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- Disciplined students of the school

Social entrepreneurship in education may be a challenge but Nazir Ahmed’s passion, persistence and discipline has made the imposible possible. Today he is chairman of the Himalayan Development Organisation, a local NGO that initiated a school, named Himalayan Children’s Academy, in 2005. The school has a mission of spreading education for the long-term development of this region, the Kushnat Village in District Astore of Gilgit-Biltistan.

The school mainly serves students from the low-income households in the region. It has a modern infrastructure with sufficient facilities for learning and development and offers quality-education for nominal fees.

Having received his higher education from Karachi University and the Azad Kashmir University, Nazir Ahmed returned to his village to find a job as lecturer at a government college there. Subsequently, he received encouragement from some wise people from his community to set up a private school in his village that would cater to both girls and boys. At the time, the only schools providing decent education in the area were located at a distance from Kushnat, in Astore and Gilgit, and sending children, especially girls to study there while staying in hostels was very impractical or not feasible anyway.

Nazir too like the youth of his village who migrate to urban areas for higher education and later prefer settling in the big cities could have opted for the same but he opted to take up the mission of educating the underprivileged students of his village.

He took on a big challenge by starting the school in an area where the illiteracy rate among mothers is 99 per cent. “I have since then been motivating the mothers here to send their children to school. And that is how slowly and gradually the enrolment has increased here,” says Nazir Ahmed.

The school started with 38 students in elementary classes in 2005 and the enrolment has increased to 235 this year. The school has grown in terms of infrastructure, resources and teachers as well. The tuition fee is nominal. Also the school offers free education to some 15 per cent students who are orphans and unable to pay the fee. The rest belong to the low-income class. Most of their parents are associated with agriculture and farming.

The area with a population of 4,000 didn’t have any schools that offered classes to girls at the middle and matric level. The Himalayan Children’s Academy was the first school in this locality offering classes to girls at this level. It is affiliated with the Karakoram International University Board.

Emphasising on maintaining local cultural values in teaching as well as in the behavior of students and teachers, the school has the children standing up to welcome their teachers by collectively wishing them all a “good morning” or “good afternoon” the moment the teachers enter a class.

Although co-education, it also has separate classes for girls. The students here also celebrate many universal events such as Mother’s Day, Earth Day, etc., and this is how they become a part of the global community without having to give up their local tradition.

The observance of Islamic tradition in dress and deeds is an integral part of this society and the school observes similar customs.

One of the English textbooks of grade seven has a complete chapter on the 2005 earth quake that severely hit the northern areas of Pakistan. Reading about the natural calamity helps the students maintain a link with their geography while also preparing themselves to deal with any such natural disaster in a better way.

The social studies syllabus broadly focuses on the topography of this region. It includes glaciers, valleys, mountain ranges, rivers, and bridges and comprehending the text, the students feel a kind of personal integration with their environment and infrastructure.

The wall posters and charts hung on the classroom walls include the academic calendar with the selected days for holding events. One chart sent by the education department of Gilgit-Baltistan denounces corporal punishment. It says that the teachers and school authorities should focus more on counseling the difficult students rather than resort to drastic measures. There is a policy of helping the children “learn without fear” at the school.

The school building and classrooms are made of concrete and cement. The students get to sit on proper wooden tables and chairs. The classrooms have a modern white board, the science and computer labs are all fully equipped with the tools of modern education.

The school has a philosophy of education based on innovation. The educators here have to develop “tailor-made teaching materials” as the school adopts a result-oriented approach. It believes in the continuous increase in knowledge and character building. Debates are regular events here.

Positive contribution from the teachers also doesn’t go unnoticed. There is the “Best Cooperative Teacher” award for them to vie for. Outstanding students, too, receive regular awards for their good performance and conduct. In order to encourage the participation of mothers in education and the training of students, the school also has the annual “Most Cooperative Mother” award.

The faculty is sufficiently educated to teach. Most of the teachers are enrolled in higher education while focusing on developing their skills through teachers’ training programmes. They are also encouraged to read books and come up with ways to increase the level of students’ participation in the classroom that goes a long way in developing leadership skills in them. The administration, teachers, mothers and students come about as a team in the education process.

Donations are also encouraged as books, uniforms, notebooks, shoes and other material is offered free of charge to the poor students of the school. And that is how this institution of learning serves as a model for the educated youth of rural areas who may carry a desire to play a leading role in community development.

The writer, a research analyst, teaches management sciences at the Institute of Cost and Management Accountants of Pakistan, Karachi

Comments (9) Closed

Agha Ata USA) Jul 17, 2011 05:57pm
Dear Nazir, this is the noblest of all passions that you have. I also hope you would teach what is true, and correct, and NOT just what is popular but unscientific. I am sure you can read between the lines! Good Luck.
Naeem Qureshi Jul 18, 2011 08:40am
What a heart warming story. AS long as there are people like Nazir Pakistan has a bright future. Thank you Nazir
haider Jul 18, 2011 10:16am
Great work....
SAM Jul 18, 2011 10:26am
Dear Mr. Agha Ata, Your encouragement of Mr. Nazir's effort is admirable, such efforts need not only verbal encouragement but material encouragement as well. I'm sure you would be able to find evidences for material encouragement in scientific methods. It is easy to sit thousands of miles away in another culture with a different upbringing and make judgements about what is popular or correct. Seen from your prism a lot here would be popular but unscientifc. Opening minds to pluralism is one way to embrace what people believe in. I am sure you can read between the lines, Good Luck !
Ahsen Jul 18, 2011 11:08am
Dear Agha, Reading between the lines can be dangerous. Be clear and not shy of what you mean. Let not another conspiracy start here. Dear Nazir, teaching the individuals of our country is not only a very nobel task but will change the fabric of our society who is in the hands of illiterate people be it be religious or political. Teaching them what we are is important ie true knowledge of Quran, enabling them to understand and make decisions for their good and bad and the teaching that will make these people an important part of the society by participating in development and growth of the country. I know this a long and arduous task and I salute you for taking up this big challenge. I hope you can join hands with The Citizen Foundation, who are already actively getting funds from across the world. This will surely help you to boost up your mission. I am personally a fan of these great people in our country who are working for the good against all odds no matter how small a change that will bring, but positive.
Shakeel GHORI Jul 18, 2011 03:13pm
the compaign which MR NAZIR has initiated is commendable. teaching is considered as the most respected and noblest occupation of the world. and in addition, the area,high in illiteracy rate, where he has started your efforts is really very remarkable and demands a great deal of appreciation. he must be helped by some human development organizations.
The Marching Morons Jul 18, 2011 03:15pm
What Pakistan needs is “Education” at all grounds; pure, unbiased and which encourages the thinking process – not one specific type of education (aka true knowledge of religion, etc) which inhibits the critical thinking and plants radical thoughts in new generation.
msiddiqi Jul 18, 2011 11:44pm
Excellent effort by Nazir Sahab and well published by Zafar Mehdi. Really a heart touching and heart warming article, one cannot resist responding to such great efforts. This effort must be propagated in all backward areas of Pakistan.
Abdul Wahid Jul 19, 2011 10:56pm
Assalam-o-alikum I congratulate Mr.Nazir that he is doing a great virtue and i believe may Allah will reward him for this.I think he should contact official authorities to establish more institution in his area.I pray for this desire.