Situated 10 kms from Noolpuzha in Wayanad, is a tribal village, Chettiaalathuru. An unadulterated piece of lush green land where monkeys flit from tree to tree, elephants make unannounced visits trampling crops and weeds alike, where nature and man are in perfect harmony. What brings this primitive tribal village in highlight this month, is a 56-year-old headmaster who won the state award for the best teacher for his six year long service at a lower primary government school, the Chettiaalathuru LP School.
In a land detached from the rest of the globe, with no electricity or modern man-made comforts, by the light of kerosene lamps and shade of gigantic trees, little ones study the alphabets and sing rhymes. Left to themselves, the children would like to go fishing in the streams, climb on trees and make coconut husk curios. With a short attention span, the approach chosen to teach these kids is entirely different.
At four-o’clock, every evening, after their regular class hours, the school bell chimes and all the students gather around the open-air bamboo classroom on the school premises, singing poems and answering riddles. Sometimes, with wide eyes and hands under their chin, they sit engrossed listening to stories. “There are mornings when they toil with the soil, planting trees and watering the small garden in their school frontyard,” says Radhakrishnan, the headmaster, as he opens his black bag to show a photograph of the classroom walls, decked with pictures of fruits, flowers, and newspaper cuttings.
“We also have around 1000 books stacked in a room, a vayana club. After I joined I made sure I took the students for at least one fun trip in a year. They are brought up in a society disconnected from the modern world. There are many who see a train or the beach for the first time during these one- day trips we conduct.”
Kannan did his primary school studies in the Chettiaalathuru school, but once he passed his 4th grade he, like all the kids had to be sent off to a school almost 50 kms away from his home for further studies. Staying in a hostel, getting used to things new and unknown, the little child had sleepless nights and returned home with loud cries, stomping his feet, refusing to go back. Radhakrishnan explains how this is a major problem. “Till the age of nine the child is happy in his hometown, in sync with the nature and pampered by his parents. It is brutal to send children to hostels at such a young age. We have been trying to convince the government to make this an Upper Primary school,” he says clinging onto his dream.
“Initially the parents hesitated to send their kids to school because they have to walk for at least 10 kms to reach the school. Then we arranged jeeps, made provision for breakfast and lunch and provided school uniforms. After a lot of convincing all the children in the village now come to the school,” says the teacher who has to bring newspapers to the school from his home. Neither television, nor radio, not even newspapers are available in the locality.
The school also hosts a variety of social and health awareness classes and seminars for the benefit of the parents. “We often invite doctors and eminent people to interact with these parents,” adds the headmaster who would be retiring this year. Radhakrishnan is the only permanent teacher in this school which has a total strength of 70 students. Rest of the few turnup for work on daily wages.
Surprisingly, some teachers are sent to this tribal village on a punishment transfer. For mankind used to seeing elephants only in the zoo, a close encounter with nature should be more of a reward than punishment!