The school premises are to be decorated with balloons and students would be offered sweets. There will be no assignments or tests; clothes shall be casuals. The administration has finally geared up to reopen the school gates for students.

Ever since the announcement, Basit Showkat, 10, has been demanding different stationery. But his enthusiasm to join his friends in the classroom is clouded by apprehensions if it’d finally happen.

“If the announcement is true then Baba will buy me the stationery,” he added. Showkat hasn’t been in a classroom for a long time. Now, even the possibility sparks a smile on his face.

In Kashmir, the students have been waiting for the reopening of schools since the abrogation of J-K’s limited autonomy on 5 August 2019. After the schools were closed citing security concerns in Kashmir, they reopened briefly in March 2020 only for the COVID-19 restrictions to hit the Valley.

Last week, the Jammu and Kashmir administration issued an order to reopen schools for all classes after 28 February, adhering to Covid Appropriate Behavior (CAB). Local reports quoted the School Education Department saying that the schools will reopen for routine schooling on 2 March.

Even though the administration is all set to reopen the schools, the students are unable to get their heads around it. “I don’t think we will go this time,” said Showkat, a student of the fourth standard in Srinagar’s Bilaliya Educational Institute.

All this while, the schooling was replaced by virtual learning. But Showkat said that he, like most of his classmates, skipped many classes. “He says he didn’t learn anything from [online classes],’ said Sabina, Showkat’s mother. “Only private tuition helped.”

Sabina has been more excited than her three children, of different age groups, after hearing about the reopening of the schools. “They will learn a lot there. Homeschooling is hard,” she said. “My younger one is four and it has been very difficult to handle him while doing all the house chores.”

She mentioned that she will send her children to school after ensuring that they wear masks at all times and giving them directions of following the other COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) as well.

The Director School Education in Kashmir (DSEK) said in a message: “Create an air of festivity in our schools. Let us break the ice and pass on a message that this week it will be more play, more fun.” The schools have been asked to organize one to one counseling with students, each child getting around 10 minutes.

The Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) has directed that the first week of reopening of schools should be “celebrated as a week of happiness”. “We have a whole year for education and let us celebrate the first week of reopening of schools as a big festival,” the department’s head said.

Unlike Showkat, Rida Yasin, a 15-year-old student of the tenth standard at Green Land High School in Srinagar’s Hawal area, doesn’t want to join school anytime soon. “There is no excitement at all,” she said. “I’m now accustomed to being at home and going to the coaching center.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a massive increase in the reliance on gadgets for online classes and entertainment. Yasin and Showkat, like many other students, have been spending time with their mobile phones, playing games and watching movies.

The screen time has started irritating their eyes. “Now, the offline classes will put less burden on children’s eyes,” said Sabina, Showkat’s mother. “They won’t get enough time to use mobile phones.”

Yasin, however, has other concerns. She is afraid that she might contract the virus as the schools might not adhere to COVID-19 prevention protocols. “My parents and grandmother are at home. I don’t want to give them the virus,” said Yasin.

On 25 December 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, amid the rise in COVID-19 cases and the spread of a new variant, Omicron, announced that the 15 to 18 age group would be included in the nationwide COVID immunization program beginning on 3 January 2022.

Over a month ago, Yasin took her first COVID-19 vaccination shot and is yet to take another. By mid-February, 90 percent of teenagers who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine have received at least one dose in J-K, with 15 percent receiving both doses.

Yasin doesn’t remember the last time she attended the school. “This is what has been happening for over two years now,” she said. “At tuitions, they follow SOPs and teach us thoroughly. What should we go to school for?”

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