23-year-old Babar Ali, popularly known as the world’s youngest headmaster started a school when he was all of nine. The school that Babar started in backward Bhabta village in West Bengal with eight students, is now a certified school. In 2015, it had 300 students and 10 teachers. The school, Ananda Siksha Niketan, has gained in popularity and is also recognised by the West Bengal government. Babar dons the role of a student in the morning where he is pursuing his masters in English literature at Berhampore Krishanath College and comes home in the afternoon to teach students.
How the world’s youngest headmaster, Babar Ali, is helping his students grow
After nearly 12 years of single-minded determination and numerous adventures, 21-year-old Babar Ali is finally going to get a proper school building for the children of his school which is still being run under a tin shed in his backyard.
As he quickly gulps down the tea and biscuits to recount his travails, it is difficult not to marvel at how much he has grown – in his mind and spirit. Yet he remains the shy boy at heart opting to live his life without much fuss – he skipped breakfast at the management institute in Bangalore where he was visiting recently because he did not want to trouble his hosts!
It all started with play
For Babar Ali, who lives in a small village in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, life would not have taken a turn had his father, a jute trader, not admitted him to a proper school. It was 2002, and nine-year-old Babar had to travel 10 kms up and down daily to and from his school, Beldanga CRGS High School, perhaps the only one near his village.
On his way back from school, Babar would see children in his neighbourhood doing odd jobs like taking the cattle grazing, or just wasting their time playing around the whole day. “It just occurred to me why not teach them what I learn in my class,” he recalls how it all started.
He gathered a few children and made a make-shift school under the guava tree in his backyard. They would all sit on the dusty ground listening wide-eyed to Babar Ali as he talked to them about his school and what he had learnt there.
When dream starts to become real
The school play acting was slowly becoming serious. The children would wait enthusiastically for Babur to return from his school. “I would not even have the time to eat anything. As soon as I reached home, I would change my school uniform and we would begin our school,” says Babar.
Realising that he had to procure books for his students, Babar would sneak into a ‘raddiwala’s’ shop and steal books and half written notebooks. Meanwhile, word spread in the village that Babar had started a school. “My father was very worried, he thought that I was neglecting my studies, and so he asked me to stop this,” says Babar.
But Babar’s determination won him over and his father decided to allow him to run his own school as long as he gave full attention to his own education.
I would wake up early in the morning and sit with my books under my father’s supervision. After a quick breakfast, I would go to school, and all day I would wait to get back to my own students. It was like a ‘nesha’ (addiction).
Starting a school is one thing and being successful in keeping the students from dropping out is another. Initially, Babar would buy sweets and toffees with whatever little money he got from his father. “I would organise music and dance competitions. We would decorate the place with flowers and I would be the judge. Essentially, whatever I saw and learned in school I would replicate that here.”
From local to global: Babar with his TED Fellow colleagues at a retreat in Canada last year.
Meanwhile, many people jealous of a small boy’s achievements started harassing him. People would approach him for government jobs, create unnecessary hurdles and misunderstandings. He even received death threats from local anti-socials. In fact, he gave his college exam under police protection.
Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a bullet, and I was shot in the soul by people’s animosity and harassment. My other challenge was how to keep the students motivated. When a student was absent, I would go to his/her house to plead with the parents to allow them to come to school.
Babar gets his inspiration from Swami Vivekananda. “I get energy and strength from his writings and words…it motivates me to do more.”
His story in test books
“Karnataka has become like my second home. My mission is education for everyone. I want more boys and girls to come and carry forward this mission after completing their education. I want to open another school in Karnataka. And maybe someday, become an IAS officer.”
On firm grounds: Babar with dignitaries during the foundation laying ceremony of his new school. 500 students have registered for the new session that starts in January 2015
The Karnataka government has included Babar’s story in the prescribed English text for first year PU course.
Meanwhile, the eight students with who Babar started the school, have entered college, and are now also teaching in his school.
“Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.” This line from the Upanishad made famous by Vivekananda continues to be Babar’s guiding light.
Already, 500 students have enrolled in his new school (the building is under construction), for the new session which begins in January 2015. There are 300 students in his old school.
Some of the the world’s youngest headmaster: Babar Ali and his school pictures