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A day in the life of a school in the Valley: ‘The school is open but where are the students?’

In a Srinagar school, as anxious parents come with questions — about assignments, exams — they find few staff, fewer answers. The biggest concern now are the state board Class 10 exams, slated for October

Written by Adil Akhzer | Srinagar |
Updated: September 1, 2019 4:14:42 pm
The school, with 2,000 students and 200 staff, is deserted. (Express photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

“HAS THE school prepared any assignments for students?” asks a parent, standing inside the main office of JK Public School in Srinagar. Umar Farooq, 27, the school’s office in-charge replies, apologetically, “Sir, please visit the school again after a few days. We have been trying to reach out to our teachers.”

In better times, the school, in Humhama area, on the outskirts of Srinagar, would have been bustling with students. But with the Valley under lockdown for nearly a month after the revocation of special status to J&K, the school, like the over 6,000 other schools in the region, is deserted.

At 9 am on a Thursday, none of the school’s 2,000 students and 200 staff members has arrived, its 80 classrooms are locked, and the 35 buses that once plied across all routes in Srinagar stand parked on campus. The drivers have not reported to work.

While the J&K administration has maintained that schools in the Valley are open, they haven’t given any attendance numbers for students and staff. Earlier this week, Director, Kashmir Education, Mohammad Younis Malik had told The Indian Express that attendance continues to be “thin”.

When the authorities announced that primary schools would reopen on August 19, Farooq says, he decided to walk down to the campus, 3 km from his home in Rawalpora, avoiding main roads and sticking to neighbourhood lanes. However, only a few of his colleagues turned up that day. “We have not had a single student,” he says.

Not much has changed even after — on August 21 and August 28, the government announced the reopening of middle and high schools. “Initially, we thought the students would come. But that didn’t happen,” says the 27-year-old.

One of the biggest private schools in the Valley, JK Public School has students from Classes Nursery to 10. The usual timing of the school is 9 am to 3 pm, but since the clampdown, it has been changed to 9 am to 1 pm. In the past few weeks, only three-five staff members deployed at the main office have been reporting to work.

“We have been coming to help the parents,” says Arif, the school’s peon.

Since the past week, at least six parents have been visiting the school every day, say employees — to pay the fees or to enquire about future plans.

Around 10 am, two parents arrive at the main office, a small hall with many small cubicles. One of them wants to know if Class 10 exam forms are available. The other parent, like many others, asks for assignments. Farooq has the same answer for them all: “We are trying to reach out to the teachers.”

Soon, Bashir Ahmad, the supervisor of the middle wing of the school, arrives. He has come after a week, on his bicycle. “Public transport is not available. It’s difficult to come every day,” he says.

As a few employees gather at the main office, the conversation drifts towards the difficulty in reaching the staff. “Earlier, to inform students and teachers about anything, we would just have to click once on our system. We can’t do that now because of the communication blockade,” says Farooq, adding, “We can’t even send the school buses out. The parents are not aware of the school timings. Also, have you seen any bus on the road since August 5? We don’t want to risk lives.”

Recalling the 2016 shutdown following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, supervisor Ahmad says, “At the time, we could at least contact our teachers and prepare assignments. Now, we don’t even know if they are fine.”

Over the last few days, some of the landlines in the area, including two at the school, have started working. “But we only have mobile numbers of most teachers and students. So far, I have managed to get the landline number of just one teacher who came to school recently,” says Farooq.

The biggest concern now is the Board exams for Class 10 (J&K state board), slated for October, as students are yet to complete their syllabus. “We had just started teaching for Unit 3 (of five Units every year) when the school got shut,” says Bashir.

Unable to establish contact with students, the school authorities have submitted the Board exam fee for its 138 Class 10 students. “They can pay later,” says Farooq.

An hour later, G N War, Chairman of Private School Association in J&K, drops in. But he offers little assurance. “I have not been able to contact the other members of the association because of the communication blockade. Once that ends, we will decide the future course of action,” he says. After thinking for a while, he adds, “You have seen yourself, all schools are open. The decision to send their children to school lies with parents. Their children’s safety is their first priority.”

As the day proceeds, parents continue to drop by intermittently, and also some senior officials. Among them is Tariq Ahmad, the school’s chairman. After taking stock of the situation, he calls for a meeting on September 1. “We have over 200 employees, but I don’t expect more than five people to attend the September 1 meeting,” he says.

He adds that it’s frustrating that the school hasn’t even been able to send assignments to students. “The school is open but where are the students? The situation is very different from what it was in 2016,” he says.

On August 29, some Valley schools issued notices in local newspapers for staff and students to “mandatorily” report to work. Class 10 and 12 students were also asked to complete filling their Board exam forms between August 30 and September 1.

A day earlier, DPS, Budgam, took out an advertisement in the papers asking the teaching and non-teaching staff to report to the school. “Attendance is mandatory,” the notice said.

However, JK Public School is yet to do that. “We will decide what is to be done after the Saturday meeting,” says chairman Tariq.

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