Vocal for Local: Educational Entrepreneurship
From the Perspective of a Young Mentor
Kashmir Images has started an initiative, as part of India’s Vocal for Local campaign, of collecting inspirational stories from across Jammu and Kashmir, bringing to the readers fresh perspectives about solo entrepreneurship – successful only when practiced with persistence and conformed with patience.
Adeela Hameed, as the ground reporter and interviewer with Kashmir Images for this project, converses with Nayeem Ahmad – owner, administrator, and teacher – Apex Tuition Center, Shalimar, Srinagar. Despite recurring political turmoils, facing unprofessional denigration, or a pandemic thrown their way, Apex stood at the vanguard – unwavering, determined, and focused as ever. With a goal to work for and with local students, Apex continues to provide quality education – outshining every other group. This young team of enthusiastic educational entrepreneurs aims to remedy the image of private tuition centers – often identified with making a fortune and investing more in flamboyant PR schemes than a quality education.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Let us begin by introducing Team Apex.
My team consists of three core members. I represent Apex as its owner and primary administrator, Mr. Gulzar Ahmad is the co-owner and teacher, and Mr. Sheikh Zaman is our management coordinator. Apart from us, we have about 10 faculty members.
How did you decide on being an educational entrepreneur?
Our aim to start an educational institution was to address and overcome loopholes in the region’s system of educating young children. Of course, we couldn’t start a school, as no primary source of substantial investment was available, but we did finance what we had to start our tuition center here in Shalimar. A lot of kids around our area go to government schools. And those who do study at a private missionary find it difficult to commute, for extra-tuition, on a daily basis. It was one of our motives – to cater to both categories of children – to give them a place where competition and persistence in education thrive outside their school premises.
To further delineate our decision, I want to point out honestly that although young and educated in Kashmir, we didn’t find a suitable government job to launch our careers because of reasons we all understand quite well. So, this investment was also self-sponsored taking our basic needs into consideration.
You must have faced quite a few obstacles going head-on in this competitive sector. What helped you through? Tell us about your silver lining.
Yes, of course, we did face obstacles. In fact, far more than we had anticipated! Kashmir and its unending political turmoil, for one, did put a dampener on our progress. Apart from this, we had to tackle bad-mouthing, rumor-mongering, fake advertisements – all part of a vicious cycle of unprofessional competition from many groups in the vicinity.
Being a local tuition center, people didn’t really take us seriously when asked about their child’s tuition dues. That’s where we felt, for the first time, that in spite of offering almost everything a good institution does, local coaching centers remain under-appreciated.
People who are well settled in their government jobs also take a jibe at us, with their private classes, leaving us to take care of the rest – which frankly doesn’t amount to much. A lot goes into starting a quality local tuition center in this age of cut-throat PR business. I hope Kashmir understands this.
In spite of what was thrown our way, my team and I stayed put. We were, and still are, determined to see through our goal to its apex! I believe that’s what our silver lining is – unwavering persistence.
What role did your family and associates play throughout this journey?
I am grateful for an understanding and supportive family. My parents and some of my associates stood by me (most didn’t), celebrated with me, fought with me, and encouraged me to excel. Although we aren’t associated with any business tycoons or nepotistically pushed ahead, yet we aim to conquer this sector and catapult our motives even further.
What did you feel the trajectory of your aim would be when you started out in this field? And has that changed as of now?
Our aim had been set at providing quality education to students from our local area – blending friendly competition and problem-solving techniques – for a profound output. We chose this profession, both, by choice and chance. And we believe in facing our issues head-on. In spite of everything, I still believe in this and so does my team. In fact, all of us do – teachers and students alike.
Ten years from now, where do you see yourself?
I am a practical person. And being in this sector for about 5 years now, I’ve seen the expansion of education as a business. I know about people who focus on quantity rather than quality. And I have seen how all of this affects us. So, if you ask me, 10 years from now where do I see myself, I really don’t have a clear-cut answer!
However, I am confident we will survive better than others. Many groups started out in our vicinity but didn’t quite live their full term. I know of their difficulties. I know it’s hard for them. What we face is almost the same. But with a proper effort from the team and support from our students, I hope to see us prosper in this field 10 years from now.
What is your opinion, as a professional, about the education system in our Valley?
The education sector has suffered – be it in schools, colleges, or universities – in our Valley. With political turmoil, unaccountable funding, and degradation of education to a measly money-making business, students bear the brunt of everything. What further exacerbates the problem is the way they are taught – focusing more on the number of marks achieved rather than knowledge comprehended.
The child of today is the leader of tomorrow. What we need to inculcate in them is not to be part of an unending rat race but to stand their ground, be different, explore, and utilize their potential. I believe each child is unique and has the capability to perform well with proper guidance.
Apex has received overwhelming support and brilliant results since its establishment. There must be something you do differently.
Alhamdulillah! Our results really did speak for us when we couldn’t.
We won’t boast of superlative infrastructure or high-end classrooms but what we do have is tolerance and patience with our students. We encourage interactive question-answer sessions with both, teachers and students, to rectify mistakes, clear doubts, and promote peer-assisted learning.
One of our mantras is categorizing students as per their abilities after about 2 months of induction in their respective classes. With this categorization, each group is provided a chance of organizing competitions and participating in grooming classes. Each child gets an opportunity to present a lecture in front of the class, explaining their topic of interest. Ice-breaking sessions and team-building classroom activities form an important part of our schedule too. Our aim is to remove, any and every hint of, stage fear from among our students so that they are able to question comfortably. We have been implementing this technique for the past 3 years with considerable results.
Apart from this, we conduct bi-annual parent-teacher conferences and regular meetings with our faculty for a well informed and accountable education process.
During this pandemic, we conducted online lectures and completed the entire syllabus, as per schedule, for every class. These online lectures consisted of diligent student-teacher interactions and continuous comprehensive evaluations.
“Education is what helps a person connect to their inner ability. It is a path towards enlightenment, to a world where true awareness resides”