Educator Par Excellence

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A trained engineer and a passionate teacher holds his class in an open ground well before the sunrise and this model of teaching in a pandemic is a smash hit, reports  Syed Samreen

Students in the ‘Open-Air Class’ at Eidgah ground. The early morning class was started by an engineer turned educator Muneer Alam who treks a long distance to reach the grounds for teaching students voluntarily. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Muneer Alam wakes up early in the morning even before the first light cracks and rushes to Srinagar’s Eidgah grounds. He goes there not for a stroll, but for something he considers he was born to do. Muneer is an engineer by training and a  mathematics teacher by profession.

Early in the morning, Muneer sets off to teach a group of enthusiastic students.

At 5 am Alam reaches the location with all the necessary items needed to conduct a proper class. He carries whiteboards, an aisle, marker pens, study notes and, off course, a chair for himself.

Soon after Muneer arrives, one by one, students carrying their notebooks and pens show up. They sit on plastic sheets and sometimes on chairs too. They bring these items along with their school bags. The physical distance is duly maintained keeping in view the Covid-19 precautionary measures. The mathematics class goes on until the shaft of sunlight is too hot to resist.

Alam’s idea of an open-air classroom was a success. Personally, he owns a coaching institute namely Gaash. Since the revocation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, he has not been able to conduct the classes normally. However, this year, he had some hope left that some sort of normalcy would return and the education sector would get back on track. But to everyone’s surprise, the Covid-19 pandemic besieged everyone.

In the previous lockdowns, Alam used to go door to door, asking his students to resume classes. But somehow, this time he couldn’t even see his pupils physically.

From Rags to Riches

“The online classes couldn’t make up for the loss students have already faced. I had created WhatsApp groups where I used to send audio clips, videos and files but to me, it wasn’t an effective way of learning as not everyone has a Smartphone. Besides, students residing outside Srinagar would face difficulty in keeping up with the classes due to frequent internet gags,” the teacher said.

In comparison to all these tool and technologies, the teacher said the idea of an open-air classroom took care of the education of the students as well as their safety. Once he was convinced that it is something that is workable, he just was ready for the take-off. He got in touch with the students and started making preparations for the open-air classroom. He was happy to find that the students were desperate to have some classwork so that they manage coming out of “paralyzing” on-line that was merely a garble on the phone.

Worth mentioning here, the model has been in vogue across Kashmir periphery, mostly in the villages. The teachers of almost all the schools in villages take the students to open, shady places and teach them for many hours. Owing to the lack of adequate open space and mounting concerns of the parents, Srinagar could barely join the movement.

In the first few days, Alam trained his students about proper sanitization and precautionary protocol.

“Even before the advisories came, I had told my students to necessarily wear a mask. They carry their own sanitizers and sitting rugs,” Alam said.  “I ensure they adhere to the precautionary measures so much that they sanitize their hands even before and after opening their books. I make sure that my students sit at a 4-5 meter distance.” It takes courage to be a student in Kashmir, he insisted, in the backdrop of the fact that whatever happens in Kashmir, the first target is the education.

“Our students have seen a lot of uncertainty. My idea was not just to give mathematics lessons to them, rather give them a chance to interact with one another as they’ve had a really tough time,” Alam said.

He thinks that it is his responsibility to find out ways in which students can compensate for the lost time and classwork. ”If only a teacher knew what he was born to do, not a single student would suffer. I see this as my responsibility to teach in whatever way I can. The morning classes have two shifts with 30-40 students each but I have never kept the class restricted to select students. Anyone can come and join us for free.”  Alam asserted.

Students in the ‘Open-Air Class’ at Eidgah ground in wake of lockdown imposed to curb the spread of deadly Coronavirus, in Srinagar. Muneer Alam, a mathematician has taken an initiative to teach students in an open ground of Eidgah in downtown Srinagar following all Covid-19 SOP’s, in the wee hours of a day, to avoid further academic loss of students following the abrogation of Article 370 and CovidD-19 lockdown. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

In Alam, the students have found a guide and a hero. Aiman Jan, a student of Government Girls’ Higher Secondary School Zadibal is highly satisfied with the classes. A resident of Nowshera, she attends the morning open-air class every day. ”I was really worried about my education. I am a non-medical student and go to study physics and mathematics regularly. In the beginning, we had fears of contracting the virus but since the first day, we followed the safety protocols. We sit at a distance, sanitize our hands and carry our belongings every day so that we don’t use each other’s items” she said.

Alam intends to carry on the morning classes till the routine classes resume. ”Since I’m doing this for the greater good and for the betterment of our students, I will continue it until normalcy returns. I want to offer every help to the extraordinarily talented youth of Kashmir. They have no idea what towering heights they can reach,” he said.

By the way, Alam is not charging anybody. He understands the state of the economy. His early morning classes are free with no discrimination. 

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