Babar Ali: The youngest headmaster
Today, all around the world millions of children are being deprived of education only because their families cannot afford the expenses of the school. But there is one young man from our country, who is trying to change it. He is Babar Ali, who was named the ‘youngest headmaster in the world’ by BBC in October 2009, at the age of 16.
When Babar Ali was nine years old, he started realising his dream of running a school so as to educate the poor chlildren. Now as a young 22-year-old he is in charge of teaching hundreds of students in his school, where he runs classes for poor children from his village. The story of this young man from Murshidabad in West Bengal is as very inspiring as he is trying to eradicate poverty with the help of education.
A typical day for Babar begins at seven ‘o’ clock with doing some household chores, then he studies for himself. He is pursuing M.A. in English Literature from Kalyani University after having been graduated from Berhampur Krishnath College (under Kalyani University in West Bengal India) in English Honors. He also wants to study M.A in history and political science after completion of his Master in English. After his regular studies in the morning, he heads for the school “Anand Siksha Niketan”.
Babar Ali started his school at a mere age of nine years. In fact, his school “Anand Siksha Niketan” grew out of a game. “We used to play school-school, where I used to act as a teacher. My friends had never been inside of a school, so they enjoyed acting as students. And they ended up learning arithmetic and enjoying it,” said Babar Ali while he tried to explain how he initially started teaching childrens. In 2002, the game got institutionalised with the strength of mainly his eight siblings and some children from his neighbourhood.
So, gradually words spread and the numbers grew. Help began to come from other quarters like Babar’s own teachers, monks of the local Ramakrishna Mission, sympathetic IAS officers, even local cops. When Babar first thought of a mid-day meal scheme in his school, the grains came from his father’s fields.
Today, 13 years down the line, the school has around 300 students on roll call, and Babar is planning to enroll 700 more students in the coming year with 10 volunteer teachers teaching grades Ist to VIIIth. His little afternoon venture is now registered and recognised by the West Bengal state government, which means students educating from Babar’s school are eligible to transfer to other local high schools.
Babar Ali says, “We are running classes up to 10th standard. There are 10 teaching and non-teaching staff who volunteer their time to educate the children. We have about 300 students who are currently enrolled. There are no tuition fees, thus making it affordable for the poor in this economically deprived area, and thereby it helps increase literacy rate in this area. Six of our students joined as teachers to give back what they had learned as students.”
Babar Ali lives with his three siblings and his parents in a thatched house in the Bhapta neighbourhood of Gangapur village in West Bengal’s Murshidabad. Yet, ironically, he is still among the privileged ones in his village as, unlike most children of the villages, went to school and got formal education. Nasiruddin Sheikh, Babar’s father, is a jute seller and a school dropout, who believes that education is man’s true religion and he is one who initially supported his son’s initiative with his small income. Coming from a comparatively privileged family, Babar realised, he must do something for the other children in his village.
In spite of many government schemes to lure students to schools, owing to extreme poverty in the area lots of families cannot afford to send their children to a school. Instead of going to a school, most of the boys help out their families by working as mechanics, day-labourers, grass cutters, livestock herders etc. whereas, girls work as maid servants in the village where they cook, clean, wash clothes and dishes for their employers. Babar Ali wanted to change this. That is why he took the initiative of opening his own school. It steadly worked. Now when the children of the village and the localities nearby are done with their chores and jobs at daytime, they run to attend Babar’s afternoon school.
Recently, shifted to newly constructed school building, the school easily accommodates 300 students but the concern for Babar is that another 400 students are to be enrolled next year, which may need additional infrastructure. Although help and support are coming in, Babar feels government too should an take initiative to be with him. “I don’t expect much, but support from the system will certainly encourage me and my students,” says Babar.
Babar Ali, who draws his inspiration from Swami Vivekananda, has received many awards and recognitions. In 2009, Babar Ali won a prize at the programme Real Heroes telecast on the English news channel CNN-IBN for his work and was conferred with the NDTV ‘Indian of the Year’ award. His story became a part of the syllabus for the CBSE 10th standard English textbook, Pre-University Course (PUC) English textbook for Government of Karnataka, and also in a curriculum in Luxembourg, Europe. He was featured on Aamir Khan’s TV show Satyamev Jayate in July 2012, and is regularly invited to speak at various conferences and forums all over the world.
By Joydeep Dasgupta from Murshidabad