The official figures have revealed that about 4600 government schools were damaged in recent floods in Kashmir division while as per preliminary estimates in private sector the number of damaged schools is around 1500.
JK’s Education Minister Tara Chand said the devastating floods have severely impacted the education infrastructure in almost all the flood-ravaged districts. “There are around 4600 government schools that have been damaged by the floods,” said Chand. “Some schools need to be rebuilt as they have collapsed or suffered extensive damage, whereas others need major repairs.”
Almost all the affected schools have lost their vital infrastructure including office record, computers, furnishing, chairs, tables etc. The minister said that Public Works Department (PWD) has been asked to prepare a report about the safety of these buildings. “We have formed a joint team with PWD who will assess every school building affected by the floods and determine whether the structure is safe for students or not,” he said. “Some schools where water has drained out and were deemed fit have started class work whereas other schools which are still submerged or have suffered extensive damage are yet to be opened.”
The private schools have also reported heavy loss to infrastructure. “We are still assessing the loss and our initial reports suggest damage to more than 1500 school buildings,” said Syed Akhtar Hussain member J&K unaided private schools coordination committee. “Between Athwajan and Fruit Mandi, Parimpora alone, 160 schools are badly damaged,” he said.
Private Schools United Front (PSUF), which represents around 1200 private educational institutions are also trying to gather data from all of its constituent members.
“The situation is not clear yet and till last reports we have recorded damage to 450 schools,” said G N Var, general secretary PSUF.
Both the organizations have convened emergency meetings on Sunday to discuss the crisis and decide future course of action.
Notwithstanding the looming threat of diseases and unsafe buildings some private schools have started functioning in the city inviting condemnation from parents. “Woodlands School was in the worst affected area and still they have ordered the students to attend classes,” said the father of a student, wishing not to be named. “When we asked the school authorities did they clean the classrooms, undertake a safety check and restored all the basic facilities, they didn’t give any convincing answer.”
The parents at other schools also complained of same dictate from the school administration asking students to resume class work, despite lack of proper transport, clean drinking water, electricity, hygienic conditions and other basic facilities.
Experts have strong reservations against the immediate opening of schools after the disaster of such a magnitude. “There are internationally recommended procedures to check for structural safety of schools after a flood. Secondly all the wooden furniture and floor matting that has come in contact with flood waters has to be replaced according to global standards and a thorough cleaning process has to be undertaken. One doubts if schools here have done that,” said Arjimand Hussain Talib, consultant in international development, who has worked in 22 countries across the globe.
“There are psychological factors as well. Many teachers, support staff and children have lost homes and some continue to live out of their houses. Their current psychological condition would not allow them to do well in schools.”
The minister of education confirmed that some schools have resumed functioning in flood-affected areas. “We came to know that some private schools have started functioning in the city despite reservations from people,” said Chand. “I have asked the director education Kashmir to ascertain whether the school buildings are safe and there is a provision of clean drinking water and other facilities before these schools commence regular class work.” He said that the private school administrations won’t be allowed to override the safety measures set for children.
Meanwhile, PSUF denied having taken any decision regarding opening of flood-affected schools. “We are of the opinion that if any school decides to resume its functioning in flood affected areas it should be done after proper check and verification,” said Var. “There is a threat of infectious diseases everywhere in city and in such situation schools have to be highly cautious.”
The front assured that they will take action against such schools as nothing should compromise the well being of children. “A large part of blame goes on the government as it is unable to exert itself after crumbling during floods and that is why some schools think they can get away with anything,” said Var.