Engineer-turned-teacher takes free open-air classes in Srinagar

Amid border tensions, curfews, political disturbances and now the novel coronavirus outbreak, the students in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) region are certainly at an academic disadvantage. Schools and educational institutes are shut since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. Subsequently, high-speed mobile internet service has also suspended in the union territory, except in Udhampur and Ganderbal districts, which does not allow students to attend online classes. Following the coronavirus pandemic, it has also become difficult for students to gain assistance from a teacher personally due to the social distancing norms.

But, where there is a will, there is a way. From June 2020 onwards, Natives of Srinagar must have observed at least one open-air class being conducted in the city’s Eidgah. These classes are being conducted by 40-year-old engineer-turned-teacher, Muneer Alam.

Alam used to assist his neighbours’ kids with their studies and homework from the age of 16. Later, he got admitted into engineering course in 1999 but lost an academic year because of the Kargil war. This loss became a turning point in his life and he decided to turn toward teaching as a profession as he “did not want the coming generations to lose out on education”.

He graduated from the Regional Engineering College, which is now the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, in 2004. Since then, He has taught more than 25,000 students in J&K for boards and competitive exams, some for a fee and many for free.

“Education is worst hit in Kashmir due to the political unrest. Tourism is a luxury but education is a necessity. Despite the conditions, I never stopped the classes. I went to the students’ houses and invited them to take classes at my home. I even received two threat letters in August 2019 for conducting these classes. But, things changed after March 2020,” recalls Alam.

He was not able to accommodate all students in his house because of the social distancing norms and people were scared of letting their children attend classes with other kids. It was then that he planned to shift to Srinagar’s Eidgah, a massive ground in the heart of the city, to conduct open-air classes for students.

“Initially, only a few students turned up, but later the word spread and more started joining. Besides, apart from the students who were already enrolled in my classes, several other students have also started attending the free open-air classes. Anyone and everyone can join as a new topic is started,” Alam tells Education Times.

He started these classes in June 2020 from 4:30 am onwards till the sunrise every day. Sometimes, when it rains, he moves these classes to the veranda of the nearby Aali Masjid.

“Students sit at a distance of 4 meters from each other and no one is allowed to attend a class without a mask. They bring their chairs, tables and stools so that there is no contact at all. The classes are a melting pot of cultures, students from Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities study together in a mosque’s porch,” says Alam.

He adds that the upcoming months of winters are going to be extremely difficult as the weather conditions in Srinagar are not conducive for open-air classes during winters.

Despite challenges from all directions, Alam is firm on making his students continue their learning journey. “While we have many who have become teachers by chance, there are plenty of us who have become teachers by choice. That is the passion that keeps me going and no matter what, I will find a way to teach my students,” he adds.

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