Unlike the monthly fee of many private schools in the city that burns a hole in the pockets of parents, the village residents, most of whom are farmers, are required to pay only the equivalent of one day's labour, which is about Rs. 400.
The school fee accounts for the tuition fee, school books, uniform and the midday meal. If they cannot afford that, they have the option to volunteer in any capacity in the school for a day. This is an effort to encourage the family's participation and investment in the child's education and to ensure students continue to study. About 20 per cent of parents prefer to work in the school, said Channa Raju, founder of the school.
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the school is the peaceful ambience. Run by a few committed individuals for the uplift of rural children, it is set up on 1.5 acres of land. The school, for students from LKG to Class X, resembles a small cluster of an aesthetically designed movie set of a village.
Handwritten signboards, an amphitheatre built out of small boulders and mud from the field, an stage that displays Warli art, a floor that has been freshly cured by cow-dung and the little slide next to the staircase that leads to the library are indicators of the unique thought process that went into planning this school environment. The adjoining 2.5 acres of land also belongs to the school and is used to grow vegetables for the children's consumption. The school also maintains a dairy comprising two cows.
Mr. Channa, a scientist with the National Aerospace Laboratories in Bangalore who set up the school with just Rs. 50,000, was aware that schooling was not easily accessible and not of high priority to the rural community. "I am the youngest of 12 children and my parents sent me to school only because my meal was taken care of by the school," said the 53-year-old. Hailing from Arehalli village on the outskirts of Bangalore, Mr. Channa is the first from his family to attend school.
Two batches of students, numbering a total of 80, have completed their schooling from Anjana Vidhya Kendra so far. The co-educational English-medium school, recognised by the State government, has a strength of about 300 students today.
"This school is my way of giving back to society whatever I have received. The primary motive to set up the school was for the benefit of girl children who are either married very young or sent off to work in factories", Mr. Channa said.
Priyanka, a class 9 student, said she and her classmates are confident of etching out a life for themselves and not staying confined to their homes.
Four of farmer K.R. Lakshman's children study at the school. Despite there being a number of schools in Kallakunte Agrahara where he resides, he sends his children to Mr. Channa's school as he believes that quality education is provided to rural children here. "Also, the students are taught to stay connected to their roots (agriculture)," he said.
"The temple in the school is open to all. We told students that they could touch the idol in the temple only if they bathed. And our students started bathing every day," said Mr. Channa. While finding teachers for the school is a tough task, Mr. Channa is proud that former students have offered to come back and teach at the school. UNQUOTE
I've not been to the school myself, though I do plan to visit soonest possible. I do not know Mr Channa Raju, the founder of the school, though I do plan to meet him soonest possible, with an offer to help in any way I can. In regard to religion, I am an agnostic, so I do not know how much value there actually is for the children in the practice described in the last paragraph of the story - but I defer to Mr Raju's vision for the way he runs his school.
I believe that most of India's HUGE educational problems can readily be resolved if we learn how to create such "Anjana Vidhya Kendras" in every village (and in every city and town) in India.