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Hecklers: Education in 2021

The year 2020 is over. It will go down in the history as one of the most challenging ones in the last one century. While pandemic rattled the entire globe, devouring millions of people and affecting many more, it also disturbed the academic cycles in almost every country. According to UNICEF, at least 463 million students globally were unable to access remote learning during school closures because of COVID-19, either due to a lack of remote learning policies or lack of equipment needed for learning at home. In Jammu and Kashmir too, the education sector faced a double whammy – first due to the lockdown following the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 and then COVID-19. Schools were shut and students, as young as 3-year-olds, forced to attend so-called online classes over a snail-paced internet connection. Since March now, kids are being made to sit in front of smartphones and listen to lectures most of them do not understand. How does one expect a Kindergarten student to learn and understand anything over such a medium? How can this medium replace the real classroom environment? Classrooms are not only essential academically but also help a student develop social skills, which help him or her to prepare for life in the long run, something this virtual exercise does not even come close to. The irony is that neither private nor public schools in Kashmir have any plan, whatsoever, to find some alternative to it. We now know that the schools cannot open the way they used to at least until June 2021. So, does that mean our kids have to stick to smartphones for the next six more months? What about the impact on the health of kids such long-term exposure to these devices has? The ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has recommended just 30 hours of screen time for pre-primary students, two classes of 45 minutes each for classes 1 to 8 and four classes of 45 minutes each for classes 9 to 12, but, according to parents, schools are not following the directions and the classes go on for more than 2 hours each day. Is there any accountability on part of the schools to fix this?  Is there any effort on part of schools or the administration to find some alternative? Instead, parents are being forced to pay the fees every month. Why and for what should parents pay this fee? Education has long turned into a commodity in Kashmir. We all know that school owners make a lot of money and pay as little as possible to teachers and other staff members. In the midst of the chaos and crisis a common person has been facing since August 2019 in Kashmir, why aren’t schools understanding the situation? Questions like these need to be answered. The administration and private schools need to work out something and not just limit itself to sending messages after messages to parents informing them to pay the fee exactly like a heckling bank sending debt messages to a lender.  Not just messages, private schools have even threatened action against teachers who will give any levy to parents who have not cleared the dues. Have these schools forgotten that education is a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14? Who will ask these questions? And will there be some respite for a common man?