The Story of Agastya International Foundation with Adhirath Sethi

The Story of Agastya International Foundation

By Guest Contributor Adhirath Sethi
Author of The Moving of Mountains, Adhirath Sethi, shares the remarkable story of how Agastya was started and what it’s doing today.

The Agastya Foundation was started two decades ago with a mission to spark curiosity, nurture creativity, and instil confidence in the minds of India’s most disadvantaged school-going children.

Pushing against a tide that had waylaid Indian education to a rote-based, syllabus-obsessed, and exam-centric system, Agastya’s main purpose was to revive a culture of innovation in young Indian students.

With the help of some of the world’s foremost scientists and educationalists, Agastya mapped a plan to take science learning to the most remote parts of rural India.

The Mobile Science Lab – Agastya’s award-winning delivery mechanism – became the centre of this plan. With over eighty curated low-cost experiments, the mobile vans go from school to school along with an Agastya instructor. The instructor’s mandate: to make learning joyful and to show children science in action. Science they could hold and experience and even break. Science that had hitherto been trapped between mundane lines in their textbooks.

The message is as simple as “Ah! Aha! HaHa!”

In other words: spark curiosity (Ah!), deliver the understanding to sate the child’s curious mind (Aha!), and then let the child use their newfound understanding to run amok and have fun with science (HaHa!).

The mobile science vans themselves are always upgrading, adding new experiments as the instructors too work tirelessly to adapt to Agastya’s ever-evolving teaching methods. Brightly painted with Agastya’s trademark cartoon figures, the vans are – both literally and figuratively – the burst of colour that any dreary school day needs.

As the popularity of the mobile vans grew, other new and innovative programmes were launched. A lab-on-a-bike, the lab-in-a-box, the lab-on-a-tab, media labs, and a gifted children programme all added to Agastya ever ever-expanding repertoire. A night school programme, spanning some seven hundred villages at its peak, allowed Agastya to leverage a force-multiplier effect, wherein students of Agastya would go on to become teachers themselves.

Meanwhile, a dedicated focus on teacher training allows under-funded government schools access to methods designed to increase the effectiveness of their own teaching staff. Teachers trained at Agastya’s intensive three-week programme wear their upskilled status like a badge of honour.

Within a few years of its operation, Agastya was drawing interest from the Indian Government. School attendance rates had started to rise, and the quality of teaching was improving in those areas where Agastya was operating. With the help of government partnerships and the support of private donors that believed in Agastya’ mission, the foundation has scaled rapidly, now reaching two million children each year.

All the while, Agastya’s 170-acre campus in South India has developed into a world-class centre for learning. Housing numerous facilities specialising in different areas of study, the campus welcomes over six hundred students from surrounding schools each day to experience Agastya’s unique teaching methods. An ecological marvel in itself, the campus – once an arid wasteland now transformed by the foundation’s green initiatives – forms the hub of Agastya’s operations.

The journey is in no way complete. As Agastya enters its third decade, the ambition remains to influence meaningful change on a mass scale. With a brand that easily sees the foundation hold its own as among India’s most admired charitable organisations, Agastya is looking to grow tenfold over the next five years. Agastya 2.0, as it is being called, will combine the foundation’s rich learnings from hands-on education with the digital revolution that is sweeping across India. The resulting synergies will see Agastya reach an astounding 100 million children by the end of the decade and cement its reputation as one of the foremost educational institutions of its time.


Adirath Sethi is a Trustee of the Agastya International Foundation. He was formerly a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group and is today a Director of his family’s business in India.

Suggested Reading

The Moving of Mountains tells the story of Agastya’s remarkable origins, the individuals who devoted their resources and efforts to make a difference, the vision and beliefs behind Agastya, and the many children who have benefitted from Agastya’s renowned experiments in educational innovation and project-based learning programs. The Moving of Mountains is, moreover, the story of an extraordinary and generous dream of a group of people who wanted to make available a path of discovery for everyone.

More information