US, WASHINGTON (NEWS OBSERVATORY) — Empty classrooms are a familiar sight in Kashmir, but so are local efforts to continue basic education amid the conflict. The local teachers and recent graduates open up unofficial community schools and tutoring centres staffed by volunteers.
Breaks in education faced by the children of Kashmir are unpredictable, surrounded by fear, trauma and lack of stimulating activity. All these factors are severely detrimental for learning and development and is unsettling for students, making it tougher to reorient themselves in regular school routine.
In 2016, schools were shut for almost six months during waves of protests following the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani. The UN’s human rights office reported that 130 school days were lost.
In 2017, the authorities closed down all schools and universities for at least two weeks when troops quelled a protest at a college in Pulwama, a hotbed for anti-government sentiment.
And in 2019, the schools were shut almost for half of the year due to the centres move of scrapping special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and now in year 2020, after opening the Schools, Colleges and Universities almost after seven months. The administration in yet again shutting down its educational institutions for two weeks, as the government works to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak that is likely to hit the country hard.
Officials said the new coronavirus has infected more than 31 people as of Saturday. As a result, all schools, universities, and day cares will be shut across Kashmir valley starting Monday and will remain closed until at least March 20.
Universities, Colleges and Schools across the Valley are places where students live and work in close quarters- and are a point of pride.
In order to prevent the highly infectious COVID-19 from spreading, the administration in Kashmir on Saturday announced that all government and private primary schools will remain closed in the summer capital. Shahid Iqbal, who holds the portfolio of Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, said in a tweet that all Primary Schools in District Srinagar shall remain closed till further orders by administration.
Later on the the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Khan said that, “in view of growing threat of Corona Virus, the class work in all government and private schools of Srinagar, Budgam, Baramulla and Bandipora districts will remain suspended upto primary level from Monday, March 9, 2020, till further orders.”
“The step has been taken as a precautionary measure,” Khan added.
But now, the same details that are selling points in various valley junctions have become focal points of a different sort. People believe that whether or not you’re at a school or college, the virus is threatening to disrupt everyone’s daily life. But on campuses across Kashmir, the impact could be particularly acute.
But beyond uncertainty over the effect the coronavirus could have on individual students’ academic careers, Kashmir institutions are facing an even bigger question: How long will the coronavirus crisis last?
Temporary campus closures across Kashmir, enrollment dips and program cancellations are all possibilities — though it’s too soon to know whether the virus will force other departments to take such extreme steps.
Already educational institutions in Kashmir are scrambling to deal with problems popping due to the frequent shutdowns. And now due to the coronavirus horror, valley administration has cancelled again the classes of 7,50,000 students. Officials say there’s little doubt the effects will intensify, and they’re doing everything they can to plan and prepare.
“Everybody is really feeling this as such a tremendous disruptor, creating this huge sense of anxiety and uncertainty,” said a official (requested anonymuty) in education department. It reminds you in a very real way that schools are crossroads, where all the ways that a disease like this could have an impact.”
“Everyone is concerned about the coronavirus, because we know that its spread into Asia is pretty much inevitable. I don’t think our school or community has properly addressed this problem. The coronavirus will basically shutdown all forms of “normal” lifestyle. Schools and workplaces will have to be closed because they facilitate the spread of the virus,” said a doctor in Srinagar’s SMHS hospital.
Just how severe the impact will be will depend on many unknown variables, among them: how long the outbreak will last, whether or to what degree it can be relatively contained, whether Kashmir colleges and schools reopen again to finish their terms more or less on schedule, and how damaging the virus ultimately ends up.
“This is the worst possible time for Kashmiri education providers, because it comes at the very start of our academic year,” said Abdul Rasheed, of the north Kashmir based private school.
The question with all these school closings is what the ripple effects will be, particularly for students who study, and what that might do to their career in future.
It’s right to close schools, but that has a cost,” Nazima Imtiyaz a mother of a 6-year-old and entrepreneur from Srinagar, told News Observatory.
“Discontinuities in education are inimical to psycho–social, emotional and cognitive development and literacy of the child. As we struggle to meet the millennium development goals in education, the impact of conflict on education and learning should be of urgent concern. We need to find ways to give our children a safe and secure learning environment in every situation.
Discontinuities in education are inimical to psycho–social, emotional and cognitive development and literacy of the child. As we struggle to meet the millennium development goals in education, the impact of conflict on education and learning should be of urgent concern. We need to find ways to give our children a safe and secure learning environment in every situation especially during times of conflict,” Nazima added.
School closures have been frequent in Kashmir; now it’s worth to see when the valley students will attend their classes once again.
Mir Suhail is a Srinagar based Journalist. He tweets at @KashmirukSuhail email: [email protected]
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Article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by News Observatory staff in our US newsroom.