After over 200 days, Kashmir Valley woke up to a heart-warming morning scene: school buses making their way through roads and classrooms filling up with children.
Officially, Monday marked the end of the winter break. But in reality, it was the first time after the abrogation of Article 370 and the shutdown that schools opened fully and reported near-full attendance.
“I met my classmates after a long time and it was an awesome feeling. I had missed my teachers and my classroom,” said Eram after classes at Presentation Convent School for girls in Srinagar’s uptown Rajbagh locality.
“My school bus came in the morning to my house in the old city to pick me up. I was waiting for my school to open so that I could return to class,” said Amir, a student from Srinagar’s Tyndale Biscoe School in Lalchowk.
Weeks after the Centre’s decision to bifurcate J&K, the state administration had ordered the opening of schools in a gradual manner after restrictions across the Valley were eased. However, students had largely stayed away with parents fearing for their safety. In December, several schools in Srinagar started seeing a slow rise in attendance — until the winter break was announced.
There are approximately 13,000 government and private schools in Kashmir region, with around 12 lakh students enrolled. And education officials in Srinagar described Monday’s response as “very good”.
“I visited several schools today, including in Shopian. Wherever I went, I saw students in classes,” Mohammad Younis Malik, Director, School Education (Kashmir) told The Indian Express.
“Other than the fact that all schools have opened today, a welcome sign is that parents are cooperating at every level,” said G N Var, who heads Kashmir’s private schools association.
There were similar reports from across the Valley. “Nearly 60 per cent of students attended school today. Some areas are still snow-covered, so it will take at least a week for all the students to come,” said Sajad Ahmad, principal, Rainbow International educational institution in South Kashmir’s Shopian. The school, which has classes up to Class 10, sent all of its 35 buses on all routes in the morning to pick up students.
A senior official from St Joseph’s Higher Secondary School in North Kashmir’s Baramulla reported “100 per cent attendance”. “Now prayers are needed for the situation to remain normal so that schools can continue to function,” said Mohammed Yousuf Wani, chairman, Green Valley School, which is located in the Buchpora area of Srinagar.
For parents, seeing their children return to class was an emotional moment. “There are some things a child cannot learn at home. My daughter readied her school bag yesterday and she was excited to go school today after a long time,” said Asifa Bhat, a resident of Srinagar.
“If the situation remains normal in the coming months, the syllabus will be completed on time. But we have to make extra efforts to compensate for last year’s loss,” said a teacher in a government school in Srinagar. “Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed because we don’t know what will happen next.”
“Our school is planning to conduct extra classes and increase schools hours to compensate for the loss,” said Sajad, a teacher in Rainbow school.
There were some problems, though. In North Kashmir’s Sopore, many students had to stay home with parents claiming that schools had refused to send buses in a bid to “pressure” them to “pay the full bus fee for the last eight months” despite the administration warning against any such demand.
“I couldn’t send my kids because school authorities are asking us to pay for even those months when the Valley was shut. This is arrogance and the government is not doing anything,” said Mudasir Ahmad, a resident of Sopore.
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