Breathing Life into a School

R. Thamarai Selvi
My Transformation
From a teacher to headmistress of a model school.

My Story

In 1991, I began teaching in government schools in Tamil Nadu. However, 2008 marked a turning point. That year, I was promoted as headmistress and transferred to the Government school at Ramasanikuppan, in Tiruvannamalai district. When I came here, the infrastructure wasn’t great.  The school had just 48 students; disheartened teachers and poor attendance. Worse, the school was a hub for anti-social elements who would drink and gamble on the premises.

I had to change this. My husband K. Prabakaran, who retired from the Indian army in 2003 at the age of 37, turned out to my strongest ally. He contributed most of his pension for the school and started working on improving the building and other structures on the campus. Today, eight years since he first began working, he has been instrumental in the construction of toilets and a hand-washing building that’s the envy of other schools in the state.  I am tempted to admit, “behind every successful woman, there is a man.”

In 2015, SST stepped in to provide invaluable support.  SST offered Rs. 11 lakhs for construction of a stage and additional class rooms. They motivated the community to make the school one of the best government schools in the district. We have also created a greener campus with 25 fruit trees that include guavas and pomegranates.  The hand-washing area, which my husband helped construct and contributed Rs. 200,000 of his own personal money, is such a hit that children are motivated to maintain personal  hygiene and spend more time in school activities.  

SST is helping the school set up a new building for ‘Smart Classes’ with computers. We have introduced the ABACUS training method and have students who have won competitions. More importantly, SST has helped the community take ownership. The school was chosen as the best in the district by the District Collector. Today, there are 50 boys and 40 girls in the school with three teachers. Our ambition is to make this school the envy of private schools.

The SST Way

Community Development Officer Paramasivam who worked with Thamarai Selvi and K. Prabakaran

SST adopted the school in 2015. Compared to elsewhere, we found the school in good shape and with all the attributes necessary to scale greater heights. We stepped in to help with some buildings that were in a poor state from lack of use. The Balwaadi apart, we decided to help with the construction of a stage. TVS and SST are particular about the state of school classrooms and toilets, and these were found to be good in this school.

The toilets are always kept clean. The school is spends Rs. 1000 a month to keep the toilets clean.

We, at SST, decided to help the school to create green spaces on the campus. SST helped plant trees and  gave a total of 100 saplings. The school pays Rs 2,000 to a helper who waters these on a regular basis.

For us at SST, Thamarai Selvi and Prabakaran were a great source of inspiration. She is self motivated whilst he is selfless.  Those in the service of education need to have this feeling of selfless motivation. From morning to evening, they are at the school. While the school timings are from 9:10 am to 4:10 pm, the fifth standard student are given extra coaching for an hour.

The school spends Rs. 100-a-day on tea, biscuits and fruits. Such attention means these students are strong in their fundamentals and are sought after by middle-schools that offer education from sixth standard. It’s little surprise these students go on to be toppers in the state.

While Thamarai Selvi is the recipient of the best teacher award and has even won the prestigious Kamarajar award for teaching, 50 school headmasters have visited the Ramasanikuppan school to study and replicate its success. There cannot be a better testament to this couple’s efforts. We, at SST, are proud of them and this model school.

Our Takeaways

Teachers must have a sense of balance. They have to have a sense of duty and motivation.  You cannot create anything without these.

A sense of belonging is essential — that this is my school and it belongs to me.

NGO’s are there to help but the teacher is the key catalyst. In this case, it is Headmistress Thamarai Selvi who remains focused on the school.