Overcoming Challenges for an Educated World

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It took three friends a saving of `328, a hand-planted mango tree which was used for school benches and an unbreakable resolve to revolutionise the state of minority education in Valpoi, Goa. This is a story of Shaikh Sulaiman Karol, Mustafa Aga and Mubarak Ali Khan’s struggle, their optimism and their spirit of rising above all odds

he circumstances became the inspiration behind the setting up of United Education Society, Unity High School and the Unity Primary School in Valpoi, Goa. Since there were no options available for primary education in the village for minority groups, children had to look for admissions in another school in a village situated 20 km away from Valpoi. It was as a measure to address this situation faced by Muslim students in the village that led three friends – Shaikh Sulaiman Karol, Mustafa Aga and Mubarak Ali Khan – to establish an educational institution for the betterment of the village and its children.

The journey, of course, was not smooth. After several stumbling blocks, Sulaiman and his friends managed to secure permission to start schooling for students of fifth standard. This hap- pened with the help of political leaders and they started off with a batch of 25 students.
“Ours is definitely a story of struggle as there were only three active members in the committee. Our financial condition was also a challenge, as we had only `328 as our savings together,” recollects Sulaiman.

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Mustafa Aga then took charge of making benches for the school. “For this, he sacrificed his hand-planted mango tree,” says Sulaiman. The branches of this tree were used to make benches for the school. Sulaiman took the initiative to teach and was not paid for it. These are instances of sacrifice which should have inspired the entire community. However, even after continued efforts, rumors were rife that the initiative would not survive six months and the parents were extremely hesitant to admit their wards.

Things took a turn for the better and the story of the struggle of three friends soon turned into that of success. The United Education Society was founded in October 1978, the Unity High School in 1982 and the Unity Primary School in 1993. Today, the schools offer pre- primary (English medium), primary (English and Konkani) and secondary school (English) education in three language formulas of English, Konkani and a choice between Hindi and Urdu. Moreover, the school also offers prevocational courses, which are the most sought after.

From a staff strength of two teachers in 1982, the school today has a rich faculty of 30. The student intake too has also risen and the boys to girls’ ratio is 3:1. The school also offers a special scheme for women students where the top ten rankers are given free uniforms and `500 in scholarship.
Over the years, Sulaiman and his friends have had to undertake house- to-house counselling for parents to explain the importance of education. These campaigns have also expanded to other causes such as the mid-day meal scheme, Right to Education, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the adverse effects of child labour.

Imparting quality education in tune with today’s time and needs is no easy job. The biggest challenge for the school today is to get qualified and skilled teach- ers. Added to this is the lack of funds and the lack of support by the govern- ment. These operational challenges are hurdles but Sulaiman does not believe in letting them get the better of him. “Despite all odds, we are confident that our students will definitely match the required standards,” remarks Sulaiman. In standards IX and X, students are provided carreer guidance and the school has also started courses in hotel man- agement and restaurant and CGDCM.
“The Central and state government have not given enough support to promote minority education,” he says. As Prime Minister, Sulaiman and his friends expect Narendra Modi to increase the budget for education and allow minority groups to open colleges and universities with 100 per cent grant, and also seek reservation for minorities in professional and non-professional institutions.

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