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Students salute career school for poor

When Azharuddin raises his right hand to touch his forehead for the first time in salute as a Calcutta police sergeant in his sparkling white uniform and calf-high boots, he would be saluting his stint with the Educational Support Council (ESC) too.

After graduating in 2009, Azhar was searching for institutes that provide quality training to clear selection tests for government jobs. The CR Avenue youth had little choice because professional institutes charge a bomb — beyond his camera repairman father’s reach.

Nearly two years went by and just when hopes were fading, a friend advised Azhar to check out the ESC office at 39A Dilkusha Street. He joined the centre in 2011 — almost for free — and within a year, he secured a sergeant’s job. He had also written the state civil service exam.

“The ESC faculty guided me at every step to clear the professional exams,” said the 24-year-old who will soon be undergoing his sergeant training.

A group of civil servants, academicians and entrepreneurs formed the ESC in July 2003 with 50 girls from the minority community. Founded on the concept of a free and parallel school, the girls from classes VII and VIII were from different institutes.

“We had evening classes, helping the students with their lessons,” ESC secretary Shehabuddin Ahmed said.

The founders believed that education was the key to uplift the state’s minorities — an idea that the 2006 Sachar Committee report corroborated as it pointed out how lack of education had choked employment opportunities for Muslims in Bengal.

In less than a decade, the ESC at Aulad Hussain Academy in Topsia became the runway for meritorious but poor students to spread their wings. “More than 300 boys and girls at the secondary and higher secondary levels receive our support every year,” Shehabuddin said.

At its 10th annual programme on Sunday morning, a profusion of success stories echoed at Rabindra Sadan. Azhar’s was one of them, while IAS officer S.N. Haque, A.T. Khan, the vice-chancellor of Aliah University, MP Mohammad Nadimul Haque and Abdur Rahim, the chief knowledge officer at IPE Global, shared some of theirs.

The centre’s next big step was to offer training for competitive exams. “This was our forte because of most of us are with the government. We know what it takes to crack these exams,” said an IAS officer associated with ESC.

To boost an aspiring civil servant’s confidence — and to rid exam fright — the ESC faculty encourages students to take a shot at all types of examinations, such as written tests and interviews, for clerical posts.

“I was unsure about myself but ESC gave me the confidence to compete at the highest level,” said Shadab Alam, an executive with the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd.

Saba Parveen, a 21-year-old resident of Park Circus, was ranked 515 in the 2012 JEE. Besides attending a professional institute, she attended ESC for the “methodical but simple” way of teaching.

The centre charges a nominal admission fee for the sole purpose of discouraging students from dropping out. “Applicants are admitted after a strict screening process. Smart kids from poor families get a 100 per cent fee waiver,” said an ESC member.

The centre has a number of schemes acting like booster doses for its success.

Ahsaas: A corpus formed with the money donated as zakat (charity, one of the pillars of Islam). Promising students from poor families are given financial support from this cash pool. The ESC also provides money to those studying or training elsewhere such as the IITs or other institutes of technology and law and defence schools.

Rahnuma: One who leads or guides. The ESC counselling centre is called so and it advises individuals and NGOs. Every Sunday, free advice is given at its Dilkusha Street headquarters to anybody who walks in.

“So many years of interaction with students from various backgrounds had taught us that only a few were aware of the government schemes and funds. Such support mechanisms exists in the private sector, too, but awareness is next to none. Rahnuma acts as the bridge between the beneficiaries and the schemes,” Shehabuddin said.

He said ESC’s work was not restricted to the minority community but anybody “who genuinely needs support, particularly those from the economically weaker sections of society”.