While educational institutes are offering e-learning as an alternative to regular classes, thousands of children in the nomad bakarwal community are losing out on education.
Shaista, Ruby, and their younger sibling Shakir are playing near a makeshift tent erected by their father Moin-u-din. Their mother, Noor Bibi and paternal Aunt Mymoona, live in a tent pitched in an orchard owned by a Kashmiri grower in the ourtikrts of Srinagar, by the foothills of Zabarwan.
The family undertakes the annual migration towards the Kashmir valley from the plains of Jammu and adjoining areas, looking for greener pastures for their livestock.
Unable to attend school in the Pandemic, the children have been passing their time by either playing around, or helping the family in daily chores.
Attending e-classes on android apps or Television broadcasts arranged by the government, and privately-owned schools, is not an option for these kids.
Lack of electronic gadgetry, coupled with the absence of electricity, has denied children like Shaista, Ruby, and Shakir the right to education.
The family shakes their head in denial when asked about Zoom and Google classes, or the e-Patshala application.
Shaista, a class 6 student, the elder among her siblings has a faint idea about e-learning, but mobile phones are seen as an elder’s gadget.
“I don’t allow them to use my phone as they play with it,” says Moin-u-din. talking about the ‘snake’ game on his keypad phone.
However, this is not the only Nomad family from Rajouri here, whose children are denied an education.
The small patch amidst the orchards, besides a water stream in the interiors of Shalimar and Tailbal area in the outskirts of Srinagar, houses a dozen more makeshift tents, accommodating more than 10 families and their livestock. The male folk take to labour while they spend their summer here. Construction too, this year, has not been going on as usual.
In all the tents pitched in the adjoining neighbourhoods of Shalimar, Harwan and Tailbal, women and children stay back at the humble dwellings, to take care of the fruit orchards, and the household chores.
“Our children used to attend a nearby government school in summers, but since last year, after August, they have remained away the school,” says Gulzar Begum, an elderly woman blowing into the hearth, preparing Nun Chai.
Only a stone’s throw from Shaista’s tent, on the banks of the stream flowing into the nearby Tailbal Nallah from the Mahadev peaks, two brothers, eleven-year-old Irfan and nine-year-old Adil live in another tent. This family too undertakes the seasonal migration to Kashmir for livelihood.
Irfan, a class 5 student, and Adil, presently in class 3 at one of the local government-run Middle school, are also missing out because of no knowledge of e-classes.
Their parents, like Shaista’s, are not educated.Though their father, Bashir Ahmed possesses a smartphone, they are not allowed to use it. Moreover, Bashir carries the phone with him as he goes to work. Bashir, apart from taking care of the orchard in summers, works at a construction site in the neighbourhood during the light hours.
“What will they learn from this phone. They always find excuses to play games and music on it,” laments Bashir on being asked about the initiative of virtual classes undertaken by the schools and educational institutions.
“There are no schools due to corona, they should take care of the orchard and help me in daily chores,” suggests Haleema Bibi, a mother of two.
From traditional teaching-learning activities, the government and other educational institutions in response to the emerging situation have shifted to e-learning using online classes, radio, and TV broadcasts amidst the absence of proper schooling.
”We are continuously engaging students through digital networks and for those who have no access to the Internet we are teaching through Television and Radio,” Mohammad Younis Malik, Director of School Education, had told the press.
However, like these nomadic dwellings, ample examples of students with neither the resources nor the privileges, have been denied access to education through this novel mode of education.
“How can we ensure the attendance of our wards in virtual classes conducted by teachers, since we are seasonal migrants putting up in these orchards that lacks any facility of electricity or Television,” says Sharifudin, a grandfather of four school-going children when this reporter explained the idea of e-learning. The family originally hails from the plains of district Kathua.
“My children used to go to the nearby government-run school during our stay in this orchard for summer months, but the gates of the building remain closed now,” says Shameema, a mother of three, whose eldest son Wahid studies in class 2.
“In absence of any schooling, they simply pass their time taking care of the few goats we have,” she adds.
The children in this temporary settlement seem to have lost interest in books.
Shemeema’s husband, Mohd Ibrahim says, “these children have not opened their school bags for so long now.”
Nasreen a student of class 5 enrolled in the local government-run middle school recounts how she had washed her uniform in Rajouri for school use but is now wearing it at home while helping her mother in daily chores and looking after the younger siblings.
The story of Nasreen is not different from the scores of other children in this habitation.
Amidst the lack of privileges like smartphones, Television, or Laptops, the children in particular from this marginalized section of the society are at a colossal loss, telling both upon their academic career, as well as overall personality.
However, no solution seems to be in sight in the near future.
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