Srinagar: As Kashmir continues to reel under the COVID-19 restrictions, lockdown necessitated by the alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 deaths and positive cases, holding open-air classes for students forcibly kept away from schools for more than a year now is gaining momentum across the Valley.
Private teachers and tutors are organizing such lessons in batches for students from primary to higher secondary classes, at least, at a couple of dozen places in various districts of the Valley.
In most cases, the education in the time of pandemic is being imparted to these students free of cost. In remaining instances, mohalla (locality) or village welfare committees or charitable organizations are funding the pursuit, however.
The trendsetter of this unique exercise is Muneer Aalam, an engineer-turned-teacher from Srinagar. He had in view of the slow 2G internet speed debilitating the online classes launched for students by their respective institutions in the Valley earlier, started free open-air coaching classes at Srinagar’s Idgah grounds in June “to ensure the students don't fall behind their school or college syllabi.
His “Minaz Zulumaat-i-Ilan Noor”- from darkness (of ignorance) to the brightest light (of knowledge)- endeavour not only continues but it has also inspired many people here and elsewhere in the Valley and is being widely appreciated in Kashmir and beyond.
40-year-old- Aalam relocates to the spacious Idgah grounds with the break of dawn to start his tuition classes for nearly eighty male and female students in batches. These students pour in from different parts of Srinagar and neighbouring townships, carrying their foldable chairs or mats to attend the classes.
“We strictly adhere to the COVID-19 SOPs and guidelines and take all necessary precautions which include students sitting at distances and wearing facemasks throughout.”
Last week, when Srinagar received rains after a long time, these classes were held on the porch of Aali Masjid, which is part of the historical Idgah where Muslims offer special Id prayers twice in a year, instead.
“For the first time in the last fifty day, we took the classes a few metres away from our open-air classroom on the veranda of Aali Masjid. The management of the mosque, the second largest in Kashmir, readily agreed to it,” he said.
He added, “It was raining like cats and dogs but I decided to look for an alternative place to hold the classes so that the students who come from near and far off places are not disappointed. I had reached there before first light and my first class on that rainy day went for about three hours, the longest in nearly two months.”
Mr. Aalam said, “Basically I’m an engineer from the IIT but teaching is not only my profession but also my passion for the past two decades. I felt the pain of our students who were suffering due to their remaining away from their schools and colleges for so long and the online classes not being any helpful to them because of the low speed internet. Believe me, thinking about the future of our children and the society I couldn’t sleep. I decided to sacrifice my sleep. I reach here before the break of dawn to hold these open-air classes.”
He lamented that even the Supreme Court has failed to come to the rescue of J&K students as the petitions seeking restoration of 4G bandwidth internet services in the erstwhile are lingering before the top court.
“When you look into the eyes of these young boys and girls you see helplessness and hopelessness there. I just want to ask one question; isn’t education a priority before the government?”, he said.
He added, “It appears they are telling us let education suffer but there should be no law and order problem. For God’s sake, don’t spoil the future of our new generation. We won’t be able to face them tomorrow if we damper their dreams”, he added. While Mr. Aalam teaches math, he has been joined by a couple of more people lately to teach other subjects like physics and chemistry.
Mudassir Ahmed, a student said, “These classes have been very helpful to us. We’re face to face with our teachers here. After the lessons are over, we interact with them, seek clarifications from them and give them feedback. Zoom classes have not been any beneficial because of the poor connectivity”
G.N.Var, chairman of chairman of Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) which has 2,200 schools associated with it, said, “Our students are worried and confused and many of them even suffering from psychological distress because educational institutions are shut for more one year now and the online classes have been a practical joke. Their main worry is; they might not be able to compete with students from other states of the country in all-India level examinations.”
However, Asgar Hassan Samoon, Principal Secretary to the Government, School Education and Skill Development said, “We’re making an all out effort to ensure our students don’t suffer any academic loss. No doubt, we have only a 2G internet facility available to us which also gets disrupted occasionally due to law and order issues but our 1.35 lakh teachers are helping our 1.5 million students to complete the remaining sixty percent syllabus through community classes. We have also started special education programs and classes through the local stations of All Indian Radio and Doordarshan and Reliance Broadcast Network Limited owned BIG FM”.