A Kerala teacher’s tale of transforming lives

Sunitha Manoj’s efforts have seen more students from isolated tribal settlements opting for higher studies, reports Nejma Sulaiman
Sunitha Manoj with her students at the MGLC School at Alampetty | Express
Sunitha Manoj with her students at the MGLC School at Alampetty | Express

IDUKKI: Sunitha Manoj is a teacher by profession. But for the tribal students of Alampetty and Edamalakkudy settlements in Idukki, where she has served for nearly 18 years, she is much more. 
Such is the change this 42-year-old has brought about in the lives of people belonging to the highly isolated Muthuvan and Hill Pulaya tribal communities over the years, that she has been a catalyst to the notable rise in the number of students from these settlements enrolling at the model residential school in Ettumanoor for higher studies.  

Education is the biggest weapon for change, says Sunitha. “It is education that will empower tribes both economically and socially.”A resident of Missionvayal in Kanthalloor, Sunitha started her career as a temporary teacher at a Multi Grade Learning Centre (MGLC) at Kavakkattukudi in Edamalakkudy in 2004. Ever since, she has been pulling out all stops to convince tribal parents to get their kids educated.
“I would go door to door, talk to families, and get hold of the children. We didn’t even have a proper school at the time. I was taking classes in a temporary shelter with thatched roofs and walls made of bamboo poles. I was paid `1,500 by the government for volunteering,” she says.

Though the initial response to Sunitha’s mission was hardly overwhelming, she eventually managed to get 24 children to attend classes by the end of her first year in Kavakkattukudi. Later in 2012, Sunitha joined the MGLC at Alampetty near Marayur. Due to the lack of facilities at the centre in the settlement there, several children there used to go to a government school in Champakkadu instead. Soon enough, however, she managed to get them all back to the MGLC, which now has 42 students from Classes 1 to 4.

The tutor’s efforts have, over the years, borne fruit. Sunitha’s student Divya K is the first person from Alampetty to clear the matriculation examination with full A+ grades this year. “Women’s education is a different matter altogether. It took me quite a while to convince parents of the need to let tribal girls pursue an education for as long as they want,” she says.

As per government data, there are 78 teachers teaching in 62 MGLCs in Idukki. With the government now deciding to do away with MGLCs, these teachers have been promised last grade servant posts at government institutions in Idukki instead. “Although the idea of leaving the teaching profession is painful, I wholeheartedly welcome the government’s decision to shut down MGLCs. Tribal students should also get high-tech educational facilities and more exposure to the outside world for their development,” she opines.

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