“When anybody fell sick in my village, people used to resort to witchcraft. Naturally, many people died due to want of medical treatment. But after the beginning of Ekal Vidyalaya in the village, this superstitious practice was reined in and people were persuaded to take medical treatment when they fall sick. As a result, the death rate in the village declined from 70 per cent to just seven per cent. The credit to this success goes to the awareness generated by Ekal Vidyalaya workers,” said Jatin Mohanty, an activist of Ekal Abhiyan from Jharkhand while narrating his experience at the three-day International Ekal Conference organised in New Delhi by Bharat Lok Shiksha Parishad from October 30 to November 1.
The workers shared so many similar experiences showing the integrated development of villages through Ekal Vidyalayas. Shri Mahesh Verma of Chhattisgarh said, “There was no school in our village. Some boys somehow managed to go to schools in the surrounding villages but girls were unable to join the school. I felt very sorry on this situation and decided to teach the girls by starting an Ekal Vidyalaya. As a result, I taught 27 girls and some of them are now full-time workers of the Ekal Abhiyan.”
This is just a glimpse of the social transformation being carried out through 30,750 Ekal Vidyalayas in remote Vanvasi areas of 22 states where even the government agencies and non-governmental organisations have failed to visit even after 62 years of Independence.
Today, these Vidyalayas are not just educational institutions but also the centre of integrated rural development involving health awareness, eradication of superstition, imparting samskars and starting self-reliance projects even in trouble-torn north-eastern states, Naxal-affected Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and terrorism-affected Jammu & Kashmir. “I wondered to see how the students of Ekal Vidyalayas studying in the second standard know the table of 18 and Gayatri mantra very well, which I did not know even while studying in the tenth standard at a reputed school in the city,” commented Mitasha Agrawal, daughter of a donor Shri Ramlal Agrawal.
Started with a Gram Shiksha Mandir at Ratanpur Tundi Vanvasi village in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand in 1988, Ekal Vidyalayas became a national movement in 1998. These non-formal schools, running under a tree or inside a thatched hut, are fast becoming the people’s movement. Today, around eight lakh rural students study in these schools. Only informal education is imparted to the children up to the third standard and there are about 30 children in a school. They are taught three hours every day. The timing of the school is decided as per the convenience of the students. It is as per the wishes of Swami Vivekananda who had once said: “If the poor students could not go to school, the school should reach them.”
“Ekal movement, passing through various phases from concept to implementation, has reached the age of maturity, i.e. more than eighteen years have passed. The concept and effort though were initiated by a small team, which has now grown into a big family. The area of operation was started with basic education and gradually progressed to add to the needs of the Vanvasi and deprived sections of the society. So far the working has been confined to closed doors where ideas were coming from a limited number of persons. With growing reach of the movement in society it is imperative to invite people from different sections of the society who are experts in their respective fields and can provide valuable inputs in contents and methodology,” says Shri Jagdish Mittal, media incharge of the conference.
The Ekal Vidyalaya movement aims to help eradicate illiteracy from rural and Vanvasi India by the year 2011. The Ekal Vidyalaya is a movement of over 26,719 teachers, about eight lakh students, around 5,000 voluntary workers, 22 field organisations (scattered in 22 Indian states), and 8 support agencies as on January 2009. With this tremendous human force, the Ekal Vidyalaya movement strives to create a network of non-formal schools that will educate and empower children in rural and Vanvasi India. Since the year 2013 is the silver jubilee year of the Ekal movement, it has decided to increase the number of such informal schools to one lakh. In last one decade, organisations from all over the country have joined the Ekal Vidyalaya movement. The Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of India (EVFI) serves as the umbrella organisation for various organisations that run one-teacher schools in their respective areas.
At every level, the Ekal Vidyalaya movement seeks participation of local people. It involves the village folk in the creation of the school, the selection of the teacher, and the adaptation of the curriculum and schedule. It also recruits local people to coordinate in training and other project-related issues at every level-the sub-cluster (10-school unit), cluster (30-school unit), sub-area (90-school unit) and area (270-school unit). The involvement at every level is based on a commitment to education and an eagerness to help advance their own community. The sense of community drives the movement even at the national and global level.
Around 13,000 delegates from India and abroad including from America, Canada and England, and from the Ekal organisations like Bharat Lok Shiksha Parishad, Vanbandhu Parishad, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of India and members of the state units participated in the three-day conference. “The prime objective of organising this event in the national capital is to encourage the workers engaged in this work and also to educate the urban people about the achievements of the last 21 years,” said Shri Shyam Gupt, the prime guiding force behind the Ekal movement. When Baba Ramdev was inaugurating the Ekal exhibition at the conference venue, the first Acharya of Ratanpur Tundi School Shri Bhande Visra was also assisting him. The proceedings of the entire conference were too conducted by a Vanvasi worker Shri Mahendra Bhagat in the presence of Baba Ramdev, Shri Mohan Bhagwat, Shri Ashok Singhal, Sadhvi Ritambhara and other distinguished guests. A total of nine makeshift villages had been created at the venue named after great personalities.
Addressing the gathering Baba Ramdev described the Ekal movement as “master plan for country’s integrated development”. It is a very good work being done by all of you. There should not be even a single illiterate person in the country in coming days. Education is a must for ensuring all-round development of the country. The role of Ekal movement is highly admirable in this task. The work which is being done with huge fees up to Rs one lakh per year by urban schools is being done by Ekal Vidyalayas in just one rupee each per day,” he said. Describing the imparting of education as the biggest donation in the world he said the building of ten temples is useless before this daan. “The body of human being is nothing but a temple and Ekal Vidyalaya is nothing but worship of the God,” he added. RSS Sarsanghachalak Shri Mohan Bhagwat appreciated the work being done by Ekal volunteers in providing education in remote areas of the country. He said it is only education that would make the country great. “Through Ekal Vidyalayas, we are not running schools but are trying to make India of our dreams,” he added.
VHP president Shri Ashok Singhal expressed his concern saying that the benefits of Independence have not reached the villages whereas 60 per cent of national resources should have reached there. The Swaraj of Gandhiji’s dreams will be achieved only by the rural teachers and not by the politicians, he said. Sadhvi Ritambhara said the country cannot make progress without education. “The work of Ekal Vidyalayas is effective only because it is being carried out without government help,” she added.
By and large, the Ekal movement has succeeded in engaging the rural and Vanvasi people in constructive activities, checking liquor consumption, creating an interest in education, preventing migration from villages to urban areas, establishing a harmonious atmosphere in villages and creating a patriotic sprit in hearts of rural people. The picture of this change was visible in this international conference.