Thursday, July 19, 2012

Terras Irradient: The Problems and Solution

Who would have ever considered that the conflict between India and Pakistan would affect the advancement of technology in the region? And that this drawback would filter down to affecting the studies taught in what you and I might consider nothing more than a small mountain side school in the lush and scenic valleys of the occupied Kashmir territory. But if we really had not considered that, maybe we should have done so. It was only obvious that at some point in time, the conflict that has raged between two of the most important countries in the subcontinent would eventually have to pay in some way or the other.

Let me clear myself right here. This is not an article meant to be in any way political or biased or to influence History, as it will happen, in any way. Our sole aim is to talk about and create an awareness of how a small village in Kashmir suffers from lack of technology. The small village is Breswana, in the Doda Mountains of Jammu and Kashmir. That’s where our mountainside school, Haji Public School… a not-for-profit setup (with subsidized fees) under the Amina Trust umbrella is established, and to quote the official website, “it will remain the main branch in the coming years”.

The slogan of the school says, “Terras Irradient” which translates to say ‘Let Them Illuminate the World’. Now that would actually be a great idea and that’s just what the school administration is working towards. They provide great education, at low fees, and the opportunity for children to learn even via visiting faculty from various parts of the world. The visiting faculty is made up of volunteers from various parts of the world who apply to work for pre-fixed periods of time at the Haji Public School.

In this effort, a number of social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook have also helped Sabbah Haji, Principal and Director of the Education Wing of the Haji Trust Foundation schools, muster support and even, on occasion, equipment for her school. The more tech-savvy of her volunteers have uploaded their own videos of the school and some of it activities. Needless to say, such promotion has helped to amplify Haji Public School’s online presence.

Talking at the Mela, Sabbah mentioned how this came about. She had recently posted her school’s need for a projector on Twitter recently. “Within a week, my school had a projector,” she proudly stated as she talked about how social media and her cyber friends have helped her make her school the best in the region. Furthermore, most of her volunteers are random people who she claims she “never knew before.” They search her out on social media websites and apply to work at Haji Public School as volunteers. Having passed the school’s prerequisites for volunteers they are signed on and join the school to work there.

The main problem with these volunteers however, is the fact that they cannot always come to teach at the school. Haji Public School, because of its location is practically inaccessible in winters, or in times when there are landslides or bad weather. Consequently, there are periods during the year when Sabbah Haji and her school do not have the constant flow of volunteers (and the knowledge of the “outside world” that they bring) available at her school.

‘I would like to teach them (her students) using tools such as You Tube, or preferably have a teacher teach our students over Skype,’ she said. Yet an uninterrupted, clear Skype video call does need a good network also. And here is where the local security concerns come in. The area has to quote Sabbah, “no landlines since the 1990’s.” Only now, the only carrier available is the state-run BSNL service. And while it does provide excellent Internet connections over mobile phones, it is not sufficient to allow access or proper usage of Skype. Consequently also, the 3G Network that Sabbah feels she requires to better educate her students is not there.

The story holds true not just for Sabbah Haji and all her students in occupied Kashmir, but for a number of small schools across both India and Pakistan… While it may not be the security issues which inhibit Internet access in small scale and government schools across Pakistan, even in the urban, more developed areas, there is no denying that a number of other factors have done so. The tagline, Terras Irradient sounds amazing, but it needs to be worked on to bring it to reality… for kids across our country. Click here to view a video of Haji Public School’s first-year achievements.

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