Seven friends since school who were equally appalled by the state of abject poverty and lack of educational facilities around them set up an organisation called MESCO, recollects Dr M A Khatkhatay, General Secretary and a founder member. Over four and a half decades later, they continue to inspire and assist the cause of education. Excerpts from an interview
What was the inspiration behind setting up MESCO?
The founders, most of whom were friends in school, kept in touch with each other over the years. They met at each other’s houses during Ramzan. At one such meeting, the idea was floated that if they could be engaged in some activity to help poor students, they could probably combine their individual efforts in a more organised way. It was this thought that led to the establishment of the society, Modern Educational Social and Cultural Education (MESCO). All of the founders were pursuing different professions, they all hailed from middle class families, were equally appalled by poverty and together decided to establish schools, colleges, technical institutions, hostels and other institutions. Their aim was to provide high quality education on a non-commercial basis and impart value-based education to all sections of the community.
What was the situation before your institution came into being?
The founders initially tried to raise funds and started off by giving out school text books on loan and also subsidising the cost of notebooks for the less fortunate around. They started raising funds through ingenious ways by collecting old newspapers, selling icecream and Eid cards apart from collecting donations and membership fees. Soon, it was changed into a comprehensive Educational Adoption Scheme (EAS). How ever, when this failed to give enough opportunity to children to be developed holistically, the founders launched MES- CO Education Society in 1977 with the objective of setting up educational institutions beginning with a school. The Crescent English High School in Thane was initiated in 1993. Secondly, in the selected area of Kausa near Mumbra in Thane, there was not a single good quality educational institution. MESCO currently runs the Crescent English High School at Kausa, vocational train- ing centres at Dharavi and Kausa and a chain of English medium nursery schools in the Mumbai slums.
What are the problems faced by minority educational institutions?
Many administrators lack vision and professional approach. Also, many of them do not have a consistent long-term strategy and HR policy while improper infrastructure and financial instability also affect their popularity. Also, most minority institutions do not have a clear road map to make themselves self-sufficient.
What were the challenges for management?
Attracting and retaining good staff, including the head of the institution, and complying with all legal requirements for establishing a school is always a challenge. Also, developing self-sufficiency for the institution and keeping it that way is an additional challenge, especially when the target group we cater to comes from an economically and socially backward background.
What are your expectations from the new government?
We feel that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should continue supporting minority education. The Sachar Committee report has implicitly revealed that minorities are the worst off in terms of educational attainments. Even the SC and ST communities fare better in this regard. I believe the time has come to give a concerted and multi-faceted impetus to the minorities particularly Muslim minorities which are the largest in this group, to bring them at par, if not ahead, of the status of the SC and ST communities. Skill development is one particular area which requires serious attention because it can help a vast number of students who do not pursue education beyond high school. Youngsters from the minority communities who are into handicraft (cottage industries) and artisans down several generations should also be targeted.
What are your suggestions to improve the education status of minorities?
The government should publicise various welfare schemes. More importantly, all welfare schemes of the central government should be time-bound. This entails a process where any application of grant-in-aid should be sanctioned or rejected within 6 months after the date of submission. Funds sanctioned under central schemes should be directly transferred to the NGO’s accounts, like the scheme of cash in lieu of subsidy through Aadhar card.