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These Kashmiri teachers won't let students suffer

By Athar Parvaiz
September 06, 2016 21:18 IST
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With no signs of improvement in the situation in Kashmir, community schools are the only hope for students, reports Athar Parvaiz.

IMAGE: A volunteer teaches students at a community school in Zainakote, Srinagar. This school has been functional for the past month thanks to the efforts of local youth. Photograph: Athar Parvaiz

If 10-year-old Adeeba of Kumar Mohalla in Zainakote-Srinagar had not found some new friends in the newly set up community school in her locality, it would have been difficult for her to live without her school friends for weeks together.

Her school is away from her locality and has not opened for weeks.

Ask her what she misses the most about her school and she puts missing the company of her friends on top.

"I had my best friends in my school whose company I used to enjoy, but I have not seen them since Eid," she told this reporter outside the community school.

After Eid-ul-Fitr, she has not been to school given the curfews imposed by the state government and repeated strike calendars issued by the pro-freedom politicians in the aftermath of Hizbul Mujahideen miltant Burhan Wani's death on July 8.

Two months of strict curfews and strike calls have led to the collapse of Kashmir's education system.

Unabated violence has resulted in the deaths of 75 people and injuries to over 9,000 people.

"At my new school (community school), I have some new friends now," Adeeba said though she struggled to explain what it means to her.

The community school in Kumar Mohalla and another in Dar Mohalla in Zainakote-Srinagar are functional for the past one month thanks to the efforts of local youth.

In both schools, some 14 volunteers teach over 200 students from the primary classes to secondary level from 9 am to 1:15 pm.

When curfew continued for over four weeks and there were no signs of the situation getting any better, Sajjad Ahmad Sofi, a young businessman, thought he and his friends should set up a makeshift school in their locality of about 2,000 families.

"I consulted some 14 well educated youths of the locality who I knew closely and asked them if they could help. They liked the idea and came forward quite enthusiastically," Sofi said.

"After that we approached the management of the local madrassa. They held a meeting and later allowed us to use their space. And later, when we fell short of space, the local mosque provided some blankets while some well-meaning citizens contributed money for other requirements," Sofi added.

According to Sofi, students from well off families were not much affected since their parents managed private tuitions for them.

"The poorer students had nothing to fall back upon. That is why I was so keen on starting the community school," he said.

Now, Sofi said, not only poor students, but students from affluent families have enrolled in the community school.

IMAGE: A girl peers from her home as a member of the security forces patrols a street in Srinagar. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Ghulam Ahmad, a parent, said all parents of the locality are happy with the efforts put in by educated youth in the locality.

"This is really commendable. If they had not thought of doing something for the poor, where could we go?" Ahmad asked.

Three volunteer teachers -- Mohammad Maqbool, Rashid Ahmad and Aaqib Ahmad -- said the prevailing crisis presented an opportunity to help the poor students whom they intend to continue teaching even when the circumstances become normal.

"We are planning to keep helping the poor students by not only teaching them, but also providing them books and fulfilling their other requirements for education," they said.

"I think we have made a good beginning in that direction and we only need to take it forward," Rashid said.

The current unrest is a throwback to the situation in the early 1990s when the armed conflict in Kashmir had almost put an abrupt end to education with schools remaining closed most of the time in the initial years of the conflict.

According to state education department officials, schools should function for 229 days in a year.

But perpetual strikes, particularly in 1991, meant that schools did not open on 207 days, which implies that about 60 per cent of the academic year were consumed in strikes.

Over the next three years, students could not go to school for 148, 139 and 97 days respectively.

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