Community Initiative

Villagers in Syed Ali Geelani’s Duroo village donated land and resource to create a co-education institution that has a grand mix of science and faith as part of its curriculum and has more than 800 students, reports Faheem Mir

Unique Educational Institute (UEI) in Duroo, on outskirts of Sopore, is a special school in real means. Established in December 2006, with 49 students, it is now doing wonders. It has 890 students on its roll now.

Duroo, almost 65 km north of Srinagar, is part of the vast Zainageer belt that medieval Kashmir king Budshah gave name, fame and a canal that still irrigates the lush green paddy fields and the apple orchards. The school, in fact, is located in that ideal medieval setting with winsome scenery and green surroundings.

It took UEI, more than 14 years to emerge as a model school in the belt. Now, it is a Higher Secondary offering quality education from primary up to twelfth standard. School managers say the school is running more on donations of residents rather than tuition fees of the enrolled lot. “Our fees are much less in comparison to other schools,” one of the managers said. It is a co-ed facility.

On a sunny morning, a few hundred students in neat uniforms were lined up, the girls were on the right side and the boys towards the left, in the vast school lawns that double up as its main playing space. Morning assembly was a display of discipline, marked with prayers and speeches by the students. Prayers over, the students paraded to their classrooms. It was back to the routine: lower classes slightly little noisy than the higher classes, almost quite listening to every single word the teachers said.

It was in 2006-07 when the residents felt the requirement of a better school. It was sort of local movement and people donated 52 Kanals of their prime land. It was the Falah-e-Millat Trust that managed the basic spadework. As the school started taking off, the school administration would run the show as the 13-member Trust got in the background. Gradually it started impacting the outcome with administration and accountability taking a hit.

“It was on the insistence of the community that the Trust was revived and a new system was created and it is bearing fruit,” Dr Naseem Geelani, said. Son of separatist leader and a Dooru resident Syed Ali Geelani, Naseem, a SKUAST (K) teacher, is part of the upkeep mechanism of the school. “The Trust has its own chairman and other office bearers and I am just a member who is involved in the upkeep of the overall systems. I do not take and I do not need any income from this. This is purely a community initiative and a public property and is not a personal fief of anybody.”

Naseem said he is just a voluntary supervisor. “We constituted committees for purchase, constructions, academics and other things and it is smoothly working,” Naseem said. “We changed our fleet and now we have 13 buses, 11 of them, debt financed by Mahindra and Tata. The fleet will be debt free in six years.” He said the school has in place a yearly appraisal system for students, teachers and the voluntary works who put in great effort in keeping the institute running.

The infrastructure of the school envisages more than 50 rooms, nearly 30 washrooms and a playground spread over 34 kanals of the area. But Naseem said it is inadequate. “We need to put in more resource in the buildings and the laboratories,” he said.

In a year, the school collects and spends around Rs 1.5 crore. “But all the construction activity is community donated,” Naseem said. “The institute works with low fees but there is a fee fixation committee and we want to take it to the sustainable level.”

The fee structure is on the lower side and for the community, this is a big plus. But the management now says the low fees mean low income that will impact the long-term sustainability. Currently, it costs parents Rs 570 upto the eighth standard, Rs 810 upto matriculation and then Rs1300 for eleventh and twelfth classes. This is even much lower than the costs, parents pay to the family held schools in the Sopore town.

Students of Unique Educational Institute.

The low fee structure has not helped the management to improve the wage structure. It is also low: between Rs 4500 to Rs 10,000. It has more than 60 well-qualified teaching staff and 20 others in various managerial positions. The pupil-teacher ratio is 18:1.

When the school started, there was a concession for the residents; they will be charged half of the tuition and admission fees. The promise was made but not implemented. “Now it is the financial health of the school that may eventually decide on this,” Naseem said.

But the students enrolled in UEI are not from Duroo alone. They come from many other adjacent villages across Zainageer and some even from Kupwara and Bandipora. It apparently is the system of education that might be attracting the students. With English, as the medium of instruction, the school has Arabic an additional subject to secondary standard. They teach Islamic studies as a subject alongside Hindi. In addition to the Board of School Education curriculum, the UEI offers Hifz of Quran, Hadith and Tafseer-e-Quran as subjects as well.

With science as subject, English as the medium of instruction, and various faith and moral education as other subjects, UEI makes a grand mix of education. “We are seriously thinking of constructing two hostels – one each for boys and girls so that we make it a residential school,” Naseem said. “We are keen to have a centre for coaching in the competitive examinations.”

The results are not bad. Since 2009, when the school was upgraded to a secondary school, the pass percentage in matriculation is 100 per cent. Even after two more classes were added, the ranking in both the board examinations remained unchanged. In 70 per cent of the cases, Ayoub said, the UEI students get better result rankings. So far, the UEI has sent eight candidates for MBBS, three BUMS, and two to engineering colleges. This is in addition to many others who have opted for other professional courses in different fields.

“The administration is trying to introduce more streams in the higher secondary level,” the principal in charge, Auyoob Abdullah, said. “We have started a scholarship programme for the needy students in which we intend to offer free education to the deserving students.” Teachers said they send the students for interactions with the students and management of better schools in Srinagar city to pick up the best practices.

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