BUDGAM: Even as the government claims it has radically improved school infrastructure and that student enrolment in state-run educational institutions has significantly increased, a small survey of government schools in central Kashmir’s Budgam district presents a very different picture.
At Budgam’s many government schools, students are forced to study under the open sky or the shade of trees at best; walls are used as blackboards; piles of bricks double up as seating arrangements, and tree branches are used as hooks from which to sling schoolbags.
At many of the schools Kashmir Reader visited in rural Budgam district it found that a pervasive lack of furniture, classrooms, teachers and even blackboards.
The quality of education in government-run schools is so poor that both the employees of these educational institutions and the institutions’ public representatives admit their children at private-run schools.
The Government Primary School, Peeripora, which falls in the Khag education zone, is just a few yards from the zonal office. It lacks basic facilities like drinking water, seating arrangements, washrooms and classrooms. The over 90 students enrolled in its primary classes are forced to study in the open due to the non-availability of a school building. Most of these children come from low-income families, and their parents largely cannot afford to provide them with even their uniforms and shoes.
Aadil Ahmad, who studies in Class II, said that the pupils have to sit on the floor as the class has no furniture. Many of his classmates have fallen ill during the winter, he recalled, as they have to squat on the bare floor. During summers, the students of this school sit in a tin shed which makes their life miserable.
Similarly the Government Primary School, Dangerpora Makhama, falling in the Magam educational zone, is situated near the main bus stand which also functions as the school playground. The honking of horns and the screams of vendors are a continuous source of annoyance for the students, leaving them unable to concentrate on their studies, Sahil, a student of Class IV, told Kashmir Reader. The school, owned by the local Auqaf committee, works out of two rooms from which its office, library and five classes run. This apart, the school also faces a shortage of teachers as only two teachers teach the 65 students of its five classes.
The story is no different at Middle School. Shoplian, Khag zone. The school buildings collapsed last winter, unable to withstand the heavy snowfall. They are yet to be repaired by the school department. The students of the eight classes here are accommodated in an old building that has only two rooms.
A third grade student started crying when he explained to this reporter that it was unbearable to attend class under the open sky without a classroom during the scorching summer sun. He rued that the government has been unkind to them.
Mocking the government, a local resident said the education department remains busy with publicising achievements which do not translate into any reality on the ground.
“Instead of glorifying themselves, they should be spending this money on actually bringing improvement to schools,” the local said.
A teacher of Middle School, Shoplian, who requested anonymity, said the school administration had sent the education department countless requests and reminders to provide basic amenities, but had never heard back.
Hafeeza’s son studies at Middle School, Khwaja Gund, Khag. The school runs in the open as its damaged building is unsafe. Hafeez lamented how higher officials who formulate education policies sit in fully furnished, comfortable offices but have no idea how the students for whom they should care sit on bare floors in harsh weather and under the open skies in summer.
A teacher of this school on the basis of anonymity, said at least four classes take place either on the school’s veranda or in its courtyard, depending on weather conditions.
“In case of rain, there are no classes as we merge different classes in the veranda and the existing classrooms.” In summer, he said, many students faint in pen in the scorching heat because of the harsh, humid weather.
While talking to Kashmir Reader, many teachers also voiced concern over the failure of the authorities to take steps to accommodate the ever-increasing number of students and develop school infrastructure.
Chief Education Officer, Budgam, Rouf Ahmad Shahmari said while talking with Kashmir Reader that unless and until the department does not get the funding for restoring the damaged schools, it cannot do anything.
Rouf added that they have sent a detailed project report to the planning department for the approval of funds to improve the schools’ infrastructure.
“Once they release funds for the whole district, the repairing will start, whether the buildings have been gutted in arson attacked or is damaged due to natural climates.
“There is a plan of developing the infrastructure, but no fund has been released as on date. I can’t say how much time it will take. It is the scenario everywhere,” he said.
When asked about the scarcity of accommodation in different schools, he said, “When this scheme was established, the main focus was to create job opportunities with the condition that if the community provided the land, the department would approve the building.
“Till date, the people have not provided the land, which gives rise to too many issues in the schools,” he added.