EXAM SESSION | March is the cruellest month
Implementation of a uniform academic calendar is an impractical move in Kashmir. It will adversely impact our students
Recently, the Jammu and Kashmir government said that it will implement a uniform academic calendar in all the schools of Jammu and Kashmir, thus ceasing the practice of summer and winter zone examinations and sessions.
Depending on weather conditions, both Jammu and Kashmir have separate academic calendars i.e., summer zone and winter zone.
The plains of Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua, Reasi, Rajouri and Poonch fall in the summer zone whereas Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban belts of Jammu regions vis-à-vis the Kashmir division fall in the winter zone.
Annual examinations in Summer Zone are held in March-April, while examinations in the winter zone are conducted in the months of October and November.
Chief Secretary Arun Mehta said that the government will fully implement the National Education Policy (NEP) from the current academic session, while the four-year undergraduate program as per University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines would be introduced in all colleges of the UT.
However, it has lot of challenges and problems on the ground, especially because of harsh winters when most of the areas remain cut off due to heavy snowfall and the halt in traffic movement on the highways.
Due to differing weather conditions, the Jammu region has been following an academic calendar like the rest of the country, while Kashmir, mainly because of harsh winters, has followed a separate calendar. In the Kashmir division, students take the final test in October and the new session begins in November.
And just after a month of classes, students have a three-month-long winter break. The schools then reopen in February, sometimes in the month of April, while as educational institutions in the frontier areas like Gurez, Machil, Tanghdar, and Keran reopen in the month of May.
These three mountainous regions of Kashmir remain cut off from rest of the world for almost 6 months due to heavy snowfall.
It is a matter of fact that students from frontier areas are unhappy with new mode of calendar because of climatic and topography. Since Kashmir remains snow-clad from mid November towards end of March, with some areas located towards the higher reaches of Pir-Panchal witnessing precipitation till mid April also.
Moreover, time and again it has been observed that the examinations, competitive or higher academic, held between mid Feb and mid April often get delayed/postponed due to unfavorable weather conditions that cripple the public transport and bring to grinding halt the normal life.
In the circumstances, the university and higher educational institutions including recruiting agencies have in the past postponed their examinations and same will be true for annual examinations if ever a uniform academic calendar viz-a-viz the new educational policies is ever implemented.
Apart from higher education, school level students, mostly of primary classes, will have to face immense challenges during winter months for preparation of their final exams, which are expected to happen in March. Moreover, schools in Kashmir are yet to be equipped with quality infrastructure and other facilities to combat extreme winter challenges.
This synching of uniform academic calendar can sound perfect ideally (to synchronise the academic calendar with national academic calendar), but practically this is very difficult to implement.
The delay time varies upon the situation ranging from 3 months to even six month, due political uncertainties, unrest, climatic conditions and even an entire session was lost in 2010, 2014, 2016, 2019, 2020 forcing administration to curtail syllabus, even to the extent of 50%, and promote students en-masse to next class.
This leads to delay in announcement of final result and non participation of students in entrance examinations held by the prestigious universities of the country.
This has had not only the implications of depressive order on students, but it has more pathetically postponed their employment and thereby delayed the entire schedule of their lives.
Chief secretary Arun Mehta although gave a nod for implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, but the smooth implementation of the uniform calendar seems like an impractical exercise in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
To apply a uniform academic calendar to both the divisions of the union territory is not possible on ground and the implementation will result in many complications.
Unlike Jammu, the weather of Kashmir is fickle and gelid in winter season. It is also volatile to political turmoil and the condition changes often and unexpectedly. Because of which six-month semesters can sometimes extend for more than six months quite often and a semester seldom ends on time.
This move of introducing uniform academic calendar is aimed at enabling students from Jammu and Kashmir to compete with their counterparts from other regions of the country.
The move seems to be preposterous. How can a Kashmiri students have the same academic calendar as that of a student from Jammu, when his climatic conditions absolutely different from the later?
In 2014, semester system was adopted and started in all Degree Colleges of the former state, however, since then, the graduate courses have failed to complete on time and get delayed by some months at least, if not many. Students say that they waste their precious academic time as their three-year graduation completed in more than the given time.
Ultimately, they not only lose their precious academic year but fail to compete with students across other educational institutions of the country and also are rendered ineligible for various courses abroad as students cant meet their admission deadlines.
Students often complain that government doesn’t have a planned strategy for any course be it a postgraduate course, a doctoral degree or any other program in Kashmir. The decision to go with semester system somehow sounded good but unfortunately, it didn’t accomplish the desired results.
In the present era of globalisation where every passing day teaches a man, new experiences of life and each day being vital for the growth of people, Kashmir’s universities have never taken into consideration the precious years of students.
To change the system, we have to work on lower rungs of education system only, then can we expect a change in higher education.
The uniform academic calendar may reduce administrative pressure, but will not yield academic gains. Shifting of academic and examination session to March in Kashmir will prove to be a poor decision for Kashmiri students. Since some years Kashmir has witnessed a trend of untimely snowfalls in the month of March.
Shifting the examination session to March will result in students from the valley to step out in cold temperatures, and sometimes brave snow, to appear in the examination.
Having an academic calendar similar to the rest of the country in Kashmir is flawed because various parts of the region are disconnected from rest of the country due to snow in winter months.
Several areas in North Kashmir including Karnah, Keran, Machil, Gurez remain cut off. Implementing this calendar in Kashmir will subject students from these areas to misery and confusion.
Earlier the coalition government of PDP-BJP, in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, had started an initiative to streamline education system in Jammu and Kashmir.
The government then started super winter coaching centers, while teachers were asked to teach students in winter schools during the three months of winter vacation but it didn’t yield the desired results and couldn’t continue due to heavy snowfall in harsh winters. There was no heating system and proper accommodation in the educational centers and ultimately the initiative failed on ground.
“How can the students from Tulail travel to Dawar in Gurez to attend classes amid heavy snowfall and harsh weather conditions,” said Tariq Rasool, an educational expert based in Kashmir.
There are two kinds of cut offs in such areas, one is cut off from the rest of the world and another is the cut off from one village to another. The government, before taking this step, should have taken feedback from the stakeholders on ground. ‘It looks good on paper but all such efforts will fail on ground here,’ Tariq said.
For this move to be effective and beneficial, the government will have to provide uninterrupted power supply to all educational institutions so that there is proper heating system and air conditioning.
Another such challenge for the government will be improving the condition of roads in the higher reaches which usually remain damaged due to frequent snowfalls and heavy rains.
This move will expose all the malfunctions within the governance and result in further delay of academic sessions, because of which the students won’t be able to compete with their age-mates from around the world due to delayed exams and degrees. This will remain a challenge for both the government and the students.
Kashmir has had some special provisions in its favor for the same reason; its weather and different geographic factors that influenced its people altogether. However, removing these provisions and trying to integrate the exam schedules, remains an impractical exercise primarily due to climatic differences, at least.
Nasir Khuehami is the National Spokesperson of the J&K Students Association. He tweets @NasirKhuehami.