The conflict in Kashmir has disproportionately affected education due to a variety of national as well as domestic threats. Children, in particular, are being significantly affected, Education in Kashmir was halted far before COVID-19 affected the rest of the world. Improving education in Kashmir is essential for poverty reduction.
Political Unrest and COVID-19
In August 2019, Article 370 of the Indian constitution that applied to Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated. Repealing this article revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous ‘special status’ as a state. As a way to curb anticipated unrest in the state, the Indian government blocked internet and phone lines. This crisis along with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has put the future of education in Kashmir on shaky ground, reflective of its political landscape. Between 2019 and 2020, schools in Kashmir officially functioned for as little as 100 days.
Internet Connectivity in Kashmir
According to the latest census, 68.74% of Jammu and Kashmir’s population are literate and males are 20% more literate than females. Roughly 27.21 % of the state of Kashmir live in rural areas where access to education is a key issue, especially during COVID-19. Over time, the Indian government has facilitated low-speed internet to select areas up to the speed of 2G. The issue is that a higher speed of internet is required for classes to be facilitated via Zoom, Skype or to be watched on YouTube. Other than the children, educators, college and graduate students are faced with a continuing lag that has affected education in Kashmir. The government has whitelisted some websites and restored higher speed connectivity in some districts of the state.
The Directorate of School Education Kashmir has set up “Aawo Padhain” (Come Lets Study). It is a portal that is filled with E-content and video-based classes for children to continue studying during the lockdown. The center is also equipped with a free Child-Line for children in need of aid and assistance. Additionally, Whatsapp has become a portal for teachers to send educational videos to students. While this initiative addresses the issue of continuing education during COVID-19, more needs to be done to address the other issues that affect education in Kashmir. Improving education in Kashmir will have benefits that are far-reaching.
The National Educational Policy 2020 (NEP 2020), approved by the government on July 29, 2020, was introduced to implement changes to education, with special focus on Jammu and Kashmir. The policy is based on the pillars of “access, equity, quality, affordability, accountability” and will transform India into a “vibrant knowledge hub,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, the success of such a policy depends on its implementation. Its effectiveness, or lack thereof, will be seen in due time. For successful educational transformation, Kashmir also needs well-qualified teachers, access to electricity, the internet, computers, technology and libraries. Furthermore, country-wide internet bans should not be allowed.
Kashmiri students have lived in a life of lockdown longer than the rest of the world has, with their education impacted long before COVID-19 came about. To bridge the overall gap in education in Kashmir, it is essential for the country to receive assistance to implement educational reform for improving education in Kashmir.
– Anuja Mukherjee