Srinagar: One of the biggest sufferers from ‘lockdown under lockdown’ in Jammu and Kashmir has been education.
Previously, Kashmiri Valley in particular suffered huge education losses as its students were forcibly kept away from schools and colleges by frequent official curfews and restrictions, separatist-sponsored shutdowns, incidents of violence and prolonged political unrests, the worst of these witnessed in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016.
While at the local level innovative and creative educational initiatives were taken from time to time by teachers and community leaders to compensate academic losses, many parents who could afford it sent their wards to schools and colleges outside J&K to continue their studies.
Back home, the closure of educational institutions for more than one year has taken a heavy toll on the academic career of students, many of whom now feel stressed and apprehensive.
“Over past couple of months I have treated a number of students who were emotionally upset. They said that they were worried about their future”, said noted psychiatrist Dr. Abdul Waheed Khan.
Amid the lockdown necessitated by COVID-19, various private institutions in J&K, like other parts of the country, started online classes in May/June and soon several government-run institutions including universities followed the suit. But the government’s denying access to 4G internet services in the Union Territory has played the spoilsport.
G.N. Var, chairman of Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) which has 2,200 schools associated with it, termed it ‘denial of right to education’.
He said, “The restrictions on high speed internet are making it difficult for our students to avail online courses and access information which is vital in their career-building. We see it as a denial of the right to education.”
Endorsing him, Srinagar resident Ghulam Nabi Khan said that his daughter Afshaan “is worried as she finds it difficult to pursue studies on line due to poor connectivity.”
Days before J&K was stripped of its special status and split up into two UTs on August 5 last year, the authorities had ordered closure of the educational institutions.
Though it announced reopening of schools in a phased manner in the Valley after a few weeks, parents showed reluctance in sending their wards to these in the face of persisting tensions. Educational institutions reopened-some in mid-February and others in the first week of March- but the government again suspended class work at these on March 12 in view of the COVID-19 threat.
The concerned authorities said that apart from private schools conducting online classes, J&K’s nine universities and over one hundred degree colleges prepared the e-content and video lectures which were subsequently uploaded on the university websites, but the students have complained that they are unable to access the website or find it difficult in absence of high speed internet.
Apart from denial of 4G internet, frequent withdrawal of even 2G bandwidth services on the pretext of law and order issues has caused huge inconvenience to both students and teachers. “My classmates and I were engaged in learning online from our teacher. While trying to ensure we grasp successfully, he suddenly disappeared from the screen. Every one of us yelled ‘where has Sir gone’. Later, we learnt he was connected from hometown Budgam where an encounter (between militants and security forces) had started and with that internet services were snapped,” said Umme Kulthum, a student.
On May 11, the Supreme Court had directed the government to constitute a three-member high-powered committee to look into the issue of restoring 4G internet services in J&K.
The Union Home Ministry informed the top court recently that the special committee has decided against resuming the services. In an affidavit filed on July 21, in response to a contempt petition against the Central government, the MHA said the committee will review its decision after two months, citing the prevailing security situation in the UT.
However, J&K’s Lt. Governor Girish Chandra Murmu, said on July 26 that restoration of 4G internet will not be a problem. He said, “I’m not afraid how people will use this. Pakistan will do its propaganda whether it is 2G or 4G. It will always be there but I don’t see an issue”.
Meanwhile, it is reliably learnt that the Central government has agreed to restore J&K’s statehood and will soon set the process in motion for it....