Meet J&K's Seasonal Teachers
Educational Volunteers teach the nomadic children, who otherwise would be deprived of an education as they migrate
Every year, for around six-months, Jammu and Kashmir's School Education Department engages around 500 candidates as "seasonal teachers". They are entrusted with teaching children from the nomadic tribes. The classes are held in mobile schools.
This system has been in place for years, when the then state government started setting up these "seasonal schools" for the children of nomadic tribes who migrate to green pastures during summer months. Nomad communities live quiet and carefree lives and are keen on ensuring primary education for their children, which is the basic right of every child.
In a recently convened Project Approval Board (PAB) meeting, the representatives of J&K's school education department claimed that access to schooling facilities for the nomadic population "has always remained the priority of the J&K UT". According to the officials, seasonal centres have been provided for the nomadic population during its migration from one place to another in search of green pastures.
These students have to deal with the socio-economic crises, as well as changing climates due to the nomadic nature of their culture. The children of Bakarwal and Gujjar tribes are now looking forward to a bright future, as they hopefully will not have to choose between their traditional lifestyle and an education.
According to Talib Hussain, who studies in class three he wants to become a doctor and is happy to have "teachers in green pastures". However, he knows that the school is temporary, and says it will "end when we leave these green pastures."
According to the official data from the school education department, 1764 students are enrolled in the education department in Baramulla and Bandipora districts. In Bandipora nomads live in pastures of Dahi Nallah Patlawan, Chakwali, Kanzalwan, upper reaches of Tulail in which 513 students had been enrolled this year. Similarly in Baramulla 1251 students are enrolled from different locations Gabwar, Gulmarg, Upper reaches of Pehli pora,Upper fields of Boniyar.
"My favourite subject is Mathematics. I want to be a businessman in the future. These schools help us learn a lot. This gives us hope for the future, in the past we could not go to school as we changed our locations continuously," said Aamir, a class seven student.
Mustafa, a nomad from Reasi district of Jammu, said, "now our children's future is safe as they will benefit from the government's initiative to provide basic education for nomadic children." He explained that each family that migrates spends around two months just travelling between their winter and summer camps.
"We stay around for six months in these green pastures. We are happy with our traditional lifestyle, but earlier our children lacked basic education facilities. Now they hope to get educated even as they continue to live our traditional lifestyle as nomads.
"The education department provided us tents when we came to these pastures, and one teacher was assigned for every nomadic family. The teacher also migrates with the family. It is now time to leave these pastures becauses winter is coming. The teachers are like our family members. There is a strong bond between us and he even helps us to carry material when we migrate from one place to another," added Abdul Rashid Chichi who heads one of the Bakarwal family in Uri Baramulla.
Another student Suhail said as education is a right of children, he is happy to attend schools too, "my favourite subject is english, I want to become a teacher in future, and I think nomad students can achieve our dreams too. Our elders did not have this opportunity to get an education with their traditional way of life. They have not achieved much but now our generation is looking forward to a bright future and these mobile schools help us to get basic education."
Most of the students in the community were school dropouts as earlier when they left a camp they could not continue their education.
These Bakerwals camp with their families in the pastures in large numbers, along with their herds of sheep and goats. They live in tents in these highland pastures. They explain that they prefer dents as the Bahaks (pastureland) is located on a high altitude and erecting a hut (kotha) at such a place is impossible due to scarcity of wooden logs, and anyway the massive snowfall in winters will damage any firm structures.
This is how the mobile-seasonal schools also work. It was in the late 1970s that the J&K Government envisaged the Mobile Schools scheme, especially meant for the Bakerwal Community.
Every year since then, the Government seeks services of over a thousand Educational Volunteers (EVs) to teach the nomadic children who otherwise would remain illiterate or will be school dropouts. Unfortunately, the seasonal schools have not reached out to a large migratory population who settle at high altitude pasturelands located at an elevation of 3500 metres or more.
The educational volunteers are deputed at various places where there is sufficient nomadic / migratory population, the children are enrolled on the spot and the schools start their academic session from October. The students attend the Government run schools in the villages.
The Mobile Seasonal schools are also supposed to provide Mid Day meals to the enrolled students. However, according to sources most of the mobile schools do not provide these meals at all. Even the tents that were provided to the mobile schools many years back are damaged and have never been replaced. The children are forced to attend classes under the open sky
"We conduct exams on time as scheduled, and our main goal is to provide basic education to nomadic children", saidZonal education officer Gurez Ishtiyaq Ahmad added. He claimed that the 18 mobile schools running in Gurez valley have been provided with tents and other materials as needed.
Meanwhile officials from education department said that every possible help had been providing to these mobile schools,tents had been providing when these nomadic families comes in the months of April and May with the aim that these nomadic childrens will see their future safe and can take basic education with his culture and traditional lifestyle.
Balbir Singh Deputy Chief Education Officer Baramulla said that "1251 students had been enrolled this year in 80 education centres at different locations of upper reaches of Baramulla '', he added. He said that the exams of these students are conducted after they come back from green pastures in the month of October.
According to Ubaid Nazir, a teacher at a mobile school in the Kharimaidan forests of Gurez, these schools function on the same pattern as other schools. However, they lack infrastructure, "we adjust our classes according to location and weather conditions, as we move from place to place in different seasons," he said adding, "we conduct exams on time as scheduled, and our main goal is to provide basic education to nomadic children,"
He added that he sees a good response from these children and everybody is keen on getting an education. The children brave the harsh climate and even when there is heavy rainfall they reach the school before time. In their free time they play cricket with the teacher.
"I am happy we have teachers with us. I want to become a doctor in the future, and I am also interested in writing. I try to write essays," said Aamir, a class four student.