As schools continue to remain shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic across India and online education still a far fetched idea in Jammu and Kashmir, teachers have begun community classes in the Valley to keep their students engaged.
Wahid Bhat | Srinagar
Around 10 am everyday children in the Kangan area of Ganderbal district go to their new classroom, crossing springs, and the metallic bridges. With schools and colleges shut for months on end, first due to the lockdown over Article 370 abrogation followed by pandemic, these open-air classes have given relief to both parents and students.
Nazir Ahmad Magray, the father of a student, says, “It is good for our children that they are coming to this open-air school instead of being sitting and brooding at home.” They urge that the authorities should open more such schools with the local people so that parents, who can not afford smartphones can also benefit.
Kangan is a popular area in Kashmir, as tourists throng here both in summer and the winter. Local education Officer who helped to open the community school, says that “classes are being conducted only keeping safety measures in mind. The weather varies in the highlands. In such a situation, we are also arranging tents to run the classes without any hassle.”
In Jammu and Kashmir, due to the low-speed internet everywhere, students coming from different areas are not able to do online classes. Online classes in private schools have raised the question of the “digital divide.” There are some students who have many devices like laptops, smartphones, iPads at home and some do not even have a phone. In such a situation, open-air schools in the rural areas of Kashmir are nothing short of a relief.
Shabir Ahmad Magray, who is one of the several teachers who hold open-air classes in the community said, “due to the low-speed internet and poverty in rural areas students are not able to attend online classes. Children are very happy to come to school and now there is a demand for running such schools in other areas also.”
“Even before the epidemic started in Kashmir, children were not able to go to school. In such a situation, this decision of running the school in the open air has proved very helpful for the children” Shabir added.
While internet services, which were snapped on August 5, 2019 have been restored partially, 4G services are yet to begin.
Showkat Rashid principal of Sheikh ul Alam public school also holds community classes and says that “officers come to inspect from time to time and make sure that everything in need is present. Only one problem is there if it rains, there is still no place for us to take shelter.”
Another teacher Irshad Ahmad Magray who have to hold open-air classes in Cheerwan village of Kangan said, “I teach students up to class 8th most of the students are very small, however, we want them to maintain a proper distance, he added we are doing everything that is possible in our hands”.
G N Var head of the Kashmir Private schools and coaching centers association said, “The last one year created a huge gap in the education sector and it will affect the students in their coming exams”.
So far, over 25,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Jammu and Kashmir and 465 people have died from the infection.