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TABISH Rafiq’s eyes start hurting if he studies for more than 20 minutes at a stretch. On July 9, the 16-year-old was hit on the left eye by pellets fired by security forces during the protests in Pulwama’s Pampore in south Kashmir following the killing of militant Burhan Wani the day before.
And yet, Rafiq is ready to appear for his Class 10 board examinations starting Tuesday. He is among over a lakh of students of Class 10 and 12, who will appear for the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education’s exams starting on Monday and Tuesday at over 1,000 centres. These students have attended barely 90 days of class in an academic session that follows an October-October annual cycle and has been disrupted by protests this time.
Vacations, and were to reopen 17 days later before the protests broke out, affecting private tuitions, too. And while the J&K government has decided to go ahead with the examinations, it’s a race against time for students desperate to “save a precious year”.
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“I will be appearing for the exams, but I don’t expect to do well,” says Junaid-ul-Islam, 16, a Class 10 student of Green Valley Public School in Illahibagh on the outskirts of Srinagar city.
The state government has promised foolproof security and transport arrangements. It has also given students an option: appear for the exams this month, with a “special relaxation” of 50 per cent of syllabus, or in March.
“I was in favour of appearing in March but my parents insisted on November. These exams may be a golden chance to secure good marks but in the future, it is likely to create problems for us. We won’t have a strong foundation,” says Junaid.
As for preparations, a peek into Junaid’s day shows what many students have been going through. A resident of Gulab Bagh in Srinagar, Junaid rides his scooty every morning to a tuition centre — a community initiative by volunteers in Khanyar — around 8 km from home. He spends the first half of the day at the centre before returning home for revision.
“I study the whole night and I am giving it my best. But it is very difficult to concentrate in such an atmosphere. We haven’t been to school for more than four months now. There are many distractions — killings, protests, police raids. Every year, our school prepares a list of potential meritorious students. This year, my name was on that list but now I don’t think I will make it to that list again,” he says.
Students of Class 12, meanwhile, draw hope from the prospect of getting more time to prepare for various competitive exams. “One of the advantages is that we get six months to prepare for competitive exams, like the MBBS and engineering entrance tests,” says Insha Bhat, a student of St Joseph’s Public School in Baramulla.
“But there is a lot of confusion about this 50 per cent relaxation. I am not taking any chances and am covering the full syllabus,” she says.
The 18-year-old from Khawaja Bagh in Baramulla says that for now, she is “trying to leave behind all the worries”. “Only these exams are on my mind,” she says.
Insha’s day starts at 5 am and ends at midnight, with a six-hour break in between. “I take a short break at 8 am before going back to my books. I take a two-hour break for lunch and two one-hour breaks at 6 and 9 in the evening. The tuition centres are shut and we are on our own,” she says.
Insha is worried, however, about whether the exams would be disrupted. “That is the biggest distraction. I am not sure whether the exams would happen smoothly,” she says.
On Saturday, during a meeting of police and education officials, S P Vaid, Special DGP, (coordination) law and order, said extra care should be taken at centres categorised as sensitive. S J M Gillani, IGP, Kashmir Zone, said a facility centre would be set up at the police control room for officials of various departments involved in the 20-day exercise to send feedback. Officials said that 10-15 CRPF and police personnel would be deployed at each centre.
Back in Pampore, meanwhile, Rafiq, a student of Delhi Modern Public School, says the eye-injury cannot be an excuse to skip these exams — for one simple reason.
“My doctors have advised complete rest for the eyes. If I study for more than 20 minutes, I feel a strange pressure in the eyes and get headaches. I can’t read under a tubelight or a bulb and have to study during the day. It is very tough but I have no option but to prepare for the exams. I can’t lose one year,” he says.