Dismal state of education amid the pandemic

Dismal state of education amid the pandemic

Just before the fag end of year 2019, it was fair to be brimming with pride on the military might, pinnacle of knowledge, and zenith of technology that some nations enjoyed across the world. It, however, took a miniscule virus to rip the delusion apart and make the whole world stand disillusioned. Countries with sophisticated defence arsenal, cutting-edge technologies, and whopping budgets have been found wanting on equipments and strategies to deal with the novel coronavirus. A virus which requires a high-powered, specialised microscope to be seen has brought the entire world to a standstill. Apart from health and economy, education has been one of the worst casualties of Covid-19.
Already marred with unrest, the educational system in Kashmir has been ravaged further by the global pandemic, this time almost to the hilt. After abrogation of Article 370, schooling was put to halt. Schools did not open for at least three academically most-crucial months, if not more. With the termination of the academic session and commencement of winter vacations, academics in Kashmir observed a lull again. The next entire session, much to the dismay of students, was plagued with the new wave of coronavirus. This enforced a paradigm shift in the means of imparting education, constraining us to change over from offline on-campus mode to online virtual classes. In the time when internet, all of a sudden, became indispensable for imparting education, people in Kashmir were putting up with restricted 2G internet speed in an effort to be in the race. Relaxation in syllabus for exams may have helped students earn a certificate but it certainly has failed the learning process big time.
Initially, despite restricted internet speed, children were keen to take classes with some sort of enthusiasm, but it was short-lived. Instead of school compounds, they remain restricted to the confinements of their rooms. Their spacious classrooms are replaced by virtual zoom meetings. They’re shunning their favourite school habits – no early morning wake-up calls, no off-to-school preparations, no morning assemblies, no classroom conversations, no meeting and lunch sharing with friends, and no joy of returning back home and engaging religiously in not-so-enjoyable homework. The situation for beginners is even tougher. They can’t relate with schools or anything associated with schools. Things have turned more implacable for parents than teachers. This sulking at home is telling on the mental health of children.
Last year when the corona storm abated a bit, we had a breather in terms of open-air community classes. The online classes, however, created a new digital divide that discriminated against many students. Those who had laptop or smartphones on one side, and those who had nothing on the other. The sense of humiliation for being “othered” by this little-known-before digital divide would have torn anyone’s heart apart. Many other reasons, like two or three siblings sharing a single phone to parents not allowing their children to remain glued to phone screens for hours together, and internet data not sufficing for all the classes, explains the dismal response of students to virtual classes.
We all are new to online learning, so is our government. The faltering and glitches on account of technological lag are inescapable. To plug some of the loopholes, the government came up with apps and web portals for disseminating online PDF, JPG, video and audio study materials to students and ensuring the daily attendance of virtual classes by government teachers. To improve it further, as of late, the DSEK came up with the learning management system (LMS) software application to provide students and teachers an online platform for scholastic exchanges. The government in order to reach out to most students is mulling to cater to those students who by one or the other reason lack smartphones, gadgets or internet facility. This, on the face of it, appears significantly foolproof. However, a bit deeper dive will expose the arrangements which could be anything but watertight. The explanation to this is quite simple. The education department requires subject-specific teachers (lecturers) for at least plus-two level (11th and 12th classes) if not for other classes. The department has acute insufficiency of human resources at plus-two level. To overcome the dearth, the department till 2019 would engage eligible candidates for academic arrangement on contractual basis. After doing away with contractual recruitment, the department deployed desirably qualified teachers and masters in higher secondary schools and named the process as rationalisation. For the current academic year, no teacher or master was deployed in higher secondaries to teach specific subjects at plus-two level. There are 675 lecturer posts for 53 higher secondaries across district Kupwara. Out of total sanctioned strength only 55% are filled and rest are lying vacant. Other districts have almost the same story to offer.
A student of GHSS Sogam, where I am posted, who has opted for non-medical stream (English, Chemistry, Physics, Maths and Environmental Science) is taking only a single class of chemistry on daily basis, for she has literally no teachers available to teach the other four subjects. This can give us an idea of how dismal the plight of our students is despite the pomp of online arrangements.
In these unprecedented times, the internet, despite its all flaws, is the go-to option. Any attempt of brushing off the underlying issues would be manifestation of a parochial view. And if for administrators these issues do not weigh enough to be categorised as problems, then their opinion comes from a position of privilege they enjoy in society.
No distribution of free books for the second consecutive year, no purchasing of free uniforms, no MDM for two-and-a-half years, no TA to teachers and no hike in DA for the last 2 years would have saved the government enough money to buy those students educational tablets and computers who cannot afford them.

gowharnazki.07@gmail.com

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