afterwards. The students had shown great resilience until the end, considering the hardships they faced to prepare for their examination, and the same got reflected in the result. Before switching over to suggestion part of this article, I would like the students of J&K to know that the hardships they had to face during last six months are so much more than what I have been able to mention in this article.
Suggestions for the policymakers
When I was myself in school and had to face disruptions in my classwork due to strikes and curfews, the unpleasant experience took a heavy toll on my mental health. The problem was left untreated as a result it got the better of me. At that time, I had no idea about “counseling sessions” which would have helped me overcome the problem but now when there is so much awareness about the practice, the authorities have every reason to establish counseling cells in the educational institutions of conflict-torn J&K for ensuring psychological well-being of students. As mentioned earlier, what caused mental sufferings in me during my schooldays, the present-day students have experienced the same situation: The reality that government cannot escape.
If the Government of India is ever planning to rehabilitate those who got impacted due to six-month-long clampdown, then students should figure at the top of such a list.
Apart from the brief parent-oriented and student-oriented opinions, mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, other people also expressed their opinions regarding opening of schools in Kashmir. I am neither going to dwell on one side of the opinion that the opening of schools is an indicator of return of normalcy in J&K nor other which says it is not. The one side wants to project the opening of schools as an achievement, while as the other side finds it business as usual. Both approaches are conclusive in essence and are not going to be of any help to the students. I tried to make a different approach over resumption of classwork in schools by bringing forth the reality faced by the students. This approach, to my satisfaction, highlights the struggles that have ensued alongside opening of schools in the valley.
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