Posting teachers and lecturers on election duty is having an adverse impact on school education, Sheikh Mudasir Amin reports

As yet another election season sets in, Jammu and Kashmir’s School Education Department is busy issuing directions to its employees to join “election training” programmes. In 2018, then education minister Syed Altaf Bukhari said teachers would be exempted from polling duty. Though a formal order was never issued, teachers hoped their schools would no longer remain dysfunctional during polls. Their hope has been dashed now.

“Winter vacations end on March 10, but they might as well keep public schools shut now that they have called teachers for election work,” said Najeeb Rasool, a teacher in Dooru, Anantnag, who wished not to be named.

Rasool, who has been a teacher since 2007, has performed polling duty almost every time for panchayat, municipal, parliamentary and assembly polls.

“Whenever I requested the administration for relief so that my students don’t suffer, I was threatened with dire consequences. I was told the Election Commission of India has the power to terminate the services of any employee who refuses polling duty. We simply cannot refuse whatever is forced upon us. The administration is responsible for a decline in the quality of school education.”

Many teachers are on election duty throughout the year as they are assigned as booth level officers to enroll voters, deliver voter IDs, and look after assembly segments. They also have to do work for their district election cells and all this affects their teaching work.

“I have been made BLO against my will. When I received the order from the district election cell of Anantnag, I refused. I was asked to contact the District Development Commissioner. I met his personal assistant who plainly said my refusal was futile because it was mandatory for a government employee to obey the district election cell’s order,” Muhammad Mujeeb said. “Since I joined as a BLO, I have spent so many days and nights doing election-related work. I often don’t find time to even prepare for my classes.”

Alongside school teachers, lecturers are also used for election work and often enrolled as trainers.

“I no longer see myself as a Political Science lecturer but as an election trainer always working for the district election cell,” said Samir Ahmad. “I should have been with my students instead.”

He said his wife makes fun of me saying he gets salary, not for teaching but for working as an “agent” of the Election Commission.

“I want to teach not train employees for election,” Ahmad said. “But I don’t have a choice.”

And this situation is unlikely to change anytime soon.

“We are simply lame without teachers. Frankly, conducting elections is almost impossible without teachers,” admitted a senior official of the Jammu and Kashmir government. “We always try our best to use other human resources for election work but there are none like teachers. They learn things quickly and work efficiently. We always have problems with polling officers from other departments. They make a mess of things and then our reputation is at stake. So, we go with the safe bet.”

Add to the number of school days lost to strikes and curfews, the absence of teachers from schools for election work, there is hardly time to complete the syllabus.

“I couldn’t complete the syllabus for 12th standard as I was busy working for the district election cell. When the results came, less than 50 percent of my students passed,” Ashiq Hussain, a lecturer in History said. “My increment was stopped and my name figured in so many orders of the School Education Department and that too for no fault of mine.”

Hussain calls for divorcing election and education for the good of students.

 

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