Connecting each school in sensitive areas of Jammu and Kashmir to a “sister” school in another part of the country can go a long way in contributing towards normalcy in the valley.
By Anil Swarup
To say that there is a crisis in Kashmir would be an understatement. All traditional methods of managing this crisis are being deployed, but it is too early to predict the outcome of these efforts. So long as students continue to indulge in stone-pelting, there would be little hope in bringing about a dramatic transformation in the state of affairs. Here, I attempt to examine and suggest how education can be used as a tool for easing tensions in the valley. The following strategy was chalked out a few months ago in the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) and was being rolled out with some remarkable initial results. This needs to be taken to its logical conclusion. It was crucial to identify sensitive districts and schools in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to design the interventions. Not all schools fall in the sensitive zones. This task was accomplished with the inputs from the state government.
Revival of 36 school buildings that were gutted or made dysfunctional during the recent past in the state is imperative. According to the Economic Survey, 31 school buildings were gutted or made dysfunctional (17 fully and 14 partially) in Jammu and Kashmir during the five-month-long unrest. The details were furnished by the state government. Revival of these schools and restoration of normalcy in the education infrastructure in affected areas is crucial. The financial implication for revival of these schools works out to be only around Rs 28 crore. The Department of Education, Jammu and Kashmir, had agreed to formulate a revival plan for dysfunctional schools and draft a proposal for the same. The MHRD was to appraise the revival plan of the state and approve it if found feasible, and to consider appropriate financial assistance to the government of Jammu and Kashmir for the purpose of reviving such schools.
Connecting each school in sensitive areas of Jammu and Kashmir to a “sister” school in another part of the country can go a long way in contributing towards normalcy in the valley. Each such pair of sister-schools was to be mentored by an NGO, which was to facilitate the partnership and exchange between the schools. One of the key interventions required in the high-need schools in the priority areas of Jammu and Kashmir was to increase avenues for “connecting” with other parts of the country. Increased interaction with peer groups will lead to richer exchange of ideas, experience of cultural integration, and a mutual respect for the differences in the two peer groups.
The exchange will also provide a sense of association and support to the schools involved. The MHRD was to identify suitable and interested schools in other parts of the country to become “sister” schools with the high-priority schools in Jammu and Kashmir. This was to be done through prominent NGOs with presence in multiple states who could also help in identification of credible schools for the school-linkage programme, and become partners for facilitating the school-exchange programme. The first round of exchange a few months ago, wherein 500 students were exchanged between the schools in the valley with those in other parts, met with huge success. This gets truly reflected in one of the responses of the teachers who had come along with students from the valley: “Humne apne aap ko pehli baar express karna seekha. Humari ladkiyon ne pehli baar likhne aur act karke apni bhavnaye dikhayi. Yahan ke log bahut acche hain.” (For the first time, we learnt to express ourselves. Our girl students, for the first time, expressed their feelings by way of writing and acting. The people here are very good.)
A virtual exchange programme was also to be initiated, through video-conferencing facilities, interactive websites, and exchange of curriculum focused on cultural exchange and integration between schoolteachers and students in Jammu and Kashmir and their sister schools. Participating students were to be part of a one-to-one buddy system, where each student from the sister schools could stay in touch with each other through the year.
Innovative activities were to be designed to foster mutual understanding and cross-cultural interaction, such as letter or email exchanges, social media linkages, and telephone connectivity, which urge students to share their respective personal and cultural surroundings.
Providing enabling digital infrastructure facilities in every sensitive school in priority areas in the state can have an enormous impact. These facilities would include ICT lab, internet connection, dish TV connection and digital monitoring software to monitor the usage of these machines. Currently, only 1.3% government schools have computers, and even fewer schools in the state have projectors or TVs or dish connection. Further, there is lack of sufficient connectivity and integration in schools in Jammu and Kashmir. These facilities are enablers for implementing interventions such as the school-linkage programme, the virtual exchange programme, and the provision of e-learning content for students.
According to the District Information System for Education (DISE) 2015-16 data, only 22.2% government schools in Jammu and Kashmir have electricity. Further, there is no functional electricity in most schools in remote areas—there are as many as 229 schools across the state where the problem of electricity is acute. Mandating installation of solar panels and provision of solar energy in all schools in the state can solve this major problem. Given the thrust on solar energy, this can easily be done. The financial implication of Rs 6.8 crore is small in the context of the benefits that will accrue. Repeated disturbances impact students’ productivity in using their creative abilities and critical thinking to their full potential.
These also put immense psychological pressure on them, which reflects in the form of increased insecurity about their academic pursuits and their career prospects in a highly competitive world. To make matters worse, children and adolescents exposed to armed conflict are at high risk of developing mental health problems. In order to ensure the emotional and mental well-being of students, as well to reduce their probability of dropping out of school, it is essential to engage them in alternative productive activities. Providing sound emotional counselling and career counselling to students in priority schools in the state will help handle it. Providing contextual psychosocial and mental health interventions targeting children and adolescents affected by or prone to activities related to conflict will also be required.
Career counselling is another important aspect for reform in Jammu and Kashmir. Due to lack of exposure to the myriad career opportunities that are open to the youth today, it becomes crucial to hold counselling sessions, making students aware of the different options available to them. Textbooks by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) are well written and researched in terms of content.
Moreover, these textbooks can go a long way in improving the quality of classroom transaction in the state. Adopting NCERT books and syllabus across all schools in Jammu and Kashmir will have multiple benefits. The state has already taken a decision to align the books to that of NCERT. This will require to be taken to its logical conclusion. Additionally, more schools will need to be encouraged to get Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) affiliation. This will improve the quality of schools by holding them accountable to national standards of education. The blue print is already there. Part implementation has also been done. Now, it has to be carried forward.
The author is former secretary, Government of India