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Kashmir's school-buildings also need nurturing

Kupwara, Sat, 19 Nov 2011 ANI

Kupwara Nov 19 (ANI): Worry lines mark the face of mothers as they wave to their little children leaving for school. It is another serene morning in the Lolab Valley, its captivating tree-lined landscape covered in mist, the silence broken only by the sound of streams gurgling down the snow capped mountains, merging into the river that flows through villages in the neighborhood.


There is nothing to indicate any danger lurking; indeed, everyday life in this northern-most border district in the Kashmir Valley has remained relatively undisturbed in recent times. But what are the fretting mothers to do when the only school in the village is itself the source of danger?


As the children scamper to reach in time for the school assembly, it is the very scampering that the mothers - and the school staff - worry about: for danger lies in the uncomfortable proximity of the river flowing right alongside the school building, no boundary wall or fence distancing it from the unconcerned children.


The teachers at the Government Middle School in the village of Shumriyal do not have the luxury of a relaxed day at work either, nor do they pay complete attention in the classroom even as they teach, for they spend the day distracted by the exposed river, keeping an eye on the children playing outside, close to the water.


Anxiety has driven some parents to move their children to private schools elsewhere, but they confront another risk: having to ford the river to reach the school on the other side. The tree trunks spanning the width of the river close to the Government School serve as the bridge, the villagers' own rudimentary effort to stay connected while they send out repeated requests for a safer school and improved access to the 400 houses that make up this village of 2500 people.


"The poor families have to choose between sending their children to this government school at risk, or stopping their education. The village needs a proper bridge across this river," says Haji Abdul Samad, the Numbardar of the village. "The Education Officials are well aware of the situation. I also visited the District officials' offices at Kupwara along with some villagers but we were judiciously avoided," he sighs.


At the school, the four agitated teachers speak as one, pointing out the other challenges, "This school was built in 1960 and upgraded to a Middle School in 2005. But nothing was done to address the problem of the river. Providing for a boundary wall would certainly help, as would a playground and toilets. Our children have nothing to do with outdoor games because we are in constant fear of an accident."


"Every year, the level of the water starts rising in March. By June, the river is in spate and we are forced to shut the school as flood water reaches the school premises and even into the classrooms. How can we possibly complete the course?" laments a teacher.


The Principal, Ms. Noor Fatema, explains the options - or lack thereof - for the parents, "There have been casualties in the past when people, even adults, slipped when they were crossing the river on that makeshift bridge. Where are children to go?"


By making education a fundamental right for every child, India has joined the ranks of 135 countries that recognize the importance of investing in education to build a strong nation. Early this year, the state government had approved a sum of Rs 778 crore for improving education nfrastructure. Yet, a recent government report found that 4830 schools in the state still do not have their own building. Gaps in implementation and poor quality of work are only some of the challenges that prevent good intent from converting into action.


Celebrating 'National Education Day' on November 11, the Central Government drew attention to the need for opening and upgrading schools across the country, announcing a scheme for upgrading infrastructure in High and Higher Secondary schools. But what of the little ones in the millions of primary and middle schools that dot the rural countryside?


In April this year, the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had announced, "Greater focus is being laid on development of education infrastructure in rural areas so that students don't need to migrate or travel to cities for education."


This is crucial and timely for children in remote areas like Ladakh, where the quality of education leaves much to be desired, but in small villages like Shumriyal in the Valley, the children would simply stop going to school.


With a greater awareness seeping through rural India thanks to improvements in communication and information technologies, including the far-reaching mobile telephony, the time is right to coax rural growth in line with the nation's ambitions, says the Charkha Development Communications Network. The mothers of Shumriyal and indeed, of Kashmir, would agree. (ANI)


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