But where there’s a will, there’s a way. As of June 2020, the natives of Srinagar must have observed that at least one open air class is being held in the city’s Eidgah. These courses are taught by the 40 year old engineer and teacher Muneer Alam.
Alam helped his neighbors’ children with study and homework from the age of 16. He was later enrolled in the 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 to teaching as a profession because he “didn’t want future generations to lose their education”.
He graduated from Regional Engineering College in 2004, which is now the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar. Since then, he has taught J&K to more than 25,000 students for boards and selection exams, some for fee and many for free.
“Education is hardest hit in Kashmir because of the political unrest. Tourism is a luxury, but education is a necessity. Despite the conditions, I never dropped out of class. I went to the students’ homes and invited them to take classes at my home. In August 2019 I even received two threatening letters for holding these courses. After March 2020, however, things changed, ”recalls Alam.
He was unable to accommodate all of the students in his home due to social distancing norms, and people were afraid of letting their children attend classes with other children. At that point, he was planning to move to Srinagars Eidgah, a huge compound in the heart of the city, to conduct open-air courses for students.
“Few students showed up at first, but later the word spread and more followed. Aside from the students who were already enrolled in my classes, a few other students have also started taking the free open air courses. Everyone can join in when a new topic is started, ”Alam told the Education Times.
He started these classes in June 2020 every day from 4:30 a.m. to sunrise. Sometimes when it rains he moves these classes to the porch of the nearby Aali Masjid.
“The students sit at a distance of 4 meters from each other and nobody is allowed to attend a class without a mask. They bring their chairs, tables and stools so that there is no contact at all. Classes are a melting pot of cultures. Schoolchildren from Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities study together on the porch of a mosque, ”says Alam.
He adds that the coming winter months will be extremely difficult as the weather conditions in Srinagar are not conducive to open-air courses in winter.
Despite all the challenges, Alam is determined to get his students to continue their learning journey. “While we have many who happened to become teachers, there are many of us who volunteered to become teachers. That’s the passion that keeps me going and no matter what, I’ll find a way to teach my students, ”he adds.