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Published in the 1-15 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Education
Education is the key - iii
By Ahmad Rashid Shervani 

What did I do? 
First of all, the resources. Not a lot, but I did need some money. I told Mr. Mustafa Rashid Shervani, industrialist and philanthropist, what I had found and what I wanted to do about it. Go right ahead, he said, take as much money as you need. Then, the information. I started collecting the Class X board examination results of Muslim high schools in North India. I wrote to each principal, telling them that if they sent me a simple one-page form, duly and completely filled-in, I would send prizes(s) for their best students(s). Thus, I got results from several schools. The average result in 1976 was about 30 per cent pass. Pathetic. The proportion of first divisions was only about 1per cent. Even more pathetic. Miserable. 

...even in my wildest dreams, I had not expected so much improvement. But Allah, the benign, the munificent, rewards sincere endeavour with much more success than mere human effort deserves...
The overall improvement in most Muslim high schools is heartening, to say the least. We certainly have no intentions of resting on our oars. There is still a lot, a hell of a lot more to be done. Muslim high schools can still do (do very well indeed) with a lot more improvement. The success achieved so far is only a spur towards more earnest endeavour. 

So, the position was that firstly, the number of Muslims appearing for the board examination was about one-fifth or one-sixth of what it should be. Secondly, out of those who appeared, more than two-third failed and barely one percent got a first division. And this from schools run and managed by Muslims themselves. If Muslims themselves, in their own schools, make a mess of the education of their own children, then who can help the Muslims? Even Allah does not help those who do not help themselves. I wrote about all this, again and again. 

I received more and more result sheets, confirming the disastrous situation. But there were exceptions. Some Muslim institutions were doing well, a few even exceptionally well. Their principals were promptly presented with awards, with quite a bit of fanfare to enhance their importance. I wrote extensively. Urdu newspapers were flooded with hundreds of my articles and reports. For the first time, Muslims started becoming conscious of the performance of their own high schools. 

"If our school here is doing so well then why our schools there and there and there doing so badly?" Muslims began to ask. Managers and secretaries of those Muslim schools had to answer. They, in turn, started questioning the principals. Who, in turn, started taking the teachers to task. All those concerned began to realise that they had to do better, much better. No more taking it easy. The process of evaluation and comparison started and consequent improvement ensued. 

After one set of forms came back duly filled-in, I sent another form asking for detailed results of each teacher in each subject. Subject-wise teacher-wise Results from hundreds of schools started pouring in. In school A, the Maths teacher did remarkably well but the Physics teacher did quite badly. In school B, it was the other way round. There were schools in which the overall results were quite poor and yet there were one or two teachers who attained fairly good results in their respective subjects. There were schools in which the overall results were good but in one or two subjects the teachers were doing quite badly. We must recognize and acknowledge the merit and hard work of the individual teacher. Thus started the teachers’ awards. Simultaneously, we also pointed out and criticised poor performance. 

I wrote to the principal of a school — With our best wishes, we present awards for the learned teachers of Maths, History and Hindi in your esteemed school for improving their respective results. However, the results in other subjects can and should be better. Particularly in Physics, Geography and Urdu, the results of your esteemed school are very poor. Special attention to the teaching of these subjects seems necessary. These letters began to have the desired effect. More and more teachers started becoming more and more conscious of their results in the board examinations and of the need to improve them. 

Encouraged by the prizes, the dear students started studying a little (just a wee bit) more. Enthused by the awards and awakened by unfavourable comparisons, the learned teachers started giving a little (just a wee bit) more attention to teaching. And how much would results improve if students started trying just five percent harder and teachers started teaching just five percent more earnestly? Five per cent improvement would result, you would say. But you would be quite wrong. The interplay of just 5 per cent more effort on the part of students and 5per cent more attention from the teachers makes results twenty-five percent better. Don’t ask me how, but it does. It did in dozens and dozens of Muslim high schools in North India. 

Results began to improve. In twenty-three years, the average result of about 300 Muslim high schools improved from less than 30 per cent pass to more than 60 per cent pass. The proportion of first divisions increased from hardly one percent to about ten per cent. The total number of Muslim boys and girls getting first division results in the matric board examination from Muslim high schools of North India was, believe it or not, less than 150 when we started our scheme. Yes, that is all. Now the number is, again believe it or not, about 6,000 or forty times as much. I am an incorrigible optimist. Yet, even in my wildest dreams, I had not expected so much improvement. But Allah, the benign, the munificent, rewards sincere endeavour with much more success than mere human effort deserves. 

And even now, there are nearly two hundred Muslim high schools in which there has been no improvement whatsoever. In fact, in quite a few, the condition now is worse than it was in 1976 when our scheme was started. Why? …But that is another story. Some other time, perhaps. 

The overall improvement in most Muslim high schools is heartening, to say the least. We certainly have no intentions of resting on our oars. There is still a lot, a hell of a lot more to be done. Muslim high schools can still do (do very well indeed) with a lot more improvement. The success achieved so far is only a spur towards more earnest endeavour. 

The stone rolls on 
Over the last twenty-three years I have written about six thousand articles/reports etc. About a thousand of these were specially written for and published in just one newspaper or journal. The other five thousand or so were cyclostyled and sent to about 200 Urdu newspapers and journals. The more spicy ones were each published in about a hundred-and-fifty. Some comparatively dull ones were each published in only about fifty. On an average, a report was published in, say, a hundred newspapers. If the printing of one report in one newspaper can be taken as one publication, 100 X 5,000 = 5,00,000 publications. Again and again, Muslims read about the improvement effected in the results of their high schools, about the increasing number of first divisions attained. They become more aware, awake, interested, enthused. During the last twenty-three years, many more Muslims high schools have been established than in the three decades immediately preceding our scheme. 
(continued)

Part I: Education is the key - i 
Part II: Education is the key - ii
Part IV:
Education is the key - iv

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