Krishna Avanti, England’s first state-funded Hindu primary school, will kick off the next school year with a brand new sister school, and exciting future plans for more to join them.
The project began in 2003 when the I-Foundation, an independent charity affiliated with ISKCON, spotted a glaring need for such a faith school. There were 7,000 state-funded schools in the UK, but most of them were Church of England or Roman Catholic, and none were Hindu—even though there are some 700,000 adherents of the religion in the UK.
“There were two private Hindu schools—one run by the Swaminarayan faith, and one at ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Manor,” says I-Foundation chairman Nitesh Gor.
“But we wanted a facility in the state sector, so that we wouldn’t have to charge parents fees. We also wanted it to be a faith school with a particular, distinctive character. Therefore we partnered with ISKCON, so that the school’s faith elements would be based on Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.”
By 2007, the I-Foundation had been approved for government funding. The first Krishna Avanti school launched in 2008, operating from temporary accommodation until its custom-built home opened in 2009.
Located in Harrow in greater London, fifteen minutes from Bhaktivedanta Manor, it’s a one-form entry school, with thirty children to a class per year. Since the school has been running for three years, it is now the learning home of ninety children.
“In September 2011, we’re set to open a new primary school in Leicester, which has the highest Indian population in the UK,” says Nitesh. “That will be a two-form school, starting with sixty kids and growing a further sixty every year. Unlike our first school, which had 90% of its capital funded by the government, this one will be 100% funded by the government, under the new conservative government’s ‘free school’ policy.”
The following year in September 2012, the I-Foundation will open a four-form primary school in Redbridge, East London. This will start with 120 students, and grow by 120 per year.
The organization has also just applied for their first first primary and secondary school, which will accommodate children from the beginning of their education all the way until college age.
“We’ll also be working with the Bhaktivedanta Manor Primary school to transition it into the state sector,” says Nitesh, revealing an exciting step for the small private school which has been dedicated to teaching ISKCON children since 1985.
Much of the success of the Krishna Avanti family of schools comes from the fact that—as Nitesh believes—there is a big demand for good education that provides a wholesome, spiritual backdrop to the typical material credentials.
At Krishna Avanti in Harrow, students gather every morning at 8:00am for ‘collective worship’ of Krishna Balarama in the school’s custom-made Indian-style temple. They greet the Deities, then take turns leading kirtan chanting and playing instruments.
On the academic side, children study Sanskrit and Bhagavad-gita philosophy, while ‘thematic learning’ is integrated into national curriculum subjects such as literacy, numeracy, or science.
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“For instance, we can introduce concepts from Srimad-Bhagavatam stories,” says Nitesh, who also serves as Governor of the Harrow school. “Or with the Rathayatra Festival coming up soon, they might learn about the literacy or art of its home city, Orissa.”
More practical activities include doing yoga as part of their physical education routine, while each classroom has its own garden patch with flowers, vegetables and fruits, which the children are responsible for cultivating. Krishna Avanti is also the only state-funded vegetarian school, with heart-healthy, fresh food cooked on site and always incorporating something the children have grown themselves.
Even the Krishna Avanti school building showscases its spiritual, caring attitude towards the world we live in. Named the most eco-friendly school in the country when it first opened, it has cedar roofs which capture rainwater for re-harvesting, environmentally-friendly paint, and groundsworth heat pumps that produce a large percentage of its heating.
“We aim to give the best of both worlds in terms of both material education, and spiritual development,” says Nitesh.
This approach has made the school popular not only with Hindus, but with followers of other faiths too.
“Students at our Harrow school are mostly Hindu, with 20% ISKCON members, but our Leicester school is already set to open with children from Christian and Muslim backgrounds enrolled too,” Nitesh says. “Our long-term vision for future schools is definitely to open them up to the wider community.”
The I-Foundation understands Srila Prabhupada’s philosophy—and therefore their own—to be completely non-sectarian.
“We’re very open and inclusive to other belief systems and faiths,” Nitesh concludes. “We’re not an exclusive type of organization. I think people see that, and that’s why the schools appeal to them.”