When Mohammad Yaqoob left Kashmir to travel to Delhi for the national awards for teachers, he was given a timetable by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Yaqoob was slightly amused. After almost two decades of drawing timetables for his students, he didn’t have a problem following the timetable. But he could do with a timetable for his school’s development.
After receiving the award, when asked what he’d do to improve his school if given full freedom and complete financial support, his response was succinct and prompt. “That’s easy. I’d give my students a roof over their heads,” said Yaqoob, who teaches Kashmiri and Hindi at the Government Middle School in Budgam district of Kashmir.
At present, his students, most of them well below the poverty line, don’t have a fixed classroom. A large part of his work as a teacher involves “arranging” rooms where they can study peacefully, without being disturbed.
“The political tension in the state has, predictably, had an adverse impact on education, especially in government schools. Students don’t want to come to school and there are many dropouts. I made it a point to visit these families to try and figure out why it was happening and how it could be stopped,” said Yaqoob, who was awarded for his contribution towards ensuring national integration.
After the awards ceremony, most of the 336 teachers returned to the central Delhi hotel where they had been housed. Outside the hotel, photographs from the event were spread out on the pavement — scattered signs of recognition, proof that what they had been doing for so many years had been noticed and appreciated.
“The government makes all these policies. It pours in money. But at times, I feel like all of this is without any direction. But when you’re given an award like this, you feel that all of it hasn’t gone to waste,” said