Born as the youngest of six children to Karoor Madhavan Pillai and Janaky Amma of Kollam district of Kerala, KM Vasudevan Pillai hails from a middle-class agriculturist family. After finishing his higher secondary, he shifted base to Mumbai and obtained BA, MA and PhD degrees in English Literature from Mumbai University. Pillai founded the Mahatma Education Society along with his elder brother P Pillai in 1970. They first started a primary school and now there are about 45 institutes under the umbrella of the society, offering education ranging from pre-primary to Arts and Commerce and BEd and DEd education, catering to 30,000 students. “When we started the Chembur English High School, I used to take tuition till late night so that I could pay the handful of teachers I had hired. Today, I employ over 2,000 teachers,” he says happily.
“Finance was a huge problem in the initial years. We accepted donations from friends and well-wishers to keep the school running,” says Pillai, who serves as Founder-Secretary, CEO and Chairman of the society. As a first step to promoting higher education, he started the Night Degree Arts and Commerce College in 1986, as he found several youth surrounding the Chembur area of Mumbai unemployed as they were not able to afford higher education.
“I started a BEd college in 1990 as I couldn’t find enough trained candidates for my schools. This college has the unique distinction of being the first unaided BEd college under Mumbai University,” he says.
An educator and philanthropist as he would like to be known, Pillai also started a Marathi school especially catering to the backward classes. “It has been our practice for long to give financial aid to deserving candidates and also help them with employment. In fact, we give free lunch to students who spend long hours at the library during exams,” he says.
Pillai says that his extensive research helped him in the establishment of several institutes. “I travelled extensively across the world and visited leading educational institutions and held discussions with eminent academicians and as a result, incorporated student and faculty exchange, establishment of international schools, state-of-the-art facilities and such,” he says. Pillai is also the author of EduNation, where he has enlisted the troubles he encountered while setting up his educational institutions and has also made a comparison of the different education systems around the world.
A firm believer in education being the best pathway to empowerment, Pillai says, with education we can rebuild India. “Education offers a continuum of learning opportunities, as a means of social, political, economic, and legal empowerment, as a way to flatten inequities and make learned, well-informed choices. Education is not just a career-building exercise but is helpful for community-building and nation-building. In disbursing the education budget, the Centre must link grants to goals, demand greater performance and accountability from the States. And these accountability reports must be made available to us online. Education is too important to be left solely to educators. This is what I mean by ‘Edunation’, a state of the nation where education is brought onto the national agenda, as in France, Switzerland, Singapore, and the US,” he explains.
Vouching for his style of management as being very hands-on, even today Pillai visits all his institutes daily and says that leaves him with very little time for hobbies. Details at www.mes.ac.in.