Ekal’s story is a story of social dreamers who believe that education can transform lives
1980 - The Beginning of Ekal Vidyalaya
In the early 1980s, Dr. Rakesh Popli, a professor of nuclear physics at IIT Kanpur, and his wife, Rama Popli, a primary education specialist, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching that advancing the nation is the noblest work; left their positions to improve conditions in rural India.
While visiting rural areas in the Gumla District (now the state of Jharkhand in eastern India), they were moved by lives marked by poverty, gender disparities, and no access to education. Working with like minded activists, the Poplis conducted a study to figure out the region’s greatest needs and concluded that education was the most effective way towards India’s rural development.
Incorporating a holistic syllabus of math, science, language, creative arts, and physical education, the first Ekal school was born in 1986, with Rama Popli as its teacher.
1986 to 1989 - The Growth of Ekal Schools
Ekal, which means unity and strength, was the only educational option for rural children. Although the government had built schools all over India after Independence in 1947, they mostly did not exist in small, remote villages. Further, low-income communities often depended on their children, especially girls, to contribute to the family income and help around the house.
Ekal approached these hurdles head-on. The organization’s leaders connected with rural communities and explained the value of educating children. To accommodate families’ schedules, Ekal schools ran in the afternoon, after household duties were completed. Families whose children attended Ekal schools were encouraged to spread the word.
When famine struck the district of Dhanbad, Jharkhand in 1986, Madanlal Agarwal, the owner of several coal mines in the region, decided to help the community by funding 60 Ekal schools in the region. His support enabled children to attend school cost-free for three years, or until they were old enough to walk to the closest government school.
1989 - Shyamji Gupta
Shyamji Gupta joined the Ekal team in 1989. A passionate social activist with a talent for recruiting volunteers, he believed strongly in improving conditions in rural India. With Shyamji’s leadership, Agarwal’s fundraising network, and the Poplis’ educational background, Ekal’s core team was complete.
After the first 60 schools were established in Jharkhand with an intent to scale to the neighboring States, Ekal leaders connected with the local village Panchayats to pitch the Ekal model and successfully expanded to the adjacent states of West Bengal and Odisha.
Challenged by hundreds of local dialects, limited road access and vast distances between villages, the Ekal team persevered. To efficiently manage schools, villages were grouped in clusters of 30. Each cluster was managed by a volunteer who could travel between the villages and promote communication between the villages. This operational structure enabled teachers to learn from others in their cohort.
2000 - 2023 - Ekal expanded to 80,000 schools
As Ekal expanded, three functional teams were created. The first, led by the Poplis, was in charge of developing Ekal’s curriculum and tailoring it to local cultures and dialects. The second, led by Agarwal, worked to maintain a steady flow of funding. A third team, led by Shyamji, monitored school performance and facilitated the sharing of best practices between clusters. By 2000, within 10 years, the number of Ekal schools had grown from 60 to 5,000.
In 2000, an ambitious goal was set to expand the reach of Ekal to 100,000 villages. To attain this goal, Ekal decided to reach out to the global diaspora.
In 2001, Ramesh Shah founded Ekal USA. Over the years, Ekal expanded to 70 chapters across the US, helping achieve 80,000 schools in remote villages in India.
Ekal Vidyalaya is primarily supported by individuals which perhaps makes it a largest individual donation based movement in the world.
The idea of Ekal is to connect maximum families in urban areas with their fellow countrymen living in rural & tribal areas. It is also an attempt to ensure connect between rural & urban communities. The individual donors are fromall major metros cities in India and also spread across the globe in 18 countries. At present Ekal Donors are present in India, USA, Gulf, Canada, Australia, and many more countries. One donor supports one school and will get a direct access to that village thereby creating a direct link between the donor families with the village where Ekal School is operating.
Apart from individual donors, Ekal is also supported by business houses under CSR and by different charitable foundations across the globe to carry forward their objective of taking education at grass-roots.
Ekal invite individual donors, Charitable Foundations, Companies for CSR and Govt. agencies to join this movement of empowering the last man in the last row.