Education of young boys and girls in Kashmir is being held hostage by the ongoing controversies and unsettled issues, taxing the nerves of an average Kashmiri. Curfews, strikes, protests, bandhs (shutdown) and the like have become order of the day. Earlier, on an average two to three days in a week most institutions used to remain closed and thus a discontinuity in the education process crept in. The current year has been the worse, having seen a painful loss of tens of thousands of education days owing to Islamist protests and resultant curfews. If one just multiplies the number of students in the valley with the number of days lost, the figures will be astonishing. As we calculate the loss of days of the workforce to arrive at losses in economic terms, for loss of education days in the Valley, it results in deprivation of the Right to Life, which is a far greater loss.
This is where the Indian Army steps in – with its Army Goodwill Schools (AGS) still running, without any major disruptions, albeit some minor loss of attendance of students and teachers (staying outside the campuses), who could not make it due to the curfew etc. Army, as part of its Sadbhavna initiative, manages 46 schools, of which a majority-30-are located in the Kashmir Valley. Though the other 16 schools (8 each in Jammu and Ladakh regions respectively) are running as normal, it’s in these 30 schools that special efforts have been made to keep the classes going and the curriculum running, though with minor modifications, like avoiding outdoor trips and excursions or postponing certain events and tournaments. That most of its students and teachers reside in and around the campus definitely helps, because each AGS itself is modelled on the concept of providing quality education at a subsidised cost to those residing in the immediate vicinity. Hence, 50 per cent of the Valley schools are still able to function normally.
Secondly, the Army has propagated another concept – that of sponsoring students from poor backgrounds and remote locations, to schools outside the state, most notable among them being Army Public School, Beas, astride the Jalandhar-Ludhiana Highway.
In this notable institution, the Army has sponsored 60 students of J&K, 26 from Leh region, 30 from the Valley and four from the Jammu region. Comprising of both boys and girls, these students, from classes VI to IX, are getting an uninterrupted quality education in a healthy and competitive environment ,at absolutely no cost to the parents. All that is expected of them is that they will maintain good grades, which in turn will motivate and help others of their ilk to come forward and embrace this opportunity, which transforms their lives and opens new vistas for their future growth and progress.
The scheme’s popularity can be gauged by the fact that there is a long waiting list for admissions and lately an entrance test is being conducted to select the most deserving among the applicants. Annually, approx Rs 1.1 crore is being spent on these children by the Army at APS Beas.
A shining example is the Dhruva Boys Hostel (DBH), Udhampur, wherein 26 boys from various regions of the State are being housed and educated. Among them is the last 10th class topper from J&K Board, Master Sunak Singh, who was adopted by the Army, after his father was merciless gunned down by militants in 2001. From classes 5th to 11th, these bright young boys study hard during the day and play harder in their spare time , and are out to carve a niche for themselves in this competitive world, aided and egged on by the able staff of DBH. Army here spends approx Rs 10 lakhs annually, on their education related expenses.
The unrest post the Burhan Wani killing and the resultant shutdowns across the state, especially in the Valley, has badly affected the education system. It remains a fact that the past two and a half months have been nothing less than a disaster, and the losses will surely percolate down. A consensus should be arrived at for schools and educational institutions to be kept away from any political conflict. They should not only be spared from such calls, but active cooperation should be extended so that education does not suffer because of political protests or the like. This will need the highest degree of political maturity, a strong feeling for a social commitment, support from the executive and mass awareness about the superiority of quality education, over all other affairs.
The whole country is criticising the local govt and the belted Forces (including the police and CRPF), but the concern for the loss of opportunity to attain knowledge for the student community has been hardly articulated by any organisation forcefully. Why?