Rethinking Education in J&K: Towards prioritizing mental and emotional health needs of students
A culture of uncertainty imposed by the armed conflict has shaped a generation of students in Jammu and Kashmir, too scared to question what they are being taught. They are sorely in need of diverse and inclusive spaces where their voices can be heard and their worldviews broadened.
By: Tehmeena Rizvi
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) affirms that education is a fundamental human right and a key factor in reducing poverty and child labour, as well as promoting sustainable development. Quality education, which imparts crucial knowledge and important values, helps set the foundation for a child’s future. With conflicts (especially cultural and religious) and violence (individual and systemic) currently on the rise all over the world, education has now become even more essential than ever for teaching the youth about methods and techniques of peacemaking and therefore prioritizing their mental and emotional needs. However, the Indian education system is still struggling to provide quality education for all due to a wide range of issues including rapid population growth, poor education infrastructure, and social inequality coupled with other social and economic issues.
The education system in Jammu and Kashmir
The education system in the newly-carved out Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (a place that remains caught in protracted cycles of conflict and violence) comes with its own special set of problems and thus leaves much to be desired. It is quite outdated and hasn’t adapted to the changing times, leaving students bereft of the much-needed academic and social skills. That’s not to say that Kashmiri students aren’t gifted – they possess distinctive capabilities required for excelling in various fields like politics, sports, science; however, the challenging social and political situations fostered by an “intractable conflict”, and lack of opportunities are proving to be major stumbling blocks for them.
This article focuses on the necessity of education that prioritizes the mental and emotional health needs of students and promotes methods and techniques for peacemaking, collaboration, dialogue forums, and the creation of safe and healthy spaces for students.
Kashmir has been suffering huge education losses due to frequent closure of educational institutions owing to bouts of unrest, separatist-sponsored shutdowns, sporadic incidents of violence, and government-imposed restrictions. During 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2016–2017 unrests in Kashmir, the educational institutions remained open for less than four months. The academic activities came to an abrupt halt last year following the abrogation of Article 370. Furthermore, due to the ongoing global pandemic, the authorities had no choice but to temporarily close the educational institutions and shift to online teaching. Nevertheless, the students in Jammu and Kashmir are not able to join the online classes due to restrictions on high-speed internet.
The educational institutions have to bear the fallout of the aforementioned crisis situations by completing the syllabus in a limited time period and promoting students without exams. Observer Research Foundation (ORF) terms the situation as ‘education paralysis’.
ORF, in its report on the state of education in Kashmir, also, talks about places such as Somalia and the North East Province in Kenya where radio was used to impart education and a mobile camel library was used to lend books to nomads respectively. Recently, in the Sindh region in Pakistan, the symbols signifying “gynae” wards in a hospital were changed in a way that was comprehensible to locals – from those showing a pregnant woman in Western attire to those showing her with a band worn by Sindhi women during pregnancy. The aforementioned innovative methods may not feasible in a place like Jammu and Kashmir; however, these methods illustrate the importance of imparting knowledge in whatever way possible.
As for the mental and emotional needs of students, the statistics related to suicide attempts speaks for itself, not to mention the physical toll taken by the armed conflict. According to the cases registered in police stations, hospital records, and other related data, there have been more than a thousand suicide attempts this year in Kashmir, with the majority of victims reported as people in the age group between 16 to 25 years.
Caught in an increasingly fraught time, with a very few avenues to develop their skills and seek out diverse opinions, it is no wonder that children in Kashmir are in need of a specialized and “revamped education system” which would lead to the creation of healthy, informative, diverse, and safe spaces for the students.
Education throughout India is increasingly unequal with exclusive private schools and underfunded government-run schools. Recently, the latter have shown a turnaround in Delhi due to strategic investment and attention by the government. However, it is hard to follow or implement the “Delhi educational model” in a conflict zone like Kashmir. In his opinion published by the Greater Kashmir, prominent businessman and entrepreneur Vijay Dhar, who runs Delhi Public School in Srinagar, has raised concern about the lack of proper elementary education while elaborating on his trials of setting up a school in Jammu and Kashmir. “A place where education was declared compulsory in 1951 and remains the least literate state in India – it baffles!” he writes. He also stresses on public-private partnerships to ensure education for all. Vijay Dhar states that in the early 2000’s private schools were told to adopt government schools in their vicinity and yet this programme also failed after two years.
A culture of uncertainty imposed by the armed conflict has shaped a generation of students in Jammu and Kashmir, too scared to question what they are being taught. They are sorely in need of diverse and inclusive spaces where their voices can be heard and their worldviews broadened. Jammu and Kashmir’s education system stresses just on one school of thought rather than adopting a heterogeneous stance. The need of the hour is to blend the religious and mainstream education to enable the holistic development of the students.
First and foremost, investment in education needs to be increased. The government did not reflect this intention in the last Union Budget and hopefully, it will allocate adequate funds for the education sector in the next Union Budget.
The educational curriculum needs to be thoroughly reviewed. The policymakers need to blend modern and traditional methods of teaching and be adaptable to the environment.
The government should provide support to the youth who earn degrees from prestigious universities abroad and are aiming to come back and contribute to educational institutions in their community.
Understanding the mental and emotional health needs, a type of special educational needs, of the youth (who are living in a conflict zone) is important while rethinking education in J&K.
Intensive counseling sessions for both teachers and students should be held to minimize the impact of issues, arising from conflict, on the education sector.
The teachers in Jammu and Kashmir should be imparted specialized training and guidance for adopting new teaching methods.