CHENNAI: Can reading make you fly? Antariksha*, young daughter of a daily-wage worker studying in a government school, couldn’t believe it. She was on cloud nine when she won an essay contest by the 'Soorarai Potru' movie team for a free plane ride across Tamil Nadu in 2019.
She has many to thank for her maiden flight but topping the list is her teacher, S Uma Maheswari. The 45-year-old bookworm has turned a new leaf in the life of many a government school child over nearly two decades.
It all began in 2005 at Jan Chettimankurichi Government School of Salem district, when Uma brought 'Kalaikathir', a magazine which is no longer on the stands. It regularly carried science experiments for students of Classes 6, 7 and 8 to read beyond their backpack burdens. Her little experiment was a super hit among students as the latter even recreated the projects elucidated in the magazine.
A voracious reader herself, she decided to kindle reading habits among her students. Over the years, she sowed this seed of reading beyond the prescribed textbooks among children in every school she worked in.
The 'classroom library' she stacked up in 2018 at the government school in Chrompet, with some of her own collections along with magazine subscriptions such as 'Thumbi' and Agaram's 'Yadhum', helped many students improve their vocabulary.
Marks do not make a student, but extra marks make a schoolchild ecstatic. To pull the nonchalant kids, she announced extra marks under the curriculum's Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation, for recreating the projects and book reviews. "Many students passed because of this. It turned out to be an incentive for them," Uma beams at her triumph.
Inspired by the packed shelves, the school now thrives with the students’ original ideas, stories and articles complete with creative illustrations. In her free time, she took six students from her school to the Chennai Book Fair at Nandanam to meet authors and explore new titles.
Uma's go-to gifts during birthdays for the children and the teachers are wonderful books that have ingrained an upbeat attitude among people around her, says her colleague M Gandhimathi, a social science teacher in the MBN Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Chrompet. "Once students pick up a book, they quickly develop the habit of reading, especially at this age," says Gandhimathi.
It is not surprising that the parents of the children are delighted to see their kids buried in books, and listen to their new fascination, and new curiosities. Uma's small book collection is now snowballing into a proper library set-up as parents donate bundles of books, and authors contribute signed copies of their books.
The book reviews written by the students have been picked up by local publications. The two girls from the school had won an essay competition writing about their ambitions. "If not for this opportunity, I don’t know if I would have ever got an opportunity to fly," says Antariksha*.
The teacher is delighted. She knows reading would indeed help the children channel their energy and achieve their goals in the long run.
(* Student's name changed to protect her identity)