By Baseera Rafiqi:
Srinagar (Women’s Feature Service) – Since July, every day there is a gaggle of girls at the home of Naira Noor, 24, a Masters student in Srinagar. As soon as the youngsters are done with their morning routine and chores at home, they pack their school bags and eagerly head to Noor’s place in the afternoon where the eighth to tenth graders spend the next several hours learning Maths, Science and Social Sciences.
“It started when a neighbour approached me to teach their daughter, a tenth grader. I had thought I would help her out with Maths because that’s my Masters subject at the Central University in Hazratbal but then eventually I started to teach her other subjects as well. When the other girls came to know of this, they asked me to take lessons for them. I couldn’t say no. I can teach, and so I utilise my time well in this way. Since the curfew, we’ve all been grounded, and this is a win-win arrangement for all of us,” she shares.
Indeed, in Kashmir, educated young women like Noor have taken to providing free homeschooling to the young ones to ensure that at least education doesn’t become the casualty in the violence afflicted Valley.
With the curfew, locally referred to as “hartaal”, entering the fourth month, schools have been shut for the longest period yet. In the absence of even the most basic services and commodities, naturally, schooling, too, has taken a total backseat. Regular closure of roads and the suspension of communication and other services has virtually turned the Valley into a prison, and created a definite environment of fear, especially in the minds of the children.
Today, it’s not uncommon to find children with school bags trooping through the otherwise deserted, barricaded streets in a bid to reach a homeschool like Noor’s. These days, there are 12 girls coming to her every day, and she pointedly says that she is “not running an academy but this is her way of ensuring that the youngsters don’t suffer a setback at least where their learning is concerned. I have come to their rescue because it’s mid-term and they have no recourse right now”. She has a dedicated room at home where she spends her evenings imparting valuable and much-appreciated lessons.
“Although I don’t charge them I put in all my effort to make them understand the subjects. My father is a teacher, too, and in his eyes, I’m doing the noblest work possible,” she says. On normal days, Noor has a very hectic schedule – she has to find time for her own studies, help out at home and also teach. “But it’s better to be busy doing something fruitful than being free and thinking about all the chaos that is happening outside,” she points out.
For the last three months, she has been dropping everything for three hours in the afternoon – her class begins at 3 pm sharp – to concentrate fully on assisting the girls to stay up-to-date with their studies. “I don’t know what the future holds but one thing is clear, it will not impact the status of education here,” she says emphatically.
In downtown Kashmir, an area where the curfew has so far had the greatest impact, Masarat Khan, 27, has joined hands with other like-minded girls to run a “curfew school” in their area where she imparts basic lessons to “highly energetic kindergarteners and primary school kids”.
“The decision to hold the classes was not an easy one. Our area is more prone to instability, so my family was not really in favour of my doing this, but I had made up my mind. These days, we have children coming from Fateh Kadal, Hawal and Haba Kadal to our school. Owing to the situation in the Valley, we are not charging anything from the students. My fellow teachers and I are happy to help in any way in these difficult times,” she says.
Around 250 students come to Khan’s class which is held in a community hall that has been specially made available for this purpose. Although Khan is a teacher in a government higher secondary school, she sheepishly concedes handling very small children is not all that easy for her. “I have no experience of teaching very little children, but I have learned how to manage them. I love spending time with toddlers, teaching them through the play way method. It’s a delight to hear their cheerful voices trying to sing nursery rhythms after me,” she says with a smile.
Her classes, which had begun with 10 kids, have completed more than 60 days. The day starts at 9 am sharp, and lessons conclude by 1 pm. Since the hall is very large, several classes happen simultaneously. “I can perceive that students are really happy to come to us and, to me that is the most important thing. If my little hard work helps them, I am willing to take out a few hours every day. There are 15 of us who have taken to doing this and we divide our classes and number of lectures so that no one is overburdened. Everyone is doing it voluntarily, so there is no problem in making adjustments,” she adds.
Not just Srinagar but such home schools have sprung up in many towns in Kashmir where educated youth are helping children to complete their syllabus and prepare for the upcoming exams. It keeps the youngsters gainfully engaged while their students and parents are quite obviously appreciative of their efforts.
“Both my daughters, one is in Class 8 and the other in Class 10, have to appear for board exams. But with the shutting of their schools and coaching centres, we were very stressed about how they would cover their studies. Then someone told me about a young woman who was taking classes at her home, and I sent them there. It is a relief for parents like me to know that the future of our children is secure; violence will not be a curse on their education at least,” says Adil Akhtar, a parent from Sopore, who is a businessman by profession.
Akhtar feels that it’s a boon that these classes are being held locally as the elders are not afraid to let them step out of the home. “One feels uneasy to let the children go far by themselves, so it’s good that my girls don’t have to walk far for their class. Moreover, it is meant for girls only, so I feel my daughters are safe there,” he explains.
Like parents, sociologists and educationalists also see this step as a beginning of a new era. “With every conflict, there is a rise in innovative methods to learn and make a living. Kashmiri’s have also learnt to adapt and acclimatise to the ever changing circumstances. Educating children from home, what could be better than this! I see it as a very bold and bright move,” says Professor Abdul Azeez, a former faculty of the University of Kashmir.
“To me, students’ education shouldn’t suffer whatever the situation. Look at Palestine; the people have been strife-torn for several decades now, but they didn’t stop learning. The real test of any society is in the ways they find to overcome their grievous circumstances; Kashmiris are showing that they have what it takes to make things work,” he signs off.