Poor infrastructure continues to hamper the growth and progression of government schools in Kashmir. Even though the authorities in the School Education Department (SED) have been assuring of filling up “infrastructural gaps” in the schools, the ground realities continue to belie the claims, especially in the rural areas.
Unlike Srinagar schools which always remain under focus of the department, the schools up to primary and middle level in rural areas have become a victim of official apathy.
These schools have been seeing constant rise in enrolment, but lack of infrastructure has been playing a spoilsport to promote quality education. The lack of infrastructure in schools has come to the limelight again amid debate about the announcement of winter vacations in schools.
Recently, the Director School Education Kashmir (DSEK) said that winter vacations are “subservient” to weather conditions and they will continue with the classes until the weather permits. Following this, a debate started on social media on why winter vacations will be announced in early November. Even some netizens questioned why the schools are to be closed at all if students can go for private coaching in harsh winter amid snowfall.
Amid the debate on why winter vacation has become a concern amid the prevailing cold weather, this correspondent visited around a dozen schools in villages which portray a success story in terms of maintaining the student enrolment. However, the schools depicted the pathetic condition, particularly up to primary and middle level, vis-à-vis infrastructure.
While potholes and mud welcome the students to their school premises, the students had no classrooms to attend their regular classes.
True, the good student population in these institutions gives hope that the government-run schools at primary and middle level, which are on the verge of closure in towns and cities, can excel if the government pays attention towards them, however the infrastructure gaps will continue to play a spoilsport to realise the goal of providing quality education.
In most of the schools, the teachers had crammed students of more than two classes in one classroom due to the dearth of accommodation. The situation in other schools was grimmer, with students of more than one class seen crammed in one dingy room.
The students were seen shivering because of the cold as there were no heating arrangements made for them. Forget the heating arrangements, some schools had no glasses fixed on the windows. Even some schools were seen functioning from tin-sheds, making the condition of students worse.
In such a situation, where the students are deprived of basic facilities of a classroom, the demand for closure of the schools from the autumn season will only continue to grow. The lack of basic infrastructure contradicts the government’s claims of continuing with the class-work in Valley schools till the heavy snow falls.
Government High School Saidpora in Sopore is one such school where 125 students of 11 classes (Kindergarten to Class 10) are crammed in four rooms. And despite this scenario, the students are still forced to attend classes under open sky amid the cold weather conditions. Saidapora school is not the lone institution portraying this grim picture. The situation in other schools is no different from this, thus exposing lack of infrastructure in the schools.
The schools lack basic infrastructure despite the fact that the Government of India has pumped in crores of rupees to J&K since the inception of centrally-sponsored scheme like erstwhile SSA and RMSA (now Samagra Shiksha) to strengthen the school infrastructure not only in towns but in rural areas as well.
Given the pathetic condition of schools in rural areas, it seems that over the years, the funds received by the J&K government have gone down the drain leaving the students at the receiving end.
Besides filling the infrastructural gaps in schools, the government should have much earlier initiated action against all those who made these schemes a mess in J&K and kept the students deprived of all these facilities.
Students cannot study properly if congenial atmosphere is not provided to them. If they continue to study from dingy accommodations, it will certainly impact their teaching-learning processes.
The government of the day must understand the need to create better facilities for students for them to excel. That will be its biggest contribution to the education sector.
Government Middle School Kohlina in zone Chandoosa of Baramulla district is another example depicting the official apathy. The school has a student population of around 160 and is functioning in a slide-prone area where its own building got damaged due to floods some years ago. Since then, the school has been functioning from a tin-shed where it has been merged with a primary school.
Over the years, the government has failed to construct the permanent buildings for these two schools.
The students crammed in these tin-sheds shiver the whole day as they are not provided any heating arrangements. Forget heating arrangements, these schools do not have proper benches and desks for students to sit on. Amid the prevailing cold conditions, the kids are made to sit on the floor.
With the early onset of winter this year, the condition of students enrolled in schools located in snow-bound areas has become more pathetic. These areas recently received heavy snowfall which led to the drastic decrease in the temperature. The students enrolled in these schools shiver with cold as the government has no heating arrangement in these schools.
The successive regimes have not been able to fill the infrastructural gaps in these schools however it is making tall claims of reformation in the sector. If the schools continue to function in such conditions, the authorities will obviously face criticism for continuing classes till the Valley receives snowfall. The department should have made it a priority to plug the infrastructural gaps in schools, particularly in rural areas.
To conclude, the debate over winter vacations should not be lopsided. The ground realities have to be taken into account before making sweeping statements in favour of continuation of classes in government-run schools. When schools lack basic facilities, it would only be rhetorical and useless to continue with classes amid the prevailing cold conditions.
Providing education must be the goal of the authorities but it cannot be achieved with mere statements like “remedial classes will continue in winters”, as the Director School Education keeps saying off and on.
It can be achieved only after putting in place necessary infrastructure and facilities at schools where children will feel comfortable in their classrooms rather than shivering in a cold wave. Winter in Kashmir is a reality.
Winter vacations in schools have been a reality for many decades. To do away with winter vacations, the authorities must ensure that heating arrangements and all other facilities are in place. Perhaps, we haven’t reached that stage yet. Therefore, the debate is futile as on date.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.