Imagine 125 young students crammed into three small classrooms pouring over their books and taking notes. One might find it hard to believe that such a classroom exists. But that is how the students at a government-run school in the Sopore area of north Kashmir go about studying daily.
Situated barely three kilometres from Sopore town, the Government High School (GHS) Saidapora in Dangerpora education zone has an enrollment of 125 students in 11 classes. But till date the government has provided only three classrooms for the school and one office room. A visit to the institute depicts the grim scenario of the education sector in the J&K. The infrastructural standards of this school punctures the tall claims of the School Education Department which boasts of taking the education sector to new heights at a time when the government is all set to implement National Education Policy (NEP)-2020 in J&K which promises countless revolutionary initiatives. While the institution needs accommodation of more than 11 rooms for students from kindergarten to class 10th, the department has provided only three rooms for the accommodation of the students. “It is all a mess here as we have to adjust three to four classes in one room and at times students take classes in the open," a school teacher said.
These educational institutions exist at a time when the J&K administration has termed the 2022 as an year of academic transformation and making tall claims of filling infrastructural gaps in all educational institutions across J&K. Teachers at this institution keep searching for shadows to adjust the open air class for the students while during rains, the students are either crammed with students of other classes or sent home.
Notably, the students of this school attend classes in open at a time when the Directorate of School Education Kashmir (DSEK) has issued guidelines for schools to combat the heat wave impact noting that it (heat wave) may at times pose risk to the health of the school going children. The guidelines read that sports and other outdoor activities should be adjusted in early hours and care be taken during assembly and dispersal of students. In contrast, the students of this school attend their classes for the whole day under open sky.
Moreover, this cramming of children into dingy classrooms is being done amid rising Covid cases in the UT. "We keep searching for shadows the whole day and shift our students from one place to another place within the premises only to provide them some sort of relief," a school teacher said.
Government school Saidapora is not the only school functioning in pathetic condition but there are hundreds of such schools which are in shambles.
“The tall claims of bringing reforms, filling infrastructural gaps remain confined to only papers. The ground reality is completely grim and at the end it is the students who have to suffer,” the teacher said.
Recently, the School Education Department (SED) constituted several teams of officers who were tasked to conduct inspection of schools and provide feedback to the department about the availability of staff, infrastructure and learning levels of the students. The schools were supposed to be given a rating on the basis of these parameters as well.
"You can imagine what sort of rating this school will be given. At times the officials avoid visiting this school because there is nothing which they can sell to people," the teacher said. The school has around 20 Kanals of land available within its vicinity where the department could have established a permanent building for the students. But till date, the government has not taken any concrete steps to change the condition of the school.
"We have approached the higher ups in the department a number of times but it seems that face-lifting of such schools is the last priority for the department," another teacher said. He said the school has an excellent record in terms of performance of students in exams but the lack of accommodation and laboratories for 9th and 10th class students plays spoilsport. "In 2021 annual Board exams, this school produced 100 percent results with eight distinction holders. Teachers and students try their best to maintain the reputation of the institution but a school should have all the facilities to be called a school," he said. Notably, the school has no room and toilet for the staff while the institution is without a library facility as well. "Almost seven classes are conducted in open air on a daily basis which makes students feel like they are being discriminated against. At least a student should be provided a proper classroom once he enters his school, but the situation here is altogether different," the school teacher said.
Notably, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has repeatedly revealed that a good percentage of schools in J&K accommodate students of many classes jointly which defeats the basic purpose of imparting education to the children.
These schools are facing accommodation problems despite the Government of India allocating crores of rupees for building infrastructure for school going children. Zonal Education Officer (ZEO) Dangerpora Fayaz Ahmad admitted the school has dearth of accommodation and said the issue was taken up with the concerned authorities a number of times but nothing was done so far.
Chief Education Officer (CEO) Baramulla, Ghulam Mohammad Lone acknowledged that the school lacks proper accommodation and said the department has proposed a two storey building for this school in the current year's plan.
"I am aware about the condition of the school but there are several issues involved. I had suggested shifting this school to a rented accommodation but locals did not agree," CEO Baramulla said.
"I don't know why the issue was not resolved in previous years," he said. Notably, CEO Baramulla is serving in the district since 2019.