Srinagar: When Class 12 students of the Kashmir Valley wrote their annual exams last December, all odds were against them.
Because of the Centre’s August 5 decision to revoke the state’s special status, authorities in Jammu and Kashmir had imposed restrictions in the Valley. Their schools had remained shut for more than four months. Tuition centres too were ordered to shut down. The Internet, one of the key tools that students use to obtain information, was snapped indefinitely and mobile phone services were blocked.
It was yet another lost school term for a generation of students who have seen their lives and learning disrupted repeatedly in the unending violence and bloodshed in the region.
But in the end, these young minds have overcome all challenges to emerge with flying colours.
The results were declared on January 22 and showed that the students had surpassed all previous records. The overall results showed that 76.08% of students qualified, an increase of 25 percentage points when compared to the previous year’s exams.
Records maintained by the J&K Board of School Education (BOSE), the body which conducts the exams, show that 46,599 students took the Class 12 exams in the Valley. Of them, 35,454 students qualified.
The results were even better than in 2016, when 75.47% (40,119 students) of the total 53,159 students qualified. Interestingly, in 2016 too, schools in restive regions were locked down for almost six months following the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8. The killing led to mass street protests.
Quoting records, an official said a higher percentage of students passed the career-defining exams this year compared to the results for the past 17 years. “We have maintained records since 2003, when the pass percentage was 48. Except for 2016, there has been no other year when the pass percentage crossed 70. This is a remarkable feat by the students, given the circumstances in which they were forced to write the exams,” the official said.
As a result of the students’ performance, the number of “poorly performing” higher secondary schools has come down this year.
In 2018, at least 151 of the 295 schools produced below 50% pass results. This year, just 15 schools saw more than half their students failing to qualify.
Muzaffar Hussain Bhat, a sociology lecturer at a school in Chadoora town of Budgam district, said that for the past 30 years, students have been worst hit by the situation in Kashmir. “Frequently their education and schooling gets disrupted, but they never give up and instead manage to navigate through the challenges to study and write their exams,” said Bhat.
‘Was tough but we didn’t give up’
Officially, the schools were reopened in the second week of October. In reality, classrooms remained empty as the parents refused to send their wards to schools, fearing their children could get trapped in street protests.
For many others, not sending their children to the school was a form of silent protest against the government.
After snapping the Internet, mobile and landline services during the intervening night of August 4 and 5 and ordering all schools and tuition centres to close down, the J&K authorities imposed strict restriction on public movement. The restrictions continued for more than three months.
“All of us were still in the middle of our studies and suddenly we were left confined to our homes,” recalled Humera Rashid who topped the Class 12 exams in Kashmir. She secured 490 out of 500 marks.
For Rashid, it was “frustrating” when she could not access the Internet or call teachers to clear concepts about many pending topics. “Every student must have gone through the same experience. Ultimately, we were left with no choice but to go for self-study,” she said.
Community schools, which were opened by educated volunteers to help students continue basic education after August 5, also proved helpful. The number of community schools, though, was less compared to 2016, when the system of informal schooling was first introduced in the Valley. Then too, restrictions on movement and phone services prompted people to start community schools.
Rashid said that students have grown up in the midst of conflict and know how to “beat the obstacles” to continue studying. “We have seen it since our early school days, in 2010 and 2016. But this time it was really tough, but we didn’t give up,” she said.
Khursheed Ahmad Mir, a teacher and vice-principal at a school in uptown Chanapora, said during the lockdown, students from far off areas would travel on foot to his residence at Srinagar’s Batamallo locality to study physics and maths.
According to him, the students were deprived of all the facilities when they needed them the most. “Despite the situation, the students were passionate to prepare for the exams and the results have proven their potential,” said Mir.
The other odds
When BOSE announced the exams in November, the students protested for days, demanding that their syllabus be shortened. Many parents also supported the protests and students argued that they had not completed their syllabus and deserved to be given some relaxation.
However, the authorities did not agree to the demand, forcing the students to study the entire syllabus. The situation was both mentally and physically exhausting, the students said.
When the exams begin in December, public transportation was still inoperative. Parents had to accompany their wards to the exam centres and wait outside in the wintery conditions, to make sure their children return home safely.
Many students and parents had walk miles on foot, forcing them to leave their homes early to reach the exam centres. “The exceptional results are the outcome of the hard work put in by the students,” said chairperson of BOSE, Veena Pandita.
She said the results were “worth celebrating” since the students were not given any kind of relaxation at all. “We had a three-tier inspection system: Teams from the education department, J&K Board and offices of deputy commissioners would regularly visit all the centres to ensure exams were fair and transparent,” said Pandita.
She said when the results left the board feeling elated. “But we randomly picked up several evaluated answers papers and got them re-evaluated to ensure transparency was maintained,” she said. “The outcome proved the potential of our students. I believe they can perform better in even the worst situation,” she said.