By Ishfaq Majid and Shazia Kouser
The internet has brought about much advancement in education. The students can use the internet to avail information and the knowledge they need for their projects and assignments. In spite of the debates and criticisms against internet use for students, it still contributes to their academic attainments. Students can access relevant materials by surfing websites related to the subject they are studying. One of the major advantage is the availability of online lectures, video sessions, which they may use without spending any money. This is not only true for students; the teachers are also able to access research which enables them to reinforce their lessons.
The above picture of the importance of the Internet everyone is aware of. But when we talk about the importance of the Internet in Kashmir, the situation is somewhat different. In Kashmir, we have an extended schedule of vacations in our educational institutions. The academic year normally starts with two months of winter vacations, 15-20 days of summer vacations and two months are spared for carrying out examinations related activities. Not only this, we lose at least 3-4 months to strikes and curfews. As such our educational institutions have only 60 days for imparting lessons to the students. While the academic staff in Kashmir were preparing to impart education and to utilize these 60 days, the government of Jammu and Kashmir ordered the closure of all academic institutions, including schools colleges and universities, till 31March, 2020 in view of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak worldwide.
The schools in Kashmir have been closed affecting the study of students. This is no less than a disaster. While the students are capable enough to study on their own by watching video lectures and downloading study material, the Internet is not available to the students of Kashmir, as pointed out by Asif Mujtaba, a 4th semester M. Tech. student.
Where does lie the solution then? The educational institutions are closed. The students who want to study need to have access to the internet. The solution to all these problems lies in e-education. Education that is provided online can save the future of the students in Kashmir. Though we are capable of finding a solution to this problem, we are hindered by the ban on the internet or its reduction to 2G speed. To complicate matters, we saw 180 internet shutdowns in 2019 in Kashmir.
As the internet service now works at 2G speed, the students are unable to find resources as it takes half an hour to load a single web page, adding to the miseries of the students.
Due to the public health crisis because of the threat of COVID-19, the educational institutions are closed. We don’t have enough time to cover the syllabus and the only solution lies with the e-learning. Rifaut Majid, presently working as at a government school in Kashmir, says that if the students have access to normal internet speed, they can prepare on their own.
From Academic Journals Database to use of Search Engines to Electronic Libraries, the internet is flooded with resources for students. But these resources are of no use if access to the internet is not available. The Government of India initiated a programme called SWAYAM that was designed to achieve the three cardinal principles of Education Policy – access, equity and quality. The website contains educational content on varied subjects. But achieving these three cardinal principles seems impossible in Kashmir. Like SWAYAM, there are various other programmes developed by the Government such as the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), among many others. To watch the education related videos on these websites, we need a high speed internet connection which is unavailable in the Valley from 5 August, 2019.
The United Nations’ fourth Sustainable Development Goal seeks to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Access to the Internet is fundamental for achieving this vision for the future. However, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir has not taken any positive steps to fulfil this goal.
The J&K administration does not care about the career prospects of students as they keep on extending the ban on 4G internet access in the Valley. A recent order which is making rounds on social media websites mentions that the ban on 4G access will continue till 26 March, 2020 and thereafter a review will be undertaken to restore the service. In such a situation, the students have no other option but to post their concerns on different social media websites.
Since the Valley has experienced calm since the restoration of 2G internet, the administration has to come forward and provide high-speed internet access for the benefit of students. This will empower the students to search and download education-related lectures and videos.
Ishfaq Majid and Shazia Kouser are Jammu and Kashmir-based Research Scholars at the School of Education, Central University of Gujarat. The authors are exploring the area of Information and Communication Technology in Education. Their writing had earlier appeared in The Diplomat, Economic and Political Weekly, Medium, Qatar Tribune, Mainstream Weekly, South Asia Journal and Café Dissensus.
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