Sangam School is a fascinating educational experiment. Situated
in an educationally backward area in the village of Indri, Haryana
Province, India, it was the brainchild of its principal, Kamla Sawhney,
who set it up as a foundation fourteen years ago. The land for the
school 10 acres was donated by the village in a quiet rural spot in
the hills: a lovely space which sets off to great effect the purpose-built
pink brick buildings. The nine-person board includes founder-member
and British Friend, Eleanor Nesbitt as well as an Indian Friend, Hari
The interest of Quakers in the school is not surprising, for its guiding
principles are very close to Friends' beliefs. Sangam's motto is "Quality
and equality in education". It seeks to provide a good basic
education for 5 to 13 year olds within a caring environment, without
any divisions or prejudice according to religion or caste. The word
"Sangam" means "integration". No child is turned
away for lack of money; parents are asked to contribute what they
can, and the foundation provides the rest. The school seeks to provide
"a balance between the material and the spiritual; the rural
and the urban; and the aesthetic with utilitarian; the traditional
and the modern". It attempts to do this by emphasising co-operation
not competition, and fostering a spirit of interdependence and mutual
respect; stimulating self-learning by use of small groups, sharpening
perception of the environment and encouraging the enjoyment of beauty
in nature, in human relations and in achievement.
It is easy to underestimate the achievements of Sangam and its staff.
Its aims seem so commonsensical, so central to any idea of good education
that it is hard to imagine that it is revolutionary or extraordinary
in any way. But in the context of the public school system in India,
particularly in rural areas, it is extraordinary. Many schools are
set up to make money for their administrators with very little concern
for the quality of the education offered. Teachers are often cynical
and uncaring; a large number of children do not attend school. The
result is a system that fails the children of India with a collossal
wastage of talent. While we were there, the newspapers reported underspending
of public schools' budgets, so that even the basic fabric of the buildings
When my partner and I spent 10 days teaching English at the school
alongside the teachers, we were struck by the high morale of the children,
who evidently come to school not least because they want to, bright
and crisp in their blue and white uniform. Classes are small and the
teachers dedicated necessarily so since there is not enough money
to pay them the same salaries as public school staff.
The monthly costs of the school, including the salaries of the 10
teachers and 5 other staff are around 500 pounds. Funding is entirely
from private donation (except for a small proportion contributed by
some parents) which leads to a worrying hand-to-mouth existence for
Kamla Sawhney who, at the age of 71, is in need of a personal assistant
and, in due course, a successor. A recent donation to provide a sorely
needed school bus to enable children from outlying villages to attend,
has relieved an immediate need, but reliable ongoing funding such
as that provided by regular donations/sponsorship would set the school
on a more reliable footing.
But the vision of Sangam Foundation is not for one school in isolation.
It is for a style of education that, should it spread through the
villages of India, would provide all its millions of children with
a first-rate education based on fundamental humanitarian values.
Kavanagh, Westminster Monthly Meeting, Summer 2002.