CHENNAI: There’s nothing unusual about the ever-bustling streets of Linghi Chetty Street, Mannady. After two years of the pandemic, and with the reopening of Dr Rathnavelu Subramaniam Muthialpet Girls Higher Secondary School a part of The Muthialpet Group of Schools and one of the oldest in the locality weekdays just got busier with everyday activities resuming to the fullest. The ringing of the school bell, welcomed me into the decades-old premise that was inaugurated in 1961 by K Kamaraj, the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
As I make way to the headmaster’s office, I get a view of classrooms filled with students listening to their teachers with rapt attention; parents of new admits queuing up outside the room to complete the formalities. “Parents and kids come here with lots of dreams and hopes. The fee is minimal and we support aspiring young minds with scholarships and endowments. Most of our students are from middle and lower-middle-class backgrounds in north Chennai. The priority has been to give ample and equal opportunities to girls,” says P Anandakumar, headmaster of the girls’ school.
Braving all odds
For the past 13 years, the students have been at the top of their performance in their classes 10 and 12 state board examinations. Of the 81 students in class 12 who appeared for the public examination in May 2022, 11 secured centum in Business Maths, Accountancy, Economics, Commerce, Computer Science, and Chemistry. Twenty-two students scored more than 500 out of 600, and all the 74 students who appeared for class 10 exams, passed with commendable marks.
“Ours is a Tamil and English medium school. We are on par with any private school in terms of the faculty, coaching, and infrastructure. We even adapted to online classes during the pandemic. Students here cannot afford to go for tuition, so we take extra classes. We provide them with nutritious food for lunch and snacks during extra hours. Despite all these, it’s disheartening that the school’s strength has only been going down. We have 652 students in the girls’ school,” rues CS Parthasarathy, a board member.
The Muthialpet Higher Secondary School of Boys (since 1847) with a strength of 582 is grappling with a different set of challenges. “Boys are more playful but shine in extracurricular activities. One of the pressing problems is a lack of interest among parents in their children’s education, resulting in absenteeism and poor performance. Teachers are always reminding them of pertinent issues. We have to go the extra mile to ensure the kids complete their education,” shares R Arumugam, headmaster of the boys’ school. On the brighter side, Dr Rathnavelu Subramaniam Muthialpet Nursery and Primary School (since the 1990s), seems to be performing better, notes Padma, the headmistress. “We have 370 kids. We emphasise on spoken language classes for English and Hindi. Our staff is well-trained and equipped to handle special children. Parent-teacher meetings happen frequently,” she says.
Boasting a legacy of 175 years, it’s unfortunate that The Muthialpet Group of Schools that once churned out students who’ve made a name for themselves in all fields, particularly medicine, is struggling to sustain. “Many schools have mushroomed in the locality. Earlier, we used to have students coming all the way from Thiruvottiyur and Tambaram. Now, the local crowd has migrated into different pockets of the city. Another serious problem is the perception of the locality among people. This is just another neighbourhood, but busier because of the labour class settlements. Lastly, our fee is meager, even then it’s not affordable for some. But, we need some money to run the school. Over `10 lakh goes into maintenance and renovation every year,” point out Parthasarathy and teachers.
A legacy to uphold
Walking us through the brief history of the school since its inception, Parthasarathy shares, “The first school was started in 1847 by notable philanthropists such as V Vijayaragavalu Chetti, P Somasundaram Chettiar, A Subbarayulu Chettiar, and S Appaswami Chetti. The school was then known as Samskrita Andhra Dravida Patasala. Teaching in English was introduced in 1857 and it came to be known as The Muthialpet Anglo-Vernacular School. It was upgraded to the status of middle school in 1881. In 1896, it was elevated to a high school under the name The Muthialpet High School. The first batch of students for the matriculation examination was presented in 1898.”
A permanent recognition was obtained from the government in 1938 and in the same year, the Midday Meals Scheme was started with the cooperation of Chennapuri Annadhana Samajam. In 1947, the institution completed 100 years and the milestone was celebrated in March 1949. An endeavour to start a school for girls culminated in 1961 with the active aid of philanthropists in the name of Dr Rathnavelu Subramaniam Muthialpet Girls’ High School. Following this, the nursery school was started. “The board members meet once a month to discuss important matters. Most of us here are alumni of the school. Many students have exceeded our expectations and won national-level awards. It’s sad that we are grappling with fundamental problems even now. We still need to convince the parents of girls to let them pursue higher education,” he adds.
Despite its silent battles, the school continues to stand the test of time by adapting to the changing landscapes of the education system. “The management is doing its part dedicatedly. It’s for the parents to approach the school with an open mind and for students to make the best use of the opportunity to secure a better future,” sums up Parthasarathy.
Board of directors
KS Venugopala, president
P Ram Kumar, secretary
CS Parthasarathy, joint secretary senior
VV Selvakumar, joint secretary junior
Justice (retd) PPS Janarthana Raja, director
SR Raghuvir, director
K Ekambaram, director
Dr PP Dhakshayani, director
VS Elangovan, director
GB Vijayakumar, director