Located in Breswana village of Jammu and Kashmir, the Haji Public School (HPS) is known far and wide in the state for the kind of education it has to offer. An area where the concept of education was almost unknown for over 30 years has now become a place where families relocate just so that their kids can study in HPS. This is how!
When Imran’s parents first brought him to the Haji Public School located in the village of Breswana, Jammu and Kashmir, he found it difficult to get admission due to his inability to keep up in class. His parents had traveled for one and a half hours from a nearby village with the sole intention of getting their child admitted to HPS.
Even though Imran was in the 7th grade then, his father agreed to pull him down one class, just so that he could cope with the level at Haji Public School. At that time, the school had classes running only till the 6th grade. His father vowed to prepare him over the winter and bring him back, not willing to give up on a good education for his son.
This is the level of education that the Haji family has managed to provide to children of remote villages in Jammu and Kashmir. In an area where the concept of education had been profusely scarce for over 30 years, the Haji family has been able to build a school which provides education at par with any other renowned school from the rest of the country.
Haji Public School – The Yesterday
Hailing from Breswana village of Doda district in Jammu and Kashmir, the Haji family has always been tied to its roots. When Mohammed Saleem Haji, the President of the Managing Committee of Haji Public School, moved to Dubai for work, he made sure that he brought his family back to Breswana every summer. Thus his daughter, Sabbah Haji, always carried her ancestral home with herself, even though she was not to live there until 2008. She is the Director of Haji Public School.
It was in 2008, when the family had been based out of Dubai and Bangalore for over a decade, that the Amarnath struggle of Jammu and Kashmir broke out. Saleem Haji’s wife, Tasneem Haji, who is the Principal of Haji Public School, witnessed her hometown, Kishtwar, being severely affected during the struggle. It was then that Sabbah Haji, who was in Bangalore then, decided to move to Breswana and join her parents there.
Doda district already had a Haji Amina Charity Trust built by Sabbah Haji’s uncle, Nasir Haji, in 2005. Nasir Haji is an established philanthropist-businessman who lives in Singapore, but is just as culturally attached to his village as the rest of the family. Funded by him, this trust provides assistance to the poor, orphans, widowers and the disabled.
One evening in 2008, when they were in Doda, Nasir Haji called. He said that the monthly funds being sent were not really having a grave impact on the people. Juxtaposed against this, the lack of an academic atmosphere in the region was almost tangible. For about 3 decades, Doda district went by with barely an ounce of education to feed the knowledge-hungry. The government schools did not function and there were almost no private schools there. Owing to this, Nasir Haji decided that he would send magnanimous amounts of funds regularly, for a school to be set up.
Since it started on 4th May 2009, the Haji Public School has just one objective – to impart knowledge to those children who cannot avail of the academic facilities being provided to others, in more accessible cities. The cause was so strong that the village inhabitants helped build the school brick by brick. They wrote a petition which allowed the Haji family to start a school.
With no building to call their own initially, they worked out of two rooms in their ancestral house itself. They started at the ground level, teaching only the lower and upper kindergarten students. Over the winter of 2008, Sabbah Haji and Tasneem Haji trained two boys from the village in order to turn them into teachers. With Sabbah’s strong and disciplined work ethic from Bangalore and Tasneem’s crucial 30 years’ worth teaching and school administration experience, they began the Haji Public School with about 25 kids.
Today, the school has its own building and it is growing every year. The kids who started with the school in 2009, are now in the 7th grade. The school asks for a nominal amount as fee – INR 100 for the lower classes and INR 150 for the higher classes. This has been done deliberately to ensure that parents of the kids feel a sense of entitlement towards the school. Still, since it is an extremely poverty-stricken area, on the recommendation of Saleem Haji who knows each and every family in the district, about 33% of the families who cannot afford the fee are provided with free education.
The school now has 320 students, from Lower KG to the 7th grade. They do not accept students in the higher classes because the kids are unable to cope with the pace of the class. Most new students accepted are in the kindergarten classes. They also have a rule which states that if there are 3 siblings in a family, the girl sibling will receive free education. If there is no girl child, then the youngest boy receives free education.
They work with volunteers also. The local staff members are capable of teaching till the 2nd grade only. Thus the higher classes require more qualified hands to take care of the children. The volunteer programme at the Haji Public School has volunteers coming in from all around the world to teach the kids.
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The volunteers are not paid, but they are provided with food and lodging.
The school is also expanding now. With their main branch in Breswana, they have built two more branches in the nearby villages. Today, families from other villages as well as cities, relocate just so that they can gain access to the kind of education Haji Public School provides. There are students who walk for one and half or two hours to get to the school.
One of the greatest changes Sabbah has seen in the kids has been the rise in their confidence levels. Most children were so shy, they would barely utter a word earlier. But now they are much more confident and self-assured as individuals.
This is so because the school is providing them with facilities that they probably won’t receive elsewhere. There is a wall climbing area, a computer lab, and a playing ground, amongst other co-curricular resources such as music players in the school. The fact that the school has volunteers from across the world provides the children with the unique experience of a multi-fold learning process.
The biggest setback faced by the school is the lack of good faculty. It is imperative that there be teachers all around the year. Therefore, they ask volunteers to notify them beforehand and come for a minimum of 3 months so that children can receive a committed level of guidance. People from the city cannot afford to dedicate that much time. The local population, even the graduates who apply for a faculty post, are not qualified enough to be able to provide the children with the kind of education level that HPS has been maintaining up till now. Teachers from other countries sometimes have a tough time understanding the culture of the village. As HPS never compromises on quality, Sabbah or Tasneem take over the classes when there aren’t enough good teachers.
Then there is the problem of funds. Although the school rests entirely on Nasir Haji’s fund now, it is desperately trying to come up with a sustainable model which can keep the school running for years to come.
They are, therefore, looking for some kind of funding to keep moving forward.
The lack of assistance from the government is gravely disrupting the functioning of the school. When they began, they hoped that their model would be replicated everywhere because of its need. Not only is there no provision for subsidy, even gaining permission has become a mammoth task for the school. They require permission from the government at every major step – 1st grade, 5th grade and now, the 8th grade.
The school prepares the paper work well in advance and sends it across. However, where the government is supposed to give them a verdict within 15 days, it has been 3 years and the school has been waiting for a ‘yes’. This implies that the kids of HPS, who are now in the 7th grade, will be forced to go to a government school next year if the permission is still not granted.
There is also no provision for an internet access in the region. Sabbah Haji believes that being connected through the internet will solve a lot of problems for them.
“If we had good internet, I could even do remote classes, so I wouldn’t have the problem of staffing. My friends could sit in cities and have Skype chats with kids, which would help so much. This is something the government is not even considering.” – Sabbah Haji
Not only are they aiming to expand till the 12th grade, they also want to set up a college. They already have a land on which they wish to set up such an institution and they have no qualms if other organizations are willing to partake in the project.
HPS is hoping to get more and more volunteers and is even willing to pay teachers a salary if they wish to work full time. They ask people who have a desire to teach, to come and explore, and help the children.
Imran came back after the winter, for the next session and cleared the entrance exam. He is now a happy student at Haji Public School.