RISE career institute is one of the only institutes in Kashmir that has the credit of sending Kashmiri students to prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) across India.
In this interview with Rising Kashmir's reporter Irfan Mehraj, we speak to one of co-founders of RISE Salman Shahid to know about its success, what is ailing education sector in Kashmir and the ways to improve it.
Can you talk about yourself, your background?
My name is Salman Shahid. I am from New Delhi and I did my schooling from there. I did my BTech from IIT Kharagpur and then I came to Kashmir in 2015.
When did you start RISE? How did the idea come about?
Well, three people, including me, founded the RISE education centre. We are three co-founders – Mubeen Masoodi from IIT Bombay and who is from Kashmir and Imbisaat Ahmad, who is from IIT Kharagpur and he is from Bihar, and myself. Imbisaat was my batch mate at IIT Kharagpur. Mubeen was already in the education sector and he had started RISE while Imbisaat and I joined him as co-founders in 2015. Imbisaat and I were interested in working in the education sector in Kashmir. Imbisaat had come to Kashmir to hold a workshop and he made up his mind to work in Kashmir. We discussed many ideas about the education sector in Kashmir and how we can improve it. Finally, we decided to start a full-fledged education and career institute called RISE.
What is the main purpose of RISE education centre, what is its vision? What courses do you teach?
At RISE, our primary aim is to provide quality education to students of Kashmir and prepare and send them to the best colleges in the country as well as abroad. As of now, we are sending students to IITS in the country, the government run medical colleges, to triple IITS, NITs, Bits Pilani etc. Our students have also gone to Princeton University in the United States and University of Pennsylvania and other institutes. We prepare students for competitive exams (technical). We prepare students for competitive exams like JEE, NEET, SAT. We start their preparation for these exams from 11th standard only. We have a two-year course where we prepare these students for these exams – in their 11th and 12th. We also have a foundation program where we train students for competitive as well as board exams, that is for 9th and 10th. So we teach students who are from 9th to 12th. We also teach students who dropped a year after 12th. The 9th and 12th is basic foundational programs, where students get ready for their board exams and for students of 11th and 12th we train them for competitive exams so that they can crack these entrance examinations and go to the best colleges in India.
The distinct feature of the institute is that we have only 60 students per class. We have 13 classes in total.
We operate from one main centre at Gojgi Bagh, Srinagar.
How successful has RISE been?
I would say it has been very successful. Many of our students have gone onto prestigious universities across India and to very big universities in the US. In 2018, two of our Kashmiri students went to Princeton University and University of Pennsylvania. When we came to Kashmir, the awareness level of students was quite low. Unlike in other parts of the country, where students prepare for competitive exams for at least two years before the exams, in Kashmir students would prepare for 4 months and only after they had passed their 12th exams. That is clearly not enough. If you want to crack IIT, four months is not enough.
When we started, we did a RISE talent search examination where we conducted tests and counselling of students from every district. We told these students that if they want to go to IIT and other big colleges, they will have to start their preparation from 11th class itself. Slowly, the awareness level increased among students. The number of students at the 2-year program offered by RISE started increasing. Earlier, when we started, only one or two students from our institute made it to IITs in the country in one or two years of our work. There were some years when no Kashmiri student would make it to IIT. We started working on it and slowly the situation improved. This year, 16 students from our institute made it to the list of advanced exams and 9 students got into the IIT. If you compare it to the past, 6 students going to IIT in a year is a huge number. Of course, if we compare it to the other states, the number is quite low. However, it is a big number for Kashmir and a big improvement. There is, of course, a long way to go and the number of students going to IITS will only improve.
The mindset among students and parents in Kashmir was that they wanted to prepare for these competitive exams only after 12th. We wanted to change this. We have succeeded to some extent. It’s an ongoing process and there has been a drastic shift. After we started this program and our methods, other institutes are also doing the same. They have also started these two-year programs.
Our students are now applying to universities outside the country. This was not happening in Kashmir five or six years ago. Our aim has been to raise the benchmark so that Kashmiri students and parents feel that they can go to top colleges in the US.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the education sector in Kashmir?
I would say there is a lack of awareness among both students and colleges. The awareness levels are still low and which we are working on and trying to improve. People are not aware of the opportunities for the students. They are limited to Kashmir. They are not thinking beyond that. There is also the mental barrier that students and parents do not want their kids to go outside for studies. They want to stay here. There are still a lot of students who have not heard about the IITs. They restrict their mind to NIT. They find that a big achievement. NIT is a good college but IITs are completely different. At IIT, one can get exposure to many opportunities. IIT is a launch pad. If you see, all the big guys at big companies in India or even in the US are from IITs in India. The current Google CEO is my batch mate. At IITs, you get vast opportunities and students and parents do not know that. This certainly needs to change. The current start up in India is started by guys who are IITians.
The government should also work on the improvement of the education sector. They should conduct workshops and counselling for students in Kashmir, especially from far-flung areas. That is what we did, we visited a lot of schools, and we believe that it really helps in improving the situation.
In Kashmir, there is a lot of hype for cracking board games. We should understand that cracking board exams is not a big deal. This thinking needs to change. As an example, recently one of our students went to IIT Bombay. He is among the few students from Kashmir who have gone to IIT Bombay. He told us that his father was not very happy because he did not know this was a big deal. This needs to change as well.
Some coaching centers, institutes in Kashmir are criticized for commercializing education. Do you think the assessment is correct? If not, why?
Obviously, it is not true. Earlier, there were no Kashmiris who went onto IIT and today there are and these students are from RISE. SO that is a success and a change.
Education sector is very important and when you have students studying at these education centers going to big IITs in India, it is a great success. Parents and society should understand.
If you send one student from Kashmir to an IIT in the country, you have to understand what kind of impact it has on the society. It is a positive thing. He/she becomes a role model for other students not from his village, or town or city, but for the entire Kashmir.
About the fees at these centres, it is important for us as we bring people from other IITs to teach in our class. We will not be able to afford them if we do not ask for a fee from students. It is how it works. We do not force anything on the students or parents. We also offer scholarships for some students. We have a success rate and that is why parents and students come to us.
What is your message to students, parents and educators of the valley?
My message to students, parents and educators is to change their mindset. They should prepare for competitive exams early on. The hype for board exams should not be an impediment. It is not wrong. However, it is not everything. Board exams are not enough to crack competitive exams. Students should not think that they would not be able to crack these exams. I want to tell them that they can, any student can crack these exams. Hard work and consistency is the key.