To provide a comprehensive, pluralistic education of the highest academic standard – integrating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) and traditional Indian disciplines – free of charge to children from educationally, economically, and socially disadvantaged families in Varanasi, India, and to foster a safe community founded upon intellectual curiosity, spiritual growth, selfless service, and rich relationships between students and teachers of all backgrounds.
India's Failing Education System
Corruption, overcrowded classrooms, ineffectual teachers, rote learning, and inequality in educational access plague India’s failing education system. Government teaching positions are widely regarded as well-paying, effortless, and safe jobs. Memorization and government test results are valued above creativity, original thinking, problem solving, and innovation. If young students want a good education, often their only option is to attend a private school, which are usually low-fee schools (80%) that do not receive government support and lack funding. Some private schools have unfortunately taken advantage of the inability of government schools to provide competitive educational standards by raising their annual tuition. Economically, socially, and educationally disadvantaged families living in the urban slum communities (constituting approximately 22.6% of the urban population) are either unable to afford the monthly 150 rupee ($2.30) fee of government schools, much less a private school’s annual tuition cost (upwards of $220 in Varanasi), do not have access to a government school, or are motivated to involve their child in income generating activities or marry off their daughter at a young age (claiming ease of economic hardship from poverty and marriage dowry expenses). While primary education in India is compulsory, and sometimes free, at least half of all children between the ages of 6 and 14 (35 million children) throughout India do not attend school. It is girls, and marginalized groups such as the very poor, disabled, and those from the lowest in the caste system, who are most often left behind.
Education Options for Our Community’s Youth
Fortunately, there are two good government schools near our neighborhood of Varanasi associated with Bananas Hindu University (BHU) - Central Hindu School (CHS) and Kendriya Vidyalaya BHU (KVBHU). New admissions to these schools take place for students entering 1st Grade (only KVBHU), 6th Grade, 9th Grade, and 11th Grade. Tens of thousands of students apply to these two schools every year, often competing for one of a mere 100 spots (half of which are reserved for the children of government employees). Most students entering Anjali are raised in homes with no books, and are many times the first in their family to receive formal education. Those entering Anjali for Nursery, Kindergarten, and 1st Grade are unable to compete, much less afford the 400 rupee ($6) application fee and 250-400 rupee/month ($46-$74 annual) tuition fee of CHS and KVBHU.
There are several government schools that, being outside of the Nagwa and Samne Ghat neighborhoods where our students live, are less accessible to them at a young age, and while more affordable than CHS and KVBHU, still exceed Anjali School's fees (with many students attending Anjali free of charge) for primary education.
Expensive Private Schools
There are several prestigious private schools (International Hindu School, Little Flower House School, St. John’s, Sunbeam Baghwanpur, Sunbeam Academy, etc.) in the locality, but annual fees for primary education classes exceed 20,000 Rs (or $307) - more than the annual income of many of our students’ families. Seats are most often reserved for those who can foot the bill, while children living in our community are left behind.
For many families in the community we serve, Anjali School, along with a few other nonprofit schools, is the best and only option for great primary education for their child. Anjali provides a comprehensive, pluralistic education; is more affordable, with fees decided on a case-by-case basis (and many students attending free of charge); has a far lower student-teacher ratio (12:1), compared to the government schools’ 60 student classes; and never turns away any child.
How We Started
The Anjali School was founded in 2005 by the Aghor Foundation on the bank of the Ganges River in the ancient holy city of Varanasi, India. Anjali was started to educate children of migrant workers who live in makeshift homes along the nearby streets. In its first year, Anjali enrolled 25 students, many from lower caste migrant families from the state of Bihar who otherwise would not be able to afford an education for their child, and some resident boys at the Bal Ashram, another Aghor Foundation initiative providing a safe home for 21 young boys. Many of Anjali’s students would be the first in their family to receive a primary education (in fact, many students were raised in homes with no books). To encourage families to send their children to Anjali School, our teachers walked through the Samne Ghat and Nagwa neighborhoods of Varanasi and offered fruits, sweets, milk, and curd to children who came to the school. At Anjali, the students were bathed, their lice were removed, and they were provided with new school uniforms. The students were taught how to sit, how to study, how to think for themselves, and how to respect and love everyone, regardless of gender, caste, wealth, religion, or family background.
Anjali Curriculum and Special Programs
Our students are taught Hindi, English, Math, Science, Social Sciences, Arts, and Computer Skills, as well as Yoga and Meditation. Anjali School uses the innovative techniques of the Alice Project to foster self-respect and independent thinking, and empower students with life skills in addition to a traditional education. The project's revolutionary methodology incorporates a standard curriculum with approaches to learning that include yoga, meditation, and visualization. Space is given to incorporate the richness of Indian culture into the learning environment, as well as for cultivating a deep appreciation of other cultures. Given the background of our students, an emphasis is placed on developing an awareness of the interdependence of one’s inner and outside worlds. A good education is not complete without giving students the ability to keep their inner environment clean and safe. With that solid foundation, students can approach the troubles of the world from environmental degradation to intercultural understanding. Students are encouraged in their creativity and are given ample space to develop it. Performances take place on major holidays, fostering pride in traditional cultural activities.
Unfortunately, a fear of teachers among students is a local reality. At Anjali, an emphasis is placed on developing an understanding of the relationship between the student and the teacher. Our teachers are involved in the students’ lives outside of the classroom, and join their students for frisbee and tag during recess.
Students are also given periodic medical check-ups free of charge at the local hospital.
Today, Anjali School provides primary education to 118 students from Nursery and KG through Class Five. The annual cost to educate one student is approximately 5,000 Rupees, or $78. Many students attend the school free of charge, while some families pay a monthly fee of 150 Rupees, or $2.30 (a large sum of money for their families). Thankfully, most fees are covered by our generous supporters, but there’s more work to be done.
To learn more about Anjali’s operating costs, facility conditions, teachers, and immediate needs, please visit our Anjali Today page.