Sheikh Mujtaba, 18, a class twelfth biochemistry student from Lachipora in Uri’s Boniyar block, can’t receive the WhatsApp message from his school until he treks to the top of the nearby mountain. That is how he is able to catch 2G signals on his phone and access online classes.
Sheikh Mujtaba is not alone. Along with him are his friends and students of various classes from primary to university level and also teachers from surrounding villages. Against a backdrop of dense lush green mountains, students squat in straight lines to catch signal while ensuring physical distance.
The small sliding tin roofs of houses, the vast golden rice fields and dense cornfields are the sights below the unconventional open-air classroom that apparently lack a teacher. Birds hop and swing on branches of trees, the raven’s voice echoes in the silent dense jungle and at foothills, the brooks rush and roar.
As the cool fresh breeze flips the pages of the book of the 12-year- old Shahid, a student of the sixth standard, he turns his head upwards and smiles with a sigh of relief: “My examinations are over. I have to return the phone to my elder brother and then I will play.”
Shahid’s pastime these days involves climbing walnut trees in the village with his friends. His hands bear brown stains from harvesting of walnuts.
From a distance, his hands look hennaed, as if he has come from a wedding event.
His senior, Shakeel Ahmed Sheikh, a seventh-grader, travels more than two kilometres for online classes. “My uncle apprised me about the better connectivity at a higher altitude. But I am scared of shooting stones, landslides in rains and snakes,” said Shakeel, who uses his uncle’s mobile phone for his classes.
“From 10 am to 4 pm I have online classes. At times I cannot go home for lunch. Either I bring food along with me or I eat junk food”. Reclining on a rock Sheikh Mujtaba chats with his teacher in the school WhatsApp group.
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