In a state where people invent excuses to take a day off from work, a government teacher in a south Kashmir village has employed teachers by paying their salary from his own pockets and helping poor children get free education, Umer Beigh reports.
Every day, he arrives at the school one hour before the schedule with a hope to make a change. He gives eight classes per day and is the last of the staff members to leave the school for his home which is located some twenty kilometers away in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town.
Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh, 47, a teacher in Poshkreeri Government School in Matan area, recalls his past that has changed his perception towards work culture. Since then, he focused his energy towards improving the livelihood of aspiring students from economically backward sections of society who wanted to continue their studies.
This year, Sheikh has managed to finance the education of 15 children who live in Matan area by buying shoes, school uniforms and other necessary belongings for them. More than 100 students are enrolled at the school in Poshkreeri village with a small eight-member staff.
A year ago, the school lacked infrastructure and there was a severe shortage of staff, “Running the school was a tough job. I took a decision to employ two more teachers in this school and paid them a monthly salary of Rs 6000 from my own pocket,” he says.
His intention paid off and it somehow eased the pressure on the teachers and the students, “Instead of myself, I preferred my headmaster to direct them (teachers) to dispel the impression that they were hired by me. This was ensured in the school to maintain a proper atmosphere between them and the rest of staff,” he explains.
Two years have passed since he joined the school and a number of changes have been made. Many students from nearby private schools are shifting to this school. The results became visible when the percentage of students at the school who successfully passed the exams increased to ninety percent.
Sheikh feels satisfied with his approach, “I feel happy when I see kids, especially from poor families doing well in studies and attending regular classes. I am strongly attached with them. I can do anything for them; be it books, stationery or school uniform. Infact, if needed, I can wipe their noses,” he smiles.
He is emotionally so attached with his students that when some of them fail to turn up at the school, he personally visits their houses to inquire about their well-being. His approach towards studies has also changed the attitude of students who cheerfully come to attend the classes at the school.
Sheikh has been working as a government teacher since 1989 after he did B.Ed degree. He was recruited as a clerk in Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Srinagar but he declined the offer and restricted himself to teaching.
Before his posting at Poshkreeri Government School, Sheikh worked at Government Middle School in a far flung village, Larnoo, in Bijbehara. “There were similar problems. More students and lesser teachers. It was from there that I thought of self recruiting teachers to help students. I employed two teachers and paid them Rs 2000 each from my own salary. Actually I don’t want to see my students suffering due to lack of teachers,” he says.
The infrastructure at Poshkreeri Government School is not able to meet the requirement of the growing roll of students. Sometimes two classes are accommodated in a single room. The school building is without a fence. There are no bathrooms or a playground. Sheikh had approached the concerned Zonal Educational Officer along with his staff and informed him about the shortage of teaching staff. But they were told that there was no quota available to employ more teachers at their school. “No one approaches them anymore. We don’t attend their meeting now as we don’t want our students to miss their classes,” he said.
Sheikh believes in the idea of teaching with patience and dedication, “I don’t believe in the idea of corporeal punishment nor have I ever picked the stick. I make the concepts clear and teach them in a play-way method which the students like,” he says.
With his sheer ability and determination, Sheikh has now become an inspiration for many students. It has also earned him respect in far-off villages in south Kashmir. “No doubt these kids have got talent but poverty forces them to drop-out of the schools,” he says.
Sheikh recalled a moment from his past when he was working in another school. He saw a neglected student with ragged, old clothes who was shivering with cold. “I immediately pulled out my sweater and gave it to him. I think that moment affected me deeply to work for the welfare of these poor kids,” he says.