Ladakhi Villagers Show The Way For Education
18 July 2005
The Hindustan Times
Kargil: A government school in Jammu and Kashmir has been in the direct line of shelling from across the Line of Control (LoC) but this did not stop its students from attending classes even during the height of the Kargil border conflict, reports Grassroots Features. Rather, villagers of Chuttumail Doks, under the leadership of the village education committee, took the unprecedented decision of building an underground bunker where the kids could scramble for shelter during the firing. Mohammed Sadiq Khan, president of the 40-member committee, said: 'We lacked the means to relocate the school. Nor do we want our kids to suffer. So the villagers got together and dug an underground bunker.' Guns along the LoC fell silent following a ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani forces in November 2003, but the villagers have had to contend with other problems. Kargil witnessed heavy snow this winter but this did not stop the committee from ensuring that students of Chuttumail Doks continued their studies right through the winter break. On a clear day, they gather in small groups to complete their holiday homework. Proud parents sit around beaming. Khan offers a simple explanation for this amazing involvement. 'Till four years ago, the school was falling apart. The teachers were not interested in teaching and the students not interested in studying. The situation was so pathetic that the number of students went down to 18.' Worried parents approached the nodal Kargil Development Project (KDP) under the chairmanship of former MP Ghulam Hasan Khan. KDP organised 10-day training for two government schoolteachers. They were exposed to informal learning strategies for pre-primary level children and it was suggested that parents should play a more pro-active role. One hundred parents got together to chalk out a strategy. It was jointly decided that teaching was far too serious a matter to be left to teachers alone. A village education committee was set up to monitor the school's activity. Being cash strapped, the panel raised Rs 40,000 that was spent on buying carpets for the children to sit on. The school had no furniture except for a few tables. The parents cleaned up the building and added another classroom and a kitchen. On an average, the children spend eight hours in school. Mothers took turns in cooking in the school premises itself. The committee also decided to pay the monthly salaries of three additional teachers. As one parent pointed out, 'We realised that children need individual attention and so we raised money every month for the additional staff. On our own, we hired three women teachers, paying them Rs 1,200 a month.' 'Being a predominantly Shia area, parents were initially hesitant to send girls to study. Now, the ratio of girl students is more than the boys,' said Mohammed Ibrahim Khan, who has been teaching at the school for the past three years. After two computers were installed in the school, enrolment jumped to 85 children overnight, with seven belonging to families who lived far away also insisting they be given admission. 'Everyone in our village, including the youth, must contribute Rs.10 a month towards the village education committee. Our aim is to improve the standard of government schools,' said Haji Ahmed Hussain, the village head. Though most women in the area cannot read or write, 20 of them were made members of the committee. 'With the mothers involved, they make sure the children attend school on time and complete their homework,' said Hussain. The problems of Chuttumail Doks are reflective of the problems of the Ladakh region as a whole. The village has no access to irrigation and with declining snowfall the general shortage of water has seen 50,000 apricot and safada trees wither away during the past three years. But the villagers are determined to continue with their efforts. 'Grades here have improved by 30 percent ever since the village education committee came into the picture,' said Mohammad Hassan, Kargil's district education planning officer.