Mohammad Riyaz Malik
Last year, the Union Cabinet approved the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 with an aim to build a robust mechanism in transforming both school and higher education sectors. Describing students as the prime stakeholders in the education system, the NEP 2020 claims to look at the students as “citizens of today” and not just a future resource to contribute to the development of the country. The rural and remote areas of our country are faced with several development challenges of which education needs immediate attention.
One such rural area that has lacked high-quality education infrastructure for several decades now is the border district of Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir and has high expectations from the NEP 2020. This backward and remote hilly region, with its population spread far and wide, is not only deprived of quality education but is marred by the absence of higher educational institutions.
In the last two years, the Education Department developed a few Government Higher Secondary Schools as model schools situated at prime locations of the Poonch city. In contrast to this, the far-flung rural areas of this already isolated district lack proper infrastructure for existing schools, colleges. Students from these areas have to struggle a lot to achieve higher education specially girls. They have to face the dual challenge of claiming their right to education in a patriarchal set-up and then, fighting with the lack of higher educational institutes in their areas. Because of this, after completing their education up to the tenth or twelfth grade, they are forced to stay at home.
Nestled further away in the mighty mountains, Mandi tehsil in Poonch is no different when it comes to education infrastructure. After years of struggle, the demand to construct a government college was finally heard in 2018 when the then Minister for Education of the erstwhile state (now a Union Territory) passed a notice seeking government’s attention towards the matter of non-availability of a Degree College in this Tehsil. He had also said that the preference would be given to uncovered areas for opening new colleges. Three years have passed, yet the construction of the college building has not started yet. The land allocated by the government for college is four kilometers from Mandi in Azimabad. The reason is the conflict between the landowners and the concerned authorities.
Although, the foundation stone of the college was laid but the landowners are now not allowing the construction of the college building. Due to this, the college is temporarily being operated in the building of the Rural Development Department at Rajpura.
Waqar Ahmed, a 26-year-old resident of Mandi tehsil, said that “The dispute between the Rural Development Department and the Azimabad Panchayat has caused great disappointment to us. The students and staff of the college are bearing the brunt of this conflict. When the announcement of degree college was made, there was a wave of happiness in public. Today, after three years, the situation remains the same,” shared Waqar.
An active member of the Civil Society, Mandi, Dr.Ghulam Abbas Hamdani while expressing his concern said that, “After the approval of setting up the DegreeCollege in Azimabad, the land owner refused to give the land which has immensely hurt the sentiments of the villagers.” Considering that construction of the college building is of utmost importance to the people of Mandi, concerned authorities are expected to find the solution the problem at the earliest.
“Due to lack of a proper building, it has become really difficult to operate the college effectively. Despite a large number of applications, we are able to admit only a small number of students. As we do not have our own space, we are unable to conduct educational programmes for our students. Nor there is a space to build a laboratory or a library,” rued Dr. Muhammad Azam, Principal of the Degree College, Mandi, who believes that having a building is the primary step to improve the status of higher education in the tehsil.
Acknowledging the lapse in addressing the issue, the concerned authorities said that the inspection is under process and they have finalized allocation in Rajpura. They were hopeful that the work will start soon.
Mohammad Riyaz Malik