“Our top priority is to building the character of the child”
You may have heard of the highly commercialised IIT coaching classes at Kota, Rajasthan, and Anand Kumar’s Super 30 institute at Patna, but a lesser known Government High School at Kondraikadu, a remote village in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, has been consistently churning out Class Ten toppers, many of whom have gone on to study engineering and medicine.
The Government High School, Kondraikadu, where children do not have sufficient classrooms, but still manage to score high marks and go on to become engineers and doctors (Photos: H K Rajashekar)
Year after year, since 2006, every student who appeared for the Class Ten board exams from this school has not only successfully cleared it, but many have scored above 80 per cent.
Last year, for instance, out of 114 students who took the exam, 62 scored above 400 marks (out of 500) – 29 of them above 450, seven above 470 and three above 480.
P Periya Azhagan scored 493 marks and stood school first.
If you are not impressed by the scores yet, remember that students of the school are mostly from poor families and children of daily wagers.
Like K Kaleeswari, a Class Ten student of 2010 batch, who is doing her third year MBBS at Sivagangai Medical College. Daughter of a daily wager, she studied under the light of kerosene lamps during her school days.
Not surprisingly, she is indebted to the special coaching classes conducted by the school when she was in Class ten.
“We had special classes in the night, after which we slept in the school. We woke up at 4 for studies, went back home around 7 to refresh, and then returned to the school for the regular classes,” she recalls.
Headmaster M Karunanithi with Sowmya, who is expected to break the school record of high score in the tenth board exams
No wonder the school produced students, who not only scored high marks, but by the time they passed out of the school, had fire in their belly and were filled with ambitions of becoming doctors and engineers.
“In the last ten years, six students entered medicine and more than 200 students joined engineering,” says M Karunanithi, headmaster of the school, who is leading the institution by example.
S K Ramamurthy, a former local Panchayat president, who is also president of the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) for the last 17 years, attributes the success of the students to the dedication and selfless service of the headmaster, his team of teachers and non-teaching staff of the school.
He says the school starts holding special classes for Class ten from the start of the academic year and even on Sundays.
PTA president S K Ramamurthy (right) works closely with the headmaster to ensure that students perform well
“The headmaster and the Class ten teachers arrive at the school at 8 am and leave only at 6 pm after finishing the classes. From January, the special classes go on up to 9 pm, till their exam in March.
“Children are served snacks and tiffin in the evening during this season,” informs Ramamurthy, adding that the expenses for it would be around Rs. 2 lakh, which is met largely through donations from the local people.
While the schedule might seem stressful, the students are actually in high spirits and bubbling with energy as we meet them on a pleasant afternoon in January, the first day of their extended shift at school.
They show no sign of discomfort even though they are sitting under the trees and writing their half-yearly exam.
What is amazing is the level of confidence in the children. L Sowmya, the school topper in the current batch, is aiming to create a new record in the board exams and surpass the previous school best of 493 marks set last year.
The children love Karunanithi, who spends most of his waking hours at the school
R Anjuka, whose parents are both daily wage labourers, is an admirer of the social reformer Periyar, and aims to study medicine.
When Karunanithi took charge as headmaster in 2011, the school had strength of 398 students, but now it’s increased to 635. In 2012, a separate section for English medium was added.
Two buildings with combined space of 1800 sq ft were built in his tenure. A two-storey building of 3600 sq ft area is nearing completion.
“Once it is completed, some of the classes now being conducted under the trees will be accommodated in the building,” says the 49-year-old Karunanithi.
As the PTA president Ramamurthy says, “He always thinks about the school and the children, and he is fully committed to them.”
Karunanithi arrives at the school at 8 am and leaves only at 6 pm
Karunanithi hails from a nearby village called Kuruvikarambai. He worked at the government higher secondary school there as a chemistry teacher for classes 11 and 12, before his posting at Kondraikadu.
He is a gold medallist in BSc (Chemistry), and holds an MPhil.
Karunanithi has a clear vision on his role as the helmsman of the school. “Our top priority is to building the character of the child. We teach good manners and train the children to respect elders.
“The next priority is for attendance. If a child does not come to school, one of us visits their house to find out the reason and make sure that they regularly attend the classes.
The Class Ten, batch of 2015-16, with their headmaster and teachers
“There are hardly any dropouts in our school,” he smiles contentedly.
Karunanithi’s wife, Mala, is a Tamil teacher in the school and the couple is away from their two children most of the time.
But not to worry! As a Tamil saying goes, “ooraar pillaya ootti valathaa, than pillai thaanae valarum.” (When you look after the children of others, your children shall prosper by themselves.)
The couple’s son Muthusuganthan is studying in a reputed engineering college in Chennai, and daughter Shanmughi is preparing well for her class ten exams.
This Article is part of the 'Unsung Heroes of Tamil Nadu' series
More Unsung Heroes
S M Venkatesh