In 1987, Singh started the first academy, a small school in Baru, with only five students. 

Retirement usually means the end of work for most people, but for Iqbal Singh, it marked the start of a new chapter. Fondly known as "Babaji" by those close to him, Singh, now 89, didn't slow down after retiring as the director of agriculture in Himachal Pradesh. Instead, he redirected his energy towards a new mission: providing education to rural communities in Punjab.

Empowering and educating rural communities in Punjab 

Singh's focus has been on combating issues like drug and alcohol abuse by bringing education to the doorstep of villagers. He believes that education is the key to transforming lives, especially in marginalized areas. With dedication and perseverance, he has been working tirelessly to make education accessible in Punjab's villages, aiming to improve the quality of life for many.

Since 1965, Singh has been leading the Kalgidhar Trust. Before retiring in 1987, he took charge of the organization's operations. Today, he continues to oversee its work, which includes managing 128 CBSE-affiliated English medium schools. These schools cater to over 60,000 children, primarily from rural Punjab. Despite being far from urban areas, they prioritize providing value-based education to children from marginalized backgrounds. The Akal academies, operated by the Kalgidhar Trust, demonstrate how a non-profit organization can generate income while focusing on social development.

Singh acknowledges the challenges of running schools in villages where education is still a novelty, and says, "More than 55 percent children here are first-generation learners."

The Beginning

In the late 1940s, while studying agriculture at Khalsa College in Amritsar, Iqbal Singh had a pivotal moment during a lecture by Teja Singh, a former college principal. Teja Singh emphasized the importance of education for girls and integrating spirituality into education for everyone. Inspired by Teja Singh's vision, Singh decided to join him in his efforts to bring about social change.

Despite his father's wishes for him to pursue higher education abroad, Singh chose to follow his passion and work with Teja Singh. He joined the Punjab government as a research assistant after completing his post-graduation in agriculture. While his family was financially stable, Singh was determined to walk the path laid out by his mentor, prioritizing social activism over personal desires.

In 1952, Singh left his job with the Punjab government to work with Teja Singh in the Himachal government, who was setting up the Kalgidhar trust, a charity. They worked together closely, and Singh helped find the first academy's location. After four years, they chose a 400-acre plot in Baru, about 60 km from Solan in Himachal.

When Teja Singh passed away in 1965, Singh took charge of the Trust and focused on blending modern education with faith while still working for the government. In 1982, Singh was promoted to the director of the agriculture department.


In 1987, Singh started the first academy, a small school in Baru, with only five students. He used his pension money to build and run the school for the first year. Despite facing criticism in the beginning because of the remote jungle location, the academy gained traction. The next year, over 70 children from nearby districts enrolled, and families stepped up to support the trust.

Singh, founder of the Akal academy, emphasizes value-based education. The academy aims to meet current educational needs while preparing students to contribute positively to society. Regardless of caste, religion, ethnicity, or gender, all students receive education. The focus is on nurturing a love for learning from an early age and providing the necessary infrastructure to support their academic journey.

It became clear that just one academy in Himachal wouldn't fix the problems kids faced in nearby areas. During this period, drug and alcohol issues were rising in Punjab, leading many families to worry about their children's well-being.

The Baru academy gained recognition for its special educational approach. Families from various villages in Punjab started asking Singh and his team to open more academies to protect their children from falling into the trap of drugs. "It was difficult for us to accommodate all the children in Baru Sahib. So we thought of opening academies in the villages itself."

Therefore, the trust opened the first Akal academy in Muktsar in 1993.

Spreading the wings

The Mukisat school was designed for kids from poorer areas, but it wasn't free, Singh points out. He says there are two reasons for this. First, students tend to value education more when they have to pay for it. Second, if schools rely on donations, they might shut down if the donations stop. Singh mentions that the school charges a small fee for tuition.

By 1999, the trust had opened 19 academies across Punjab. More academies were added in 2007, and now there are 128 in total. About 80 percent of the land for these schools was donated by villagers. Singh highlights that these schools are just as good as private urban schools, using teaching tools like TV and interactive technology in classes.

New schools start small, with just a few students in the early grades, but they gradually add higher classes over time. These schools operate during the day, allowing children to spend more time there and less time in potentially harmful environments outside.

One of the main challenges faced by these schools is finding qualified teachers, especially in rural areas. It's hard to attract teachers to these villages, and commuting from cities every day isn't feasible. To address this, the trust behind the schools initiated a program in 2006 offering free teacher training for young village girls. Currently, three centers in Punjab have trained over 2,000 teachers through this program. The training program is open to girls who have completed either class X or XII. They receive free education and are prepared to teach at these academies in the future.

Asked why he chose education to help the community. Singh says. "We wanted to focus on creating good human beings, which can be done only Through valuebased education. Children have the most impressionable minds and it is easy to mould them. They can create wonders If are put on the right path."

These schools have made a big difference, not only in keeping students away from drugs and alcohol but also in encouraging their parents to quit these habits. According to Ravinderpal Singh Kohli, who left his garment business to work with the Trust, many village heads in Punjab have taken steps to make their villages liquor-free. Children studying in these schools have actively participated in campaigns led by the state police against drug and alcohol abuse.

Kohli emphasizes the Trust's goal of opening 500 new schools in the coming years. While building a few schools wasn't difficult, the scale of this initiative requires more resources. To address this, the Trust has taken a loan of 90 crores to establish these academies promptly, recognizing the urgent need for them.

Iqbal Singh highlights that Kalgidhar's success is a collective effort, not the work of one person alone. He mentions the contributions of various individuals, such as Dr. Devendra Singh and Dr. Neelam Kaur, a doctor couple who left their government jobs in Delhi to join the Trust in its early days. Dr. Kaur now serves as the director and principal of the academy at Baru Sahib.

Meanwhile, at 89 years old, Iqbal Singh's journey is far from over. The trust is now embarking on establishing a university in Punjab.His is a journey of tireless dedication to education, combating societal challenges, and fostering positive change.


*Based on an article by Jasleen Kaur, published in on 4th December 2013


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