Srinagar: Aqib Amin, son of a small shopkeeper who earns less than Rs 20,000 a month, is one of the four students coached by Srinagar-based RISE institute in its first batch that managed to crack the entrance examination for the coveted Indian Institutes of Technology this year.
Amin, 17, who has partial visibility, secured a rank of 99 in the people with disability (PwD) category in the JEE Advanced examination. “Had it not been for RISE and the founders, I would not have made it to IIT. My family could not have afforded the coaching and RISE offered everything for free,” he told ET over the phone from Kashmir.
He said he is hoping to get admission to one of the older IITs and go on to clear the Common Admission Test (CAT) conducted for the Indian Institutes of Management.
The coaching institute has been set up by three IIT alumni including Mubeen Masudi, an IIT-Bombay alumnus and a second rank holder in CAT (2012-13). None of them had ever stayed in Kashmir before.
They found it tough to convince their parents to begin with that they were giving up lucrative corporate jobs for establishing a coaching institute in the Valley.
Masudi, a native of Kashmir, said he realised on a visit to his hometown in 2012 that his dream was not a corporate job back in Delhi. He wanted to help realise the dreams of many in Kashmir, especially the underprivileged to make it to the premium institutes in the country. He quit his job in 2013, after which his real task began.
Imbesat Ahmad, who hails from Bihar and is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, and Salman Shahid from IIT Kharagpur and a Delhi resident, joined him in his endeavour. They selected students for the first batch in 2015 through a state competition called RISE Talent Search Examination with a little financial help from the J&K Bank where 15,000 students took the test free of cost.
They shortlisted about 50 students for coaching, but not all candidates turned up owing to the trust deficit in a new institute. The institute coached 30 students for free and took a nominal fee of Rs 1,000-1,200 per month to cover the cost of books from the others who could afford. The founder said the institute is being run on the lines of Anand Kumar’s Super 30 in Bihar, which coaches and mentors students from underprivileged backgrounds.
This year, 28 of the 30 students got through the IITs,according to Kumar.
Arif Reyaz, a resident of Dawar, Gurez also comes from a humble background like Amin and was provided coaching and mentoring at RISE institute at almost no charge. He aced the examination, as did Kaleem Khan, a resident of Hyderpora, Srinagar and Malik Aneeb, a resident of Meemandar Shopian, located in south Kashmir. “Like Mubeen sir, I want to crack the CAT and get into IIM Ahmedabad,” said Amin.
This sort of confidence is what is lacking in Kashmir and what the institute wants to instil among students. “This is what we want to change. We want Kashmir students to be represented well among all premier institutes in the country. Only through education can the situation in Kashmir improve,” said Masudi.
He said the institute wants to coach underprivileged students exclusively for free in the long run. At the moment, 40%-50% of the students are underprivileged. The three founders tried hard to get private funding from firms and venture capitalists interested in the venture, but the volatile situation in the Valley did not allow them to succeed.
Adding to the fund crunch are the snarls caused by sudden strikes or bandhs and blockage of Internet and mobile phone communication, often for three-four days at a stretch. “It is not easy to work out of Kashmir. The trust factor among people here is very low even though our intentions are pure. But this year, it is for the first time that students coached in Kashmir have got through IITs. We now see some difference,” said Ahmad.
He said he wants to replicate this coaching model in Maoist-affected areas in his hometown in Bihar in the next phase. The founders expect another 40 students to make it to the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) this year.
They said they are desperately looking for funding avenues to expand free coaching to all students in Kashmir and even reach out to remote areas and areas close to the Line of Control. Their quest has led them to create a technology solution that they want to take to the market soon.
“Our idea is to earn revenues through this Tech training solution for engineering students to fund our dream of free coaching to all those who cannot afford,” said Ahmad, who is still hoping that some private funding firm may put in some money.
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