April 21, 2012

Challenges in running Thamizh medium school in Chennai

What takes priority at a middle school which serves poor families in a metro?

Classroom environment.

Note and textbooks.

Food and nutrition.

Extra-curricular activities.

Clean washrooms and toilets.

On a sweaty April afternoon, we sit with teachers and nuns to list the priorities as the academic year comes to an end and this is the time to plan ahead.

We support a middle school in Mandavelipakkam managed by the Bon Secours congregation of nuns.  This is a congregation which was installed in Mylapore in 1894, having taken root in Pondicherry much earlier with the effort of a Jesuit missionary priest.

The steady stream of donations from Mylaporeans over the past many years has enabled us at the Trust to slowly expand the nature of our support.

Last year, the Headmistress, a nun made two requests. One, to help repair the washrooms and two, bear the expenses of transporting about 100 children from the suburbs of the city.

The second issue got me going further. And I realised the changing dynamics of primary school education in a city like ours.

Bon Secours runs four major schools in the Mylapore region - specially because its base, the Provincialate is in Alwarpet.

The Middle School we support is a Thamizh medium school which has catered to the poor in this area and to the children of fisherfolks on the coast. Some years ago, the strength began to fall. Parents were opting for local English medium schools.

The strength had to be sustained and on many evenings, nuns and teachers would set off to the kuppams to coax errant parents to let their kids attend school.

The school received a big blow when the state 'evicted' many coast-based families in the name of tsunami rehabilitation and dumped them in places like Semmenchery and Kannagi Nagar, now considered to be the hellholes of the displaced of our city.

While many kids dropped out of school, some determined ones clung on to MTC buses and came all the way to Mandavelipakkam to attend school.

Many would collapse after the first session of class.

Many gave up the trials of travelling long distances.

The nuns and the teachers could not sit back, for their salaries and jobs depended on the school strength. Today, they share the huge bill of transporting the Semmenchery kids in two vans.

And they realize that there will not be much scope for a Thamizh medium school.

The nuns cannot decide in a jiffy. Their High School for girls, just across the road offers English medium and is packed.

Investing in a school bus now that will do the San Thome-Semmencherry trip is not the best option. Instead, we propose to repair the washrooms.

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