In a quiet picturesque village near Theni in Tamil Nadu, the sight of little children alighting from their school bus, and marching to their classrooms in a queue, with each child’s arm on the shoulder of the one before her, made an enchanting scene to take in.
Set amidst a serene locale surrounded by sugarcane farms and coconut grooves, away from noise and pollution, is the Sri Valli Varadaraj Matriculation School in a village close to the Vaigai Dam in Tamil Nadu. The township, Varadaraj Nagar, is named after the Coimbatore-based industrialist, educationist and PDG of D 3201, G Varadaraj, from the PSG family. GV, as he was affectionately known, was also a Rajya Sabha MP.
As for their aspirations, most of the students want to join the Army or the Navy.
When GV requested former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran, a close friend, to approve the setting up of a medical college in Coimbatore, MGR suggested that GV build a sugar factory near his constituency, Andipatti, a sugarcane belt. Thus was born Rajshree Sugars and Chemicals in what was otherwise a barren land with little employment opportunities. Today the factory is a source of income for several thousands of villagers and sugarcane farmers directly and indirectly. Rajshree Pathy, GV’s daughter, is its managing director.
Having ushered in substantial economic development around the area, GV wanted to construct a school for the children in the region, but passed away before this could be done. Rajshree turned her father’s dream into a reality in 2007 by setting up the school on an 18-acre plot near the factory.
The school today is much sought-after by people from the surrounding villages and children from as far as 30 km study here. Most of them are first-generation learners from poor families; most parents are farm labourers. A fleet of eight school buses are available to the students and staff.
I visit the school accompanied by its advisor, and a trusted friend of GV, PDG S Krishnaswami of D 3230. We enter a classroom to find the children engaged in art work … drawing and colouring tigers and the squirrels. On the prodding of their teacher Rajeshwari, S Karishma (6) entertains us with her Republic Day speech with surprising élan and in fluent English. It is difficult to say that she comes from such a disadvantaged family background. “We train them in various disciplines tapping their inherent talent,” says Rajeshwari.
“For us illiterate parents, it is a great joy and pride to hear our daughter speak in English,” says Chellamuthu, a student’s father. The teachers say they are respected and given freedom by the management to decide on their own teaching style.
Principal Tolly John says that they receive 300 to 400 applications every year for admission for 96 seats in the LKG. A fee of Rs 6,000, payable in three installments, is charged for LKG students and the amount reduces as they go up the higher classes. Everything ranging from bags, uniforms, books, stationery, etc is provided by the school.
Their families cannot afford the extra cost and are happy that their children are taken care of.
The curriculum includes Hindi as a compulsory alternate language, yoga, art, craft and computer. Three students have made it to the State volleyball team and are district champions in beach volleyball, kabbadi, kho-kho and yoga. The students are coached for the IIT examinations too. “Our students won the District championship in the Science quiz conducted by FIITJEE last year,” says John. There is an Interact club too.
Well-equipped laboratories and well-maintained toilet blocks and wash stations for boys and girls complete the picture. Three medical examinations — skin, eye and dental — and education on menstrual hygiene for the adolescent girl students and career guidance seminars are conducted every year. “Their families cannot afford the extra cost and are happy that their children are taken care of,” says Krishnaswami. “I particularly like the ambience of my school and my sessions as a Girl Guide,” says Sharanya of Class 7.
As most of the parents are illiterate, the older children are given extra coaching after school hours, and they along with the teachers are dropped home in the school buses. “This facility is most helpful for the students as some of the houses are in remote places where they do not have electricity and the parents return home from work late in the evening,” says John.
“I am confident I will score more than Shakthi Prabha,” says Gopinath, referring to the student who was a District topper with a score of 496/500 in the last year’s Class X Boards. The school holds a consistent record for over three years now, beams the Principal.
“As these are backward areas, it is important that the parents don’t pull out their children from school, especially the girl children. So we counsel them against it every year,” says Krishnaswami. The teachers also undergo training annually. Last year RC Coimbatore along with RC Wynum and Manly, D 9630, Australia, organised a training programme for them under a global grant.
Craze for the Armed Forces
As I quiz the children on what they aspire to be, it is surprising to find that most of them want to join the Army or the Navy. The Principal enlightens me saying that the region is inhabited by people of the Kallar community known for their bravery and patriotism. Hence most of the youngsters serve in the Armed Forces. These children are inspired by the young men’s uniforms when they visit their homeland on holiday. There are other dreams too … while Srimathy, Raghav and Karthikeyan of class XI want to become cardiologists, Sharanya wants to be a journalist and Nivetha, a dermatologist.
Krishnaswami visits the school every month along with Manoharan, one of the Directors “instrumental in the development of the school,” and they keep the school going like a well-oiled machine. Whenever Rajshree visits the school, “there is a crackle in the air and we all get very excited; she exudes such a positive vibe, pepping us up and never making us feel that we are from a small town,” says Varsha, a teacher.
“My ambition is to put up a teachers’ training college here,” says Krishnaswami, who also runs scholarships for achievers in the name of his family members. As we wind up, Krishnaswami and John were discussing ways to raise Rs 25 lakh to construct a compound wall around the campus.
Pictures by Jaishree