Come pre-time harsh winter, slightly uncomfortable summer, political unrest, COVID-19 and/or other natural or man-made calamities, Education in Kashmir, from school- to university-level, from academic to professional, and from extension to research, becomes the first causality. It comes with grave consequences – shrinking academic calendar, compromised quality, academic indiscipline and decaying professionalism. Kashmir often witnesses such terrible times and has suffered a lot, largely due to our ill-preparedness and lack of contingency plans. Post August 5, 2019 students in Kashmir have rarely attended academic institutions. Most of them have even forgotten their school names and routine working style. COVID-19 has worsened the scenario and further exposed our weaknesses in responding to the crisis situation. If the threat continues and in view of possible months long lockdown, education in valley is going to get an all-time severe blow. Economic crises will deepen. Fear, anxiety, depression, hypertension and other threatening ailments may crop up. This may require some aggressive measures by the authorities like pumping more money into health care and education sectors; diverting largely unproductive research budget to these sectors and meeting the daily expenses of a commoner. Otherwise, how will a commoner survive this lockdown phase? Enough has gone down the drain. Let our basic amenities be improved first, and then only research will be productive and crises-solving. Or else, a difficult and rather unpalatable choice has to be made. Letting the SARS-Cov 2 run its course, and adopt the Korean style of containment. Not asking people to stay at home rather stopping mass gatherings > 250, aggressive testing, contact tracing, and enforced quarantines and isolations.
In twenty first century, children and young people are considered as global citizens, powerful agents of change and the next generation of caregivers, scientists, and doctors. COVID-19 like crisis presents them an opportunity to learn, cultivate compassion and increase resilience while building a safer and more caring community. According to UNESCO monitoring, over 100 countries have implemented nationwide school closures, impacting over half of world’s student population. Several other countries have implemented localized school closures and, should these closures become nationwide, millions of additional learners will experience education disruption. In China, schools have started opening, but the majority remain closed. In Republic of Korea, following an initial postponement of two weeks, universities have started the academic year. Group and face-to-face classes are strongly discouraged and universities are offering on-line classes (UNESCO website).
This COVID-19 is surely not the last epidemic that will threaten school continuity in view of changing pattern of infectious disease epidemiology due to climate change. Institutions must immediately update their emergency preparedness plans by developing contingency plans that not only address school-based prevention and safety measures for epidemics, but also identify ways to continue educating and supporting students and teachers if schools are closed. At the same time, the global education community must strengthen monitoring, evaluation, and documentation of alternative modes and methods of distance and flexible education work, and including how they support the psychosocial well-being of learners and teachers (COVID-19 outbreak highlights critical gaps in school emergency preparedness. By Allison Anderson, Wednesday, March 11, 2020).
Till the lockdown continues, can the teaching community of education-starved valley ensures continued access of students to quality education via use of online/e-learning strategies, assigning reading/exercises for home study, broadcasting of academic content on radio/television, weekly follow-up and developing accelerated education strategies? Can the ambitious National Agricultural Higher Education Project, SKUAST Kashmir, come to the rescue of SKUAST students and ensures their minimal educational disruption and continued learning? Can the medical and veterinary health professionals ensure free on-line consultation to the patients/caretakers? Can we afford to forget education in such crises situations, and focus on health only? And, should we wait for zero community spread of SARS-Cov 2 and then resume the routine?
Need of the time is we relook our vision and mission, reframe our policies, redefine our priorities, reshape our professional responsibilities and remodel our health and education sectors for the greater good of our people. A stitch in time saves nine, or else, God forbidǃ we may have to go for paroxysmal quarantines to ensure our survival. Well taught by COVID-19, can the present dispensation with a new mindset change the dynamics or continues with age-old and now rejected practices in all important health and education sectors.
Views are author’s own & not of the institution he works for
Aijaz Ahmad Dar, PhD (Veterinary Medicine) is working as Subject Matter Specialist – Animal Science, KVK Kupwara, SKUAST-Kashmir