Alien Mother

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Sidelined for long, Kashmiri is now in schools as a compulsory subject, but as Aliya Bashir reports, the loopholes in its introduction may turn it into a schooling nightmare. Experts suggest syllabi revision.

A photograph from the early fifties when the classes would be held in fields post-harvest.

Just a few years back Kashmiri was a taboo in most of the English medium private schools in Srinagar. Many of them, not only discouraged conversations in Kashmiri among students, but even pulled up “erring” students found blurting words in their mother tongue.

But thanks to its aficionados, Kashmiri has now got the better of its detractors.

The Board of School Education (BOSE) has introduced the language as a compulsory subject at primary level in all schools. Language lovers and cultural activists are cheering, but the merriment has overwhelmed the manner it has been introduced in the schools.

The subject is proving as a major challenge for students who are now taught the basics on a blackboard. Teachers are in a fix too.

Asif Ali, 10, a student of 5th class at Green Valley Educational Institute is caught in the jigsaw of Kashmiri linguistics characters (phonological and grammatical characteristics) of the language.

“It becomes very difficult for me to solve the grammatical portion in my Kashmiri syllabus. I always spend extra time on the subject and even during exams I practice it almost three times more thae any other subject,” says Asif while flipping the pages of his textbook.

Hafsa Nisar, a student of class 4 seconds Asif’s view. Hafsa says that Kashmiri is the most challenging subject for them in terms of vocabulary and sentence making. But instead of getting panicked in the class they have found an escape route to ease off their pressure.

“That period is mostly a fun time for all of us. Hardly our teacher scolds us for not paying any attention. We have so many funny terms in our course like thath-gor (joker) thap-thap (motorcycle) chai-gol (tea sip), khany-e-hankal (food chain) and many more which adds to our amusement,” says Hafsa, while she bursts into a laugh.

Professor Shafi Shauq, who teaches at the Department of Kashmiri, University of Kashmir says that Kashmiri as a mother tongue has to be included as a compulsory subject in schools, colleges and up to university level. “Kashmiri is our first language and it cannot be optional. But, the methodology has to be different. The text should be conversant with the contextual introduction of the language which can serve the fundamental purpose of the mother tongue and not only on the linguistic component,” says Shauq, who is also the founder of the department.

He adds that being a native language the methodology of teaching Kashmiri has to be different compared to non-native language.

“We need not focus more on writing and grammatical part. But, our syllabus should include health, Kashmiri culture, and environment so that language can become effective,” he said.

He adds that the present syllabus comprises of poems of “some pseudo poets who have no contribution to the Kashmiri language.”

“Every text has a milieu and when it is changed, the whole cultural essence is lost. The selection of words is of the medieval period. Instead of the mockery, BOSE should make a committee of experts from various subjects and evaluate the syllabi along with methodology of teaching,” Shauq added.

However, chairman, New Convent school, Iqbal Ahmed terms the introduction of Kashmiri language in schools as a vague decision from BOSE. “No one is ready to learn the language. So, it is only adding to the burden of already overburdened students. We should try to broaden our vision where our students can excel at the larger front and can have global acceptance instead of orienting them as region specific,” says Iqbal.

Like teachers, many parents are complaining too. They too are in a dilemma about Kashmiri language as compulsory.

“If it (Kashmiri) had been kept an optional subject then it was fine. Forcible inclusion can hardly evoke any interest among our younger generation who are trying tooth and nail to compete with other challenges in both studies and co-curricular activities,” says Firdousa Jan, a parent who says that her children are facing “language load”.

Despite being the mother tongue, Kashmiri has been getting a step-motherly treatment, both at schools at homes, with children discouraged to use it. That has made its introduction in schools a major challenge.

Teachers aren’t well trained or equipped. The syllabus, given its initial stage of introduction, isn’t helpful either.

“In class 4 we had drawings and other basics of the language which was quite easy. But now in class 5, it is very tough.W e have the hardest grammatical exercises, vocabulary and notes on legends of Kashmir,” says Saima Khurshid, a 5th standard student in a private school.

Noted Kashmiri poet, Zareef Ahmed Zareef, is not happy with the syllabus either. “The text for the Kashmiri language should have been designed in a very easy and communicative way, where students could be attracted towards their mother tongue instead of disliking it,” says Zareef.

He says syllabus needs a revision keeping in view the interest level of students in the language. “The authorities need to rethink on the terminology and other text formats which can be easily understood and accepted by the target group,” he says.

Sobiya Khurshid teaches Kashmiri in a private school. She says that while the students are exposed to basics of English and Urdu language at the elementary level in creches, Kashmiri remains a problem.

“Their (creches) efforts are simply focused on enhancing the instructive medium of English and Urdu, instead of Kashmiri language. When the students are not taught anything in their mother tongue, so at the developmental stage when they are alien to the language how can they deal with the subject,” she says.

Sobiya adds that the feedback from students as well as parents is worrisome. “We have a very limited number of teaching materials in the form of language courses and supplementary materials, apart from speech variations in Kashmir. So it is just a herculean task for us.”

Muhammad Yusuf Manzar, Chairman Kashmiri Private Schools Associations says that the association has taken a strong initiative to promote the mother tongue which was becoming alien to the younger generation.

“We have also set some orientation programs to train our general line teachers. Those who were interested appreciated our efforts to make the subject better in both reading and writing. And, we will keep on trying till we will get the best results,” says Manzar, who also owns Iqra Educational Institute High School, Bemina.

Sohail Khan, principal, Greenland Educational Institute, Hawal has a different opinion. “I don’t think that Kashmiri language should be promoted as a compulsory subject at school level. Mostly we see the specialized teachers in this stream are not easily available. We also have Tibetan, Bihari and some Gujjar students both from state and outside who are not interested in Kashmiri,” says Khan.

Inderjeet Singh, a resident of Peer Bagh and, a parent whose daughters study in a private school echoes the opinion.

“My daughter secured two marks out of twenty in the unit test even after tuitions at home. What is the fun to make the Kashmiri language compulsory for our kids, when it has no acceptance outside the state.”

Dr Azeez Hajni, president of Adbi Markaz Kamraz, a social organization which advocated and hailed introduction of Kashmiri in schools, says, “Mother tongue in education is to help the student to know him or herself efficiently. So, it should be appreciated and if it has certain shortcomings, the concerned schools should try to point these out. As the subject is newly introduced so it would take a few years to make it more student-friendly.”

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