24th February 2020 was an important day for my family and me. It was on this day that I waved goodbye to my smiling kids in uniform who were off to school after a traumatic seven-month break. I remember their plight last summer as their school shoes collected dust and their uniforms waited in hangers to be worn. I remember their depression, their isolation and their feeling of loss. They lived without a contact with their school or their friends. They lived without touching their precious possessions i.e their hi-tech gadgets. They lived without their lifeline –Internet. As we waded through those tough times, I was hopeful about the academic calendar in the current year. The return of smile on their faces and the swing in their bodies after a long period of confinement gave me a reason to smile.
But, the happiness and excitement does not last long for us as a matter of bitter routine. Coronavirus pandemic forced governments in larger parts of the world to shut the schools and enforce lockdowns. The Government of Jammu and Kashmir too ordered for the schools to be shut. Agree, in the interest of the greater good of the society. To the world the measures might seem harsh and tough, but Kashmiri children have endured these confinements and are used to long vacations from schools. Education has been the greatest victim of turmoil in Kashmir. Year after year children bear the brunt of closed schools thus hampering their ability to learn.
In a world woven around hi-tech gadgets and online modes of education shutting the schools would not make much difference. However, in Kashmir the announcement to shut the schools came without prescribing an alternative method of education or instruction. The colleges, universities and schools all over the world shifted to the online mode but Kashmiri children continued to suffer yet again without anyone sparing a thought about their need to get educated.
I am a stressed parent who finds it beyond her capacity to impart education to children at home without help from any quarter. I do not know how with schools shut, private coaching centers closed, Internet running at a 2G-speed am I supposed to educate my children? There are problems I cannot solve, theorems I cannot explain, issues I cannot sort out and I am perturbed because of this all. Education is a basic right and so is the right to Internet. Whom do I approach for seeking these rights for my children? The department of education cannot absolve itself of all the responsibilities by shutting down the schools. What is their alternative to the conventional classroom teaching in a scenario in which we are presently stuck up?
Knowledge is power they say, Internet is a great source of knowledge especially for underprivileged – its deprivation at a critical moment cuts a great source of knowledge for our children. Even if there are 100 reasons for the authorities not to restore it to 4G, education of children was one mammoth reason for restoring it. The department of education should have reasoned with the higher authorities about the importance of high-speed Internet restoration, subsequent online teaching and learning could have followed.
Many children who are in the career shaping phases of their studies, who need to compete in various competitive tests are left in a lurch. Wherefrom are they going to get the guidance? How are they going to do their practice tests which are conducted online? How are they going to compete with the world outside where education is accessible by all modes and means?
We are running into second successive school closure season and we have, I am afraid, nothing positive in our hands to offer to our kids. Our children are the children of a conflict zone who are psychologically brittle and emotionally sensitive. Their creativity and talent is getting suppressed. Their routine, their life is getting disturbed every now and then and they are at a receiving end as regards their education. The authorities should have developed special modules and courses for them which they could access from their homes. They should have become experts by now in imparting education without schools. We have been hearing something about televised lectures but even after a week gone by, there are no lectures for our kids so far.
The fate of a generation is at stake and there are no credible efforts to save it. Should I not be worried?