Lack of accessible government schools and pressing agricultural labor needs, village children had very limited schooling options.
Concept of Ekal Vidyalaya, One-Teacher School is conceived by Dr. Rakesh Popli.
“If the poor child cannot come to education, education must go to the child.” This quote by Swami Vivekananda was what inspired the concept for the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation. The idea for Ekal was first conceived in the early 1980s by the late Dr. Rakesh Popli, a nuclear physics professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. He decided to leave this prestigious position to find a way to be of greater service to his country. Inspired by the words of Mahatma Gandhi and early Vivekananda workers, Popli travelled to rural areas in the Gumla District of the current state of Jharkhand in Eastern India. By working with other intellectuals also interested in transforming rural India, Popli concluded that the most effective method was through the betterment of their education. Due to the lack of accessible public government schools and pressing agricultural labor needs, the village children had very limited schooling options. Popli and his team pioneered the idea of the one-teacher school (OTC) in the Gumla District. Working with his wife, Mrs. Rama Popli, a primary education specialist, they developed the first syllabus for the Ekal school. They then began to travel within India to raise funds from interested donors in order to expand OTCs to other villages. In 1986, Dhanbad was struck with famine. Madanlal Agarwal, at the time the CEO of Coal India, generously funded 60 schools in this area, creating the first cluster of Ekal schools.
First cluster of 60 schools establishment in Dhanbad. Proof that the concept of One-Teacher Schools was workable.
In 1986, Dhanbad was struck with famine. Madanlal Agarwal, at the time the CEO of Coal India, generously funded 60 schools in this area, creating the first cluster of Ekal schools.
With Gupta’s local knowledge, Agarwal’s fundraising network, and the Poplis’ background in primary education, Ekal quickly expanded in strength with 1,200 schools operating in Jharkhand, and the results were extraordinary. Overall, literacy rates in Jharkhand doubled, from 30% to 60%. Additionally, health workers noticed a sharp decline in diseases caused by non-hygienic practices, witchcraft, and alcoholism.
Realizing the success of the Ekal movement, many organizations across India, such as, Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra and Friends of Tribal Society (FTS), began to adopt the Ekal concept. By year 2000, 5,000 schools were established under the Ekal system, however, not without many obstacles along the way.
Additionally, in 2000, Sanjay Bhatt, a fellow of Indicorps and a medical student at the University of Illinois, visited an Ekal School on a trip to India. He decided to spend one year studying and visiting Ekal schools across India. With the help of Shyamji Gupta, they began Ekal fundraising chapters across the United States. Over the next few years, Ekal fundraising chapters were also established in eight other countries including Canada, UK, New Zealand, and China, accelerating the growth of Ekal schools.
The number of schools grew at a rate of more than 20% annually from 2000 to 2014, exceeding 5,000 schools. This was largely due to the set framework for operations and scaled fundraising. In the last decade, organization from all over India have joined the Ekal movement, and it has served as the umbrella organization for various NGOs that run one-teacher schools in their own areas.
Ekal presently operates in 54,000+ villages, educating over 1.5 million children. Ekal Vidyalaya’s goal is to raise the necessary funds to run 100,000 non-formal schools across tribal and rural India by the end of 2015.