In a move aimed at bringing children back to school, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has announced the dates for year-end examinations from Class 5 to Class 12 in the Valley.
The announcement comes at a time when the region is in the midst of shutdown against the Centre’s August 5 decision to scrap the state’s special status and bifurcate it into two Union Territories.
The move to conduct examinations is similar to 2016, when after months of violent protests in the Valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Burhan Wani, the then PDP government too had announced examinations amidst the shutdown.
The State Institute of Education (SEI) and J&K Board of School Education (JKBOSE) have separately issued date sheets for Classes 5 to 12.
JKBOSE chairperson Veena Pandita told The Indian Express that examinations for Class 10 will start from October 29, Class 12 from October 30 and final examinations for Class 9 will start from November 18. She said the Class 10 exam will be completed in 20 days while Class 9 and 12 exams will be completed in about a month.
But the decision has left parents worried about security. “For showcasing normalcy, the government is putting the life of our children at risk. They have been doing politics with everything and now with education also,” said Aijaz Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar’s Buchpora area.
“It is important for children to go back to school but who will guarantee their safety and security? And also how will they sit in exams when they didn’t even get a month of education in the second term (semester).”
Incidentally, over the last week, militants have attacked and killed three people in Shopian and Pulwama in multiple attacks since the government lifted post-paid mobile phone curbs on Monday. While a truck driver from Rajasthan was shot in Shopian Monday, a migrant worker from Chhattisgarh was gunned down in Pulwama and a fruit loader Charanjeet Singh from Punjab shot dead and his employer critically injured in Shopian on Wednesday.
For school owners, the biggest challenge is the “normal functioning of schools” and attendance. “Our school is open every day, but students don’t turn up. The biggest concern for every parent is the security and safety of their child. The fear is such that even our drivers are not ready to go out to bring children to school,” said Mohammed Yusuf, chairman of Green Valley School located at Srinagar’s Buchpora area. Buchpora is located close to Soura which has become the epicenter of protests since August 5.
Bilal Farooq Fazili, owner of Dolphin Public School in South Kashmir’s Pulwama said that since August 5, no student has turned up and now it would now depend on the government to ensure security.
“We have to abide by the government’s orders in any case…But the question is whether parents will send children to school,” he said. “In the coming days, we will see how parents react to the announcement. The staff members have to conduct the exams and for them, safety is important. The government has to take care of it (security.)”
“Education should remain always politically neutral,” said G N Var, chairman of the Private School Association of Kashmir. He believes “parents are concerned about the safety of the kids”.
He said that the department did not consult parents before announcing the decision. “They have announced the dates but parents were not taken on board. There is also a communication breakdown now in Valley and we don’t have contact with everyone. the government has been taking decisions without consulting anyone. They announced the opening of schools in the Valley and everyone knows what was the response,” said Var.
While Veena Pandita refused to comment about safety concerns raised by parents, J&K administration spokesperson Rohit Kansal was not available for comment.
Late in August, the government had announced the opening of schools in a phased manner. While the staff reported to schools, students stayed away.
Education department officials assert that schools across Valley are almost “open”, but the number of students attending schools continues to be low.
A senior government official in the Valley said that holding examinations successfully will be a “big test for the government”.
Kashmir education department records show that there are over 6.5 lakh students from Class 5 to 12 in government and private schools in Kashmir division, including Ladakh.
Government sources said that while the government has not taken any decision to allow relaxation in the syllabus, a decision in that regard may be taken at a later stage.
“From August 5, school is closed. I am studying at my home only education department should announce some relaxation in the syllabus,” said Aqib Ahmad, a Class 12 class student in Srinagar.