Don’t Kill ’em With Cold Indecision

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MIAN TUFAIL

KASHMIR has a history of witnessing vicious winters due to the harsh cold and untimely snow. The winters in the Valley tend to make life sedentary and there are almost no ‘large scale means’ to fight the biting cold. The administration, boasting of both men and material, find it a herculean task to mitigate the challenges of winters to ameliorate the resultant sufferings. The challenges of winters are numerous and the most vulnerable are those in the education sector.

  • The hard, hard days for students

With close-to-dismal infrastructure, students in both government and private educational institutions are badly hit during the winter days. Schools authorities are unable to provide basic heating facilities in classes which leave students vulnerable to infections. And thanks to ecological imbalance in Kashmir, we are anticipating a sore winter ahead and well, the inadequate heating facilities are sure to leave students shivering.

Parents, and rightly so, have expressed concern about their children having to endure freezing temperatures in classrooms, emphasising that the lack of proper heating infrastructure is not only discomforting but also poses health risks. Some students have reportedly fallen ill due to prolonged exposure to the cold in classrooms.

The Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir has said that the winter break will be announced in a phased manner for the primary, middle and secondary education institutions. The announcement was yet to be made at the time of filing this story.

  • Infrastructure deficit & the cold denial

The teachers in many of the educational institutions manage in the winters because they install heating arrangements for themselves. But the same facilities are denied to the students. The students, in most government schools, come from the poor classes of the society. So they go on, without ever questioning the denial and still somehow manage to attend classes, toiling day in and day out. It’s nobody’s guess that attending classes in cold classrooms can be a mega challenge for the students. So while the teachers go back to their heating paraphernalia in the staff rooms, the students struggle through the entire day, braving the extreme chill.

Given the ongoing chill, a winter vacation is the need of the hour and the administration must give this a serious thought and announce vacations without further delay, for the sake of the health of students. The phased vacation may sound like a good idea but in reality, it will bring more hardships to both teachers and students. After all, the absence of proper windows, doors or even roofs in classrooms can be detrimental to every student, irrespective of age or class!

Ironically, the private schools, which charge hefty tuition fees, too are sailing in the same boat when it comes to heating arrangements. They build these charming institutional mansions and parapet walls with appealing facelifts only to attract enrollments. The teachers in these institutions are highly qualified but are paid meagre salaries. These schools earn fanfare due to their orchestrated results but are not equipped to provide heating facilities to their students.

Then there are these tuition-cum-coaching centres running in the heart of the city and the towns. They start their first year of establishment in rented accommodations and gradually build giant infrastructures of their own. This has everything to do with the hefty amounts of money they extract from poor students with the promise of making them doctors, engineers and officers. But when it comes to offering comfort to their students, they have nothing to give. No heating systems during the winter child. And the compulsion of cracking competitive exams leads students to these coaching institutes, much at the cost of their health.

  • Online is an option

Winters don’t have to be an impediment in the smooth functioning of the educational process of students. Learning went on even during the unprecedented times of Covid-19. Thanks to the epidemic, every Kashmiri household and student became familiar with using smart phones & the internet. In Kashmiri, there was a phobia about children being exposed to mobile phones but Covid-19 forced parents to offer smart phones to their children for online classes. The same can be explored now.

It’s time for the administration to announce winter vacations. Teachers could be tasked to keep students engaged during the vacations with proper online classes. The same holds of these tuition centres that extract hefty amounts from their students. They too can offer online tuitions.

Meanwhile, government officials have acknowledged the issue and assured the public that steps are being taken to address it. An official from the Department Of Education states that a thorough review of heating systems in schools is underway, and efforts are being made to expedite any necessary repairs or installations.

However, with winters already setting in with a vengeance, pressure is mounting for a quick resolution. While the debate continues, the people of Kashmir anxiously await a decision from the government that will not only provide relief to students but also demonstrate a commitment towards prioritising the health and education of the region’s youth.

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