‘Bond with the best is all that matters’
At his tiny first floor residence in Kotturpuram Housing Board Colony, Jaffar, now in Standard I, was watching Chotta Bheem cartoon on TV. After several minutes, he opens up by stating that Siddish Kumar is his best friend at school. Jaffar doesn’t know where Siddish comes from or his background. His mother Mumtaz Begum interjects, “He doesn’t need to. All that matters is the bond of friendship that they share.”
Mumtaz mistakenly refers to RTE as RTO on three different occasions during a nearly half-an-hour conversation. Upon being gently informed that it is RTE and not RTO, she drives home a message. “How does it matter? As far as I am concerned, it is a boon for daily wage earners like me, who wants to provide good quality education to our children.”
The conversation also brought light on her steely will to educate her two children. “I and my husband, a painter, were not fortunate enough to get educated. We don’t want our children to go through what we did,” says Mumtaz. While she had managed to completed her Standard X, her husband M Mustafa had dropped out after Standard V.
Things just clicked for the family when they approached Anna Gem Matriculation Higher Secondary School, located on the Anna University campus. “When we approached them for admitting our younger son Jaffar in LKG, the teachers enlightened us about the RTE. We tried and luck was on our side,” she says.
Jaffar’s elder brother Zakir studies in another private school under non-RTE.
“A lot of poor families are yet to know about the RTE provision. It is the duty of the schools and government authorities to create awareness about the Act,” Mumtaz remarks.
Mason father living his dream through his son
The burden of financially supporting his family fell on the shoulders of M Selvam when he was just six. Following in his father’ s footsteps, he worked at several under-construction buildings in the villages surrounding Madurai. This, at the expense of going to school.
He ultimately dropped out of school after Standard VIII. Selvam recalls how his wife, who dropped out of school after Standard X, was keen on further studies, but had to forego her dreams because of family problems. “My wife was born into a family with five daughters. Although I offered to fund her somehow, she refused saying she no longer had that keen interest.”
Now decades later, still a ‘Kothanar’ (mason), Selvam is adamant that his son Harish Muruga is not forced to dropout of school. Although he somehow meets the family’s daily expenses (he daily earns `500 at the most), he is delighted that one huge expense is taken care of. The education bill of Muruga, a Standard II student of Vanavani Matriculation School located inside the IIT Madras campus in Chennai, is covered under the Right to Education (RTE).
Harish says he is proud and happy to attend the school. Selvam, who lives at Kanagam in Taramani, is truly grateful that the government had brought in the RTE Act, which he terms “a ray of hope” for all less privileged families.
He has a word of suggestion to the authorities, though. Having heard of as well as seen a few “well-off families” avail admission under the RTE, Selvam says, “I would like to see this Act help only those who really are deserving and have no other option to educate their children.”
A long-cherished dream finally sees light of day
D Veerappan used to be a temporary worker doing various menial jobs at hostels of students in IIT Madras. It was during those days that he first envisaged putting his three children into either of the two schools located inside the sprawling campus. Although he left the place about five years ago, to start his own Bhajji Kadai on Dhandeeswaran Main Road in Velachery, he continued to nurture his dream.
“As parents, we are obliged to give them good education in a decent school. I tried admitting my two elder children three to four times and on each occasion, it ended in disappointment. So, when I approached Vanavani Matriculation School for Pugazhendhi’s LKG admission, I refrained from having any lofty expectations,” says Veerappan.
It was pure luck that Pugazhendhi, now in his Standard II, was one among the very few admitted under the first batch of RTE admissions. His two elder siblings also study in the same school, though Veerappan pays full fees for them. He acknowledges that the opportunity to save as much as `20,000 in academic fees is really helping him.
Proud mom on cloud nine
Kalaivani Bhagyaraj wore a pleased look when her daughter introduced herself. “I am Oviya and I am a Standard II student at SBOA Matriculation Higher Secondary School,” stated the young one in fluent English. For her mother, a homemaker, these two lines were more than enough to be proud as it was a “big feat”, something she could not accomplish herself. Kalaivani attributes that to the quality education, which Oviya receives at her school.
Like all other parents, Kalaivani and her husband, an electrician, had sought out the best school for their daughter when it was time to admit her into LKG. Although hard-pressed to meet daily expenses, both of them were not to be deterred by watchmen waving them away from the gates.
Their determination was rewarded, when SBOA accepted Oviya under RTE about four years back. Since then neighbours have spoken of their surprise to Kalaivani. “We have been counting our lucky stars. Today, the cost of education at private schools is unimaginably high that it would have taken a huge financial toll on families likes ours without adequate resources,” she says.