Since reopening after the three-month-long winter break on March 10, schools and colleges in Kashmir have functioned for barely a few weeks.
In early April, students across the Valley joined in the protests sparked by the killing of at least a dozen militants and four civilians in a single day. At Amar Singh College in Srinagar, the students, many in uniform, pelted stones at cafes outside, smashed security cameras in the streets, clashed with the police and burned a guard post at a sports stadium nearby.
The violence had barely subsided when the campuses erupted again on April 10, this time against the Kathua incident. The protests are still going on intermittently at many places. Struggling to curb the violence, the government has come up with a purported solution that may only worsen the situation: it has shuttered private tuition centres.
Ordering the shutting down of all private tuition centres on Tuesday, the Directorate of Education said their classes overlapped with school timings, causing “distraction” that leads to “law and order problems in certain cases”.
“The authorisation to conduct private academic tuitioning by the Private Registered Tuition Centres is suspended for a period for 90 days, subject to review as detailed above,” the order declared, adding the “situation” will be reviewed after 15 days. It also directed the tuition centres to furnish details about enrolment, fees and faculty qualifications within 10 days.
Both students and teachers said it was a misguided decision that could further curtail academic activity in Kashmir. Moreover, many of them argued, private tuition was a necessity given the poor standards of public schools and colleges.
‘Treated as rowdies’
The education directorate’s order came after Education Minister Altaf Bukhari said the government was identifying “distractions” to “normal schooling” and tuition centres made the cut.
He also warned those disrupting academic activity, saying students were children and should be treated as such until they “limit themselves to the premises of school, college or university”. If they indulged in violence and damaged public property, he added, they would be “treated as rowdies”.
“Stones can’t be an answer to everything,” Bukhari said. “Stone’s can’t get a rape victim justice. Rather it is injustice to those who are being pelted with stones.”
The repeated and often prolonged disruption of academic activity because of protests has been worrying the Kashmiri society since the latest wave of mass agitation started in 2016. Yet, The government has done little to address the problem other than shut schools and colleges whenever violence got out of hand. Now that it has acted, it may have done more harm than good.
In Kashmir, the academic year begins in November. From December till March, schools and colleges remain shut for the winter and most students use the time to complete some of their work for the session, often at private tuition centres.
Of late, it has come to be seen as the most productive period for students since the Valley witnesses more political stability in winter, allowing them to study without any disruption. Many students continue taking private tuition after educational institutions reopen in March.
For a Class 12 student of Mallinson Girl’s School, one of the most prestigious schools in Srinagar, private tuition gives her “time to prepare ahead of school and competitive exams”. She starts school at 8.45 am and afterwards heads to her tuition centre in Rajbagh, reaching home by 8 pm. “At the coaching centre we complete our syllabus well ahead of exams and they teach us better than in schools,” said the student who asked not to be identified. “We actually complete our studies in the coaching centre and revise the same in school.”
Many students attend school “only for attendance, lab practicals and exams”, she said. Banning private tuition, she said, will adversely impact her studies and preparations for the upcoming medical entrance exam.
In Srinagar, most students taking private tuition go to classes in Parraypora, on the city’s outskirts. Saboor Bhat, also in Class 12, claimed that students got a better “grip” on studies in private classes rather than in school. “Every winter we begin tuition before school reopens and that builds our rhythm,” he said.
As shutdowns break the academic rhythm at schools, he added, teachers “expect students to complete topics, left midway, on our own”. “If they ban tuition now, we will lose that grip we have,” he argued. “It’s not about good or bad teaching in schools but about where we feel more comfortable studying.”
Some 550 registered private tuition centres teach around 60,000 students across the Valley, according to the Coaching Centres Association. Tutors claimed that students preferred their classes as education in schools “isn’t satisfactory”. If schools taught adequately, Kar Khurshid Alam, who left a private school teaching job to open his tuition centre, asked, “why would students come for coaching?”
By clamping down on coaching centres, Alam said, the government was “only hiding its weaknesses”. “The shortcomings are in schools,” he claimed. “Students don’t want to go to school wondering what will they do there. Let them improve their own standards before pointing fingers at others.”
The ban will hit tuition centres financially. Prominent tuition centres in Srinagar charge up to Rs 1.8 lakh for a three-year course – Classes 11 and 12 and a crash course for competitive exams – and most have already collected the fees in full.
GN Var, president of the Coaching Centres Association, said they will have to return the fees. “But since there is also GST, which the parents have paid, who will refund that?” he asked, referring to the Goods and Services Tax rolled out last year. Var estimated that registered tuition centres in Kashmir had paid at least Rs 1 crore to the government in GST.
The state was being “irresponsible” shutting down tuition centers, Var argued. “They are living in a fool’s paradise,” he said. “If coaching centres decide not to close, will they be able to use force against us all?”
Not that they will flout the order, Var hastily added. Theirs is a “responsible association” and will “shut down the centres for now to calm the situation”.
To check protests by students, most educational institutions in Kashmir have either suspended classwork or taken to teaching different batches on alternate days. “But that has only made more students to not show up,” said a teacher at the government college in Sopore, North Kashmir, where male and female students have been taking classes on alternative days since early last year.
At Anantnag Degree College in South Kashmir, teachers described it as a “depressing situation.” “It is not a protest,” said an assistant professor who asked not to be identified. “Had it been they would have held placards and protested before going back to class. Now they pelt stones, wreak havoc and get satisfied.”
The outburst was spontaneous when it began last year, the professor argued, but it was “hijacked by those who don’t want to attend classes or sit in exams”. On April 24, after students indulged in violence near the campus and pelted stones at government buildings nearby, the college was forced to postpone a semester exam. “It’s time to separate protesters from rioters,” said a lecturer.
A major obstacle in containing the disruptions was the lack of communication with students, the professor said. “They see us as a part of the establishment and don’t listen to us,” he explained. “There is deep radicalisation in our schools and colleges and it cannot be dealt without listening to them”.
One way of doing so was to reintroduce student unions, which are banned in Kashmir. “They will at least listen to their elected representatives who can communicate with the authorities,” he said.
Senior police officials agreed. “Students unions will ensure protests don’t spiral out on to the streets and lead to violence,” said a police official who only agreed to speak anonymously. “They could be managed and channelised then.”