How school kids in Kashmir are coping with curbs after Article 370 decision
Idrees Mir, 13, has been among the toppers at a private school in Srinagar’s Khanyar. The class 6 student would regularly play cricket at a nearby playground and finish all his homework without much prodding. There has, however, been a perceptible change in his behaviour over the past month as he has been forced to spend most of his time indoors since August 5 when Kashmir was placed under lockdown.
Each time his siblings, both graduates, ask him to study, he refuses to listen to them. “He gets irritated when we ask him to at least study on his own. Mostly he remains glued to the TV,” said his sister, Zubaida, who just completed her Bachelor of Education degree.
Most schools have remained closed even as the government announced their reopening around a fortnight after the lockdown was imposed to prevent protests against the nullification of the Constitution’s Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories on August 5. Article 370 gave J&K a measure of autonomy and prevented non-residents from buying property and getting government jobs there.
Parents say they are reluctant to send their children to schools given the continued uncertainty and also because of an ongoing shutdown even as the government has eased restrictions on movement and restored fixed-line phones. Incoming call facilities on mobile phones have been restored in parts of the region.
Zahidam a teacher, said she goes every day to the school where she teaches, but students do not come as the parents are apprehensive. “I do not send my children to school either,” she said. “The current situation is taking a heavy toll on children…”
Zahida said most of the children spend their time playing mobile games and watching television. “For the past one month, my children have been asking me to take them out for ice cream… I had to drive 7 km to get ice cream for them…”
Idrees Mir said the situation was bad outside. “I am even afraid of going to the playground. Even mama and papa would not let us go out,” he said. “We learn at school, not alone.”
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Director (school education), Younis Malik, said the attendance in schools across the Valley has been thin but was improving. “The percentage varies from single digit to 20% in different districts,” he said.
Omar Bakal, a resident of Srinagar’s Lal Bazar, said he could feel stress levels of his three school-going children going up. “For the past one month, they are sitting at home and only watching TV and playing in our compound. Most of the times they have nothing to do,” he said.
He added his children ask him several questions regarding the current situation. “… I do not reply to their queries,” he said.
Many parents are trying to compensate for the closure of schools by arranging tuitions for them in their neighbourhoods. “My two children have started going for tuitions. Earlier, I thought the situation will improve within a few weeks. Now I do not see any chances of schools opening in the near future. There is not only a communication blockade but a shutdown too,” said Ishfaq Ahmad, a public sector employee, and a resident of north Kashmir. He added that tuitions cannot fully compensate for the closure of schools.
Shoaib Iqbal, a resident of Srinagar’s Sonwar, who has two school-going children, said this is the second time over the past three years when schools have been shut for an extended period. “In 2016, a similar situation emerged following militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing. I try to teach my children, but it is difficult for me to replace their school teachers,” said Iqbal.
Former Jammu University education professor, NR Sharma, said when children remain away from schools for so long, it is bound to have an impact on them. “As an academic, a father and a citizen, I must say that education suffers,’’ he said. “Research says the first generation learners get into more problems after remaining away from educational institutions. Those who have educated parents, can make up for the loss. However, for those, who have nobody at home to guide them, they are going to be severely affected.”
Yaqoob Ali, a psychiatrist at a government hospital, said, “The students, who have to take competitive exams, feel left behind when they see students in other areas carrying on with their education. Not all are affected but those, who prone to psychological issues, face problems.”