The 4G internet services in the state of Jammu & Kashmir (“J&K”) are set to be restored after a 550-day long internet ban. The internet ban was imposed on 9th August 2019 to prevent the backlash arising due to the abrogation of Article 370 which provided special status to J&K. After imposing the longest internet shutdown in the history of democracy, on 24 January 2020 the government partially allowed internet services with a relatively decreased bandwidth. However, due to several long-standing protests and innumerable petitions in the apex court during the lockdown, the government had taken down the ban and allowed the internet with relatively lower bandwidth (2G speed only despite the allowance of 4G in other parts of the country).
The COVID-19 pandemic compelled educational institutions across the nation to close down. This led to the switching of online mode of classes so that the education of students is not hampered. However, due to the longstanding internet ban, online education was more than a myth in digitally starved regions like J&K. Not only the students but also the teachers in Kashmir faced the same problem as the common interactive software and apps (Google Meet, Zoom, etc.) require 4G internet services for functional stability.
Under such circumstances, where continuing with teaching becomes impracticable, the educational institutions are left with no options for the timely completion of the prescribed syllabus than to reduce the syllabus. The state board of education in J&k had significantly reduced the syllabus by 40% for students appearing in high school and intermediate board examinations. Although reducing the syllabus might reduce the burden on the students, it will have an adverse impact on the overall learning process. Moreover, such an option is not available to the students appearing in the national level examinations depriving them of several opportunities.
In some cases, educational institutions prescribe remedial classes for the completion of the syllabus. However, according to the Director of school education (J&K), classes are conducted in a manner that they do not benefit students in terms of learning and are just a mere formality.
Moreover, several studies reveal that long-standing educational breaks lead to a decline in achievement scores on returning to the classroom. In the present case, the COVID-19 lockdown coupled with the internet shutdown has proved to be severely detrimental for learning and development and is unsettling for students. Also, it makes the task of reorienting to regular school-time routine more challenging.
A recent study by the World Bank indicates that 5 months of school shutdown can result in 0.6 years of school learning loss. Extrapolating the said estimates to the present situation reveals that the students in J&K have suffered approximately 1.8 years of school learning loss and will continue to suffer until proper internet services are continued in the region.
The Supreme Court of India in the landmark case of Unnikrishnan JP vs State of Andhra Pradesh & Othersheld that Education is a part and parcel of the Right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This led to the insertion of Article 21A into the Indian constitution which recognized the Right to Education as a Fundamental Right.
Moreover, in a recent move, the UN has recognized the right to the internet as a basic human right under Article 19 of the UDHR. Recently, in a bid to sync with India’s international commitments, the Kerala High court in the case of Faheema Shirin vs the State of Kerala held that access to the internet is a fundamental right and is interconnected with the right to education. The court also noted that in today’s digital world making the internet inaccessible is exclusionary on various levels.
To conclude, we would like to emphasize that according to the2011 census, the literacy rate of J&K is 67.16% as compared to the national average of 74.04%. This ban is most likely to increase the existing gap by depriving the students of access to education. Although 4G Internet services are set to be restored in J&K, the damage that has already been done will take a long time to heal.
*Milind Rajratnam and Avinash Kumar Yadav: Milind is a third-year law undergraduate at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. His area of interest includes Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Public Policy. He can be reached at [email protected]. Avinash Kumar Yadav is a third-year student at National Law University, Delhi. He has a keen interest in Human Rights issues and constitutional law.