The long breaks in classes are detrimental to learning outcomes and schools in Kashmir are slumping off more than often.  After the abrogation of article 370 in August 2019, the educational institutions in Kashmir remained closed for several months. They merely opened for a few days and the winter break started. In 2016, a two-week summer break was followed by a six-month civilian uprising; it ended up mass promoting students up to ninth and eleventh standard – except board standards.

After the last winter break, students were revisiting their classrooms but to their bad luck, the Valley again plunged into lockdown; although, for entirely different reasons. From distance, it could be mistaken as a revisit to August 2019. Except for low-speed internet connectivity, everything is superficially similar; restrictions are in place, the government forces are in action, and transport has been suspended. 

Internet availability is garnering overwhelming support and demand for e-classes during the lockdown. The concerned people are expecting to create e-learning as an alternative to classroom or offline-education, which solely depends on the unsettling circumstances in Kashmir. With nearly 1.3 billion students in the world stay away from classrooms – hundreds of millions are opting for e-learning.

In Kashmir, the restricted internet speed doesn’t mean that the demand for high-speed internet has calmed down; the voices in support of it are multiplying day by day with politicians, professionals, activists, educationists, and students joining the chord.

And the internet has never been the concomitant of the political-lockdowns in Kashmir. In 2019, the internet was snapped at least ninety-three times across the country; but the August clampdown was the longest blackout in a democracy. Students suffer all along. 

Directorate of School Education, Kashmir division, has decided to start televised classes through local cable channels. But, that leaves out a large chunk of students, who either do not own a television set or are marred by the electricity-cuts. Thus, it can result in unequal access to learning. 

This lockdown has disheveled the education in Kashmir as well. However, stimuli to internet-availability, Kashmir’s virtual space bursts with announcements – offering e-classes – which have renewed the hope of students ailing for classrooms now.  They are pecking for whatever compensates their academic loss.

When an Assistant Professor of Law at University of Kashmir (KU), Hakim Yasir Abbas, announced trial online classes on his Facebook wall, an initiative by Suhail Rashid Bhat, who is pursuing Masters in Law at SOAS University, London – his students jovially showered praises onto the professor.

He wrote on Facebook: “Suhail Rashid Bhat will be holding an online lecture on the International Criminal Court (ICC)… [for] B.A. LLB 6th semester students… If successful, we will do this for other semesters as well.”

The University Grant Commission (UGC) is also pressing students to use online-education websites to study during the lockdown.  Further, the Ministry of Human Resource Development gave free access to a few online-learning websites in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown.

These initiatives would benefit the whole nation minus J-K, as the low-speed internet is a clear constrain in between. This deprives students of Kashmir of their right to education. It also castigates their chances to compete with the students of other states and shunts them out from different opportunities which they are equally entitled to.

Nonetheless, Mr. Bhat went on to conduct the first lecture – International Criminal Court – on a video conferencing application, Zoom. A Facebook group – Quarantine learning: Kashmir – is helping the law students to pool resources, discuss topics, and timings to stay informed about the future. The conference on Zoom seems to have worked on the 2G bandwidth.

As I write this, a 22-year-old final-year law student at the KU, Mahapara Nasir Khan, informs students in the Facebook group about the next lecture on Freedom of Trade Commerce and Intercourse. 

Indeed, both teachers and students will be profited from this once the classwork resumes as it would relieve them of the herculean task of completing the syllabus in a short span. However, in the uncertain political situations of Kashmir, the problem will loom again in the next lockdown when educational institutes would be shut again and the internet will spin out of life. Unless the government chalks out a strategy. 

Political instability has made our education macabre and the current lockdown – although necessary – is an addendum to put it in ruins. We have sputtered enough to delink our education from our political uncertainty but all gibberish so far. Our policymakers dawdle from summer to winter and vice versa while our future keeps decaying. 

With the sluggish internet speed students are going an extra mile to access these lectures, while dealing with excruciating buffering and repeated errors occurring on the webpages; the process is mentally agonizing and requires a lot of patience.

However, it is yet again the manifestation of Kashmiris’ passion and longing for seeking and imparting education. Its imprints could be traced back from civilian uprisings in the past when only community schooling kept students afloat. But the government has so far acted as the mute spectator and has callously looked at the academic loss faced by Kashmiri students. And it also nullifies their claims of “promoting education” and “equality”.

The author is a graduate of Law from the KU. He has written on students’ issues for Newslaundry, Kashmir Reader, and Free Press Kashmir. You can follow him on Twitter @Aasifwani8.

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