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Our Grandparents Would Travel KMs To Reach School. Girls In Kashmir Still Do.

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

The morning routine of fifteen-year-old Hajira* is different from that of many of us had as adolescents– it includes a long and arduous journey to her school. What we may have heard in the fabled stories of our elders is still the truth for many.

Hajira’s eagerness to attend, she says, drives her to school more than anything else. Comprising some 14kms of travel each day, it does get difficult at times and sometimes, her keenness just isn’t enough and sadly, she’s not the only one.

Two girls walking to school
Credits: Hridayam 2020 | Flickr

For the 72% girls in the erstwhile state studying at government-run secondary and higher secondary schools, a meagre 330 schools exist– statistically, one every 673km. A fourth of all students participating in a government survey said they face difficulties in travelling to school– over 50% of which were girls. While the government at the centre has been purportedly advocating for proper sanitation, over 4000 schools in the region are either without, or with a non-functioning girls’ toilet– stark differences exist in preaching and practices.

When thirteen-year-old Alima*, a middle schooler from Budgam, talks of her experiences, it paints an even grimmer picture.

She says that in her school, three classes are operating in the space of a single room, making it difficult to grasp what is being taught. While there is a toilet in her school, it has never been operational, she said. She says though her school is ‘electrified’, she has never seen a bulb flicker in the room.

Though noticeable issues do exist in the education system regardless of gender, the divide in education, as is the case elsewhere, is gendered and the problems are many. At the onset of one particular stage though, the effects of such problems are understood to be considerably heightened– nearly 70% of females in the UT over the age of fifteen have not attained education above middle school.

Recent studies have shown age-specific attendance ratio drops from 96.1 for ages 11-13 to 86.9 for 14-17 to 43.6 for 18-23. In the years that prove to be critical in shaping us as individuals and citizens, a significant number of girls are left on the fringes of the education system. Thus, broadening an already gaping divide. While the questions asked are many, the answers, negligible.

Representational image.

In recent years, there has been a growing collective acknowledgement of the value of girls’ education. While that may be the case, it still has not been enough.

The Grim State Of Girls’ Education In Kashmir

In J&K, over 55% of girls once enrolled in educational institutes mention reasons such as engagement in domestic or economic activities or marriage as reasons for currently being out. Notions rising out of conventional, harmful gender norms aggravate the situation. 13% of girls cite financial constraints as the reason for them being out of school and in families that can’t afford the cost of schooling, a boy’s education is prioritised over a girls’ as a result of the erroneous economic incentives associated with it.

Dispute and conflict have been an adversary to the domain education of education in Kashmir for decades now.

Ironically, the sole consistent feature of schooling in Kashmir is disruptions- be it of 2008, 2010, 2016 or 2019.

Appearing in exam after exam without going to school, children in Kashmir may attain promotions, but miss out on an education.

Breaks in education in Kashmir are marked by uncertainty, surrounded by fear and trauma.

Such factors are detrimental for learning and development, making it tougher to reorient themselves in regular school routines time and again.

While this is an issue irrespective of gender, the effect on girls is more pronounced. The reluctance shown by parents in sending girls back to school over questions of safety is apparent. Statistics reveal in 2013-2014 there were 296,535 girls enrolled in education within urban areas. This figure fell to 96,896 girls by the end of 2016. A whopping 67% drop, which may be attributed to the political unrest and conflict of 2016.

Female teachers play a crucial role in educating as they provide a solution for ensuring more young women get access to learning opportunities just as young men do. Girls are more likely to feel comfortable and secure in a classroom where they are guided by a fellow female supervisor and their underrepresentation is a cause for concern.

According to UDISE+ 2019, over 65% of teachers teaching at government secondary and higher secondary schools in Kashmir are male. Impelled by concerns of security, the absence of female teachers furthers the reluctance shown by parents in sending girls to school.

As evident, many barriers exist within the school system itself but those aren’t the only ones- conservative ideologies and traditional gender norms to fuel the fire within an already broken system. Better and well-directed investment into the school setup can certainly help narrow the ever-widening gap in the education system.

But, for a sustainable and lasting change, gender education can prove to be a vital step.

Raising awareness about gender among teachers, pupils and their families can provide the impetus for incorporating a more tolerant and objective approach towards education and empowerment of women. As emancipating as education may be, the emancipation of education itself still has a long journey and one step at a time is the way to go.

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