Poor infrastructure and shortage of staff continues to hamper the growth of government schools in Kashmir. While authorities in school education department have been beating the drums of filling up infrastructural gaps in the schools, on the ground however, they have neglected the school education, both at primary and middle level, in terms of fulfilling infrastructure and staff requirements. Unlike few city schools which always remain under focus of the department, the schools in villages have become a victim of official neglect. These schools have been seeing constant rise in the enrolment but lack of infrastructure has been playing a spoilsport. The Government Girls Middle School Sadarbal is one such case. The school falls in education zone Pattan in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. It has 162 students on rolls and in the last class 8th exam the school bagged second position at cluster level. But the Government has failed to fill infrastructural gaps in this school. “Our students don’t have even desks to sit on. We have been provided one desk for three students but they are not spacious to adjust even two students,” said a teacher posted in the school. That the school has desks and benches for only two classes speak volumes about laxity on part of the authorities. “There is no high school in the village. While this school was recommended by zonal authorities for up gradation to high school level but the proposal has never seen light of the day. The outgoing class 8th students are forced to join nearby private schools,” said another teacher. Instead of providing adequate teaching staff for the school, the authorities engage some teachers as BLOs and in other non-teaching assignments, taking a toll on teaching side. “We have repeatedly requested the government to exempt us from non-teaching assignments but we are always engaged in non-teaching jobs,” a teacher said. The Girls School Sadarbal is not the only school which has faced the official neglect, but dozens of such schools with promising enrollment have remained out of sight of the department. The Girls Middle School Hamray has an enrolment of more than 70 students. But the department has shifted one teacher to a Srinagar school on deployment while as another teacher remains completely engaged in non-teaching job. There are just seven teachers for the school, far less than the required strength for a middle school. Greater Kashmir visited around a dozen schools in villages which portray a success story in terms of maintaining student enrolment and performance in cluster level class 8th exams.
The student population in these institutions gives a hope that government run schools at primary and middle level, which are at the verge of closure in towns and cities, can excel if government pays attention towards them. The Government Girls Middle School in Manz Seer in education zone Sopore has an enrolment of 107 students from Kindergarten to 8th standard. The school has been designated as a “lab school” by the department. “The school can become an institute of excellence if it gets proper attention from government. The classrooms need face-lifting and proper seating arrangements,” said a teacher posted in the school. This is not the only school which has a good enrolment but other institutions in adjacent villages have maintained a good enrolment in their schools. The Government Primary School Akhanpora has 164 students, Primary school Wandakpora has 120 students, Primary School Chinkipora has enrolment of 200 students and Primary School Sher colony has a student population of 152 students. All these schools fall in jurisdiction of zone Sopore. Despite facing tough competition from the private schools, the teachers and the heads of the institutions have been able to motivate the parents to enroll their wards in the government institutions.
Ironically, all these schools crave for government attention owing to visible staff shortage and infrastructure dearth. “The basic problem is that authorities never shift their focus from few selected schools in the city. Also, their primary concern remains pass percentage in class 10th and 12th exams. Due to this approach the department has completely neglected elementary education,” said an official wishing not to be named. The Government Middle School Dharnambal is another such school which has exceptionally maintained an enrolment of 270 students. The school has 46 students enrolled in kindergarten (KG) alone. Ideally a middle school should have a sanctioned strength of more than eight teachers but this school has only four. “We are nine teachers here but four have been posted on deployment,” a teacher said. The school doesn’t have a gatekeeper or care taker to control trespassing of stop locals from playing in its field. “The local youth use our playground during school hours and in summers residents use our school ground to dry their paddy,” the teacher said. The school doesn’t have benches and desks for the students. Director school education Kashmir (DSEK) Muhammad Younis Malik claimed all the schools will be provided with all required infrastructure. “We have already started the exercise in this regard,” he said.