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An Inclusive Model of Education

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Noorul Uloom Education Society runs 11 schools today, with 35% Hindu students.

By Eram Agha

Aligarh: In restive, communally-divided western Uttar Pradesh, wracked by repeated riots and violence, education is what unites Hindus and Muslims. Noorul Uloom Education Society was started in 1989 for the educational and cultural advancement of Muslims with the full support of local Hindus. Today, some Muslims sponsor education of those Hindus who cannot afford it. Their apex school has 52% Hindu and 48% Muslim students.
The first school was set up under a tree on the land of a poor Hindu farmer, Mann Singh, with the help of another local, Ramzan Khan. This led to a two-room arrangement in the house of another Hindu, Lal Singh, of Kumrai village. Lal gave the rooms for the cause, free of rent for two years. Another local Hindu, Bhola Singh, donated Rs 10,000 when the organization was in its infancy.
Over the years, a Muslim named Jaswant Singh (in parts of Uttar Pradesh, it is common to find Muslims with Hindu names) has been actively involved in buying land at reasonable rates from Hindus and Muslims to build schools. “Introducing the benefits of education to our children will only help us in many ways. How can we not come together for a cause like this?” said Jaswant.

An Inclusive Model of Education
The best way to get rid of societal ills, feels the society’s secretary Nafees Ahmad, is to have an inclusive model of education. “When we started the movement, we got heart-warming help from Hindus who not only contributed in whatever way they could, but also sent their children to study,” he added.
Noorul Uloom runs 11 schools today, with 35% Hindu students. In the main school at Parsara village, 52% of the students are Hindu. The fee starts from as low as Rs 230 per month for the junior classes to Rs 700 for class XI-XII (Arts) and Rs 800 (Science).

Low Fees
In the rest of the schools run by the organization, which are overseen by the basic Shiksha Adhikari, the fee is as low as Rs 100 per month.
The fee structure has been kept nominal, in view of the general poverty of locals. “There was once an attempt to hike fees, but this increased the dropout rate. We tried to address that by introducing sponsorship for those who can’t afford fees. So Muslims also fund education of Hindus,” said Arif Rizvi, a member of Noorul Uloom.
The Pradhan of Parsara village, Shishupal Singh, and social activists have also been consistently supportive. “In effect, because of the organization, all of us are working for the cause of education,” Shishupal said.
Social activist, Dara Singh said both communities have united to target the high dropout rate of girls, as well as boys engaged as child labourers. “The majority of the local population are marginal farmers or landless agricultural labourers. Their children drop out frequently to work on farms. That is an issue we are trying to address,” he added.
The change is apparent. In interior villages, where till a few years ago parents were not willing to send their daughters to school, girls now number more than 39% of students. There are other encouraging indicators. In one of the schools, out of the total 623 students, OBCs number 180, while SCs and STs number 48.