The primary school in the Kallarkudi tribal settlement in Valparai is a one-of-a-kind institution in many ways. It’s probably the only school that employs one teacher and has an attendance of one student.
Though it may sound preposterous, the only teacher, Kalaiselvi, treks through the treacherous jungle, braving everything from elephant attacks to leech bites to reach the school and tutor her class II student.
The tribal settlement is situated 20 km from Valparai town and about 100 km from Coimbatore.
The school’s headmaster, Muruganandam, and teacher Kalaiselvi walk nearly 2.5 km to reach the Kallarkudi Panchayat Primary School and at the end of the day too, they return on foot. They are met by the tribals every day at the bus stand and escorted to the settlement.
“We have to be careful while walking through the forest as the elephant population is high in the area and attacks from the pachyderms are quite common,” P Muruganandam, head master of the school told Express.
And, it’s not enough to keep one’s eyes open for the gigantic creatures, one has to watch out for the tiny bugs on the forest floor as well. “Leeches are common along the trail and if you’re not careful, you could be left with bleeding wounds before you reach your destination,” the headmaster added.
Sources said the strength of students at the school dwindled in the last few years, thanks to the migration of tribals to the plains.
“On the instructions of higher officials, we explained to the local tribal families the various government welfare schemes for students attending the government schools. Many have promised to admit their wards and convince their relatives to admit their children as well,” he said.
“We have to wait till August, when the chance of more students joining the school is high,” said Muruganandam, adding, “two years ago the school had four students.”
The number of school-going children is low in Kallarkudi as several families from the settlement migrated to Tirupur and Coimbatore for employment, said Muruganandam.
Similarly, the student strength is low in six other tribal settlements in and around the Valparai.
The Kavarakkal tribal settlement panchayat primary school also has just one student, the Nedungkundru panchayat primary school has seven pupils, Karumutti tribal school has eight, Vellimudi tribal settlement school has nine, Poontachi tribal settlement school has 5 and the Palakkinar tribal settlement school has 4 students.
However, department officials said there were no plans to close these schools.