Teachers of government primary school in Madurai take classroom to streets, provide nutritious meals too

Roughly 30 students from the Dr T Thirunanam Primary School reside in each locality and begin their outdoor classes with warmup exercises
Students at the street classroom | Pic: Express
Students at the street classroom | Pic: Express

“Did you know,” exclaims a little, but confident voice. “You have to press a balloon on at least two sides to burst it. That’s because of elasticity,” Class 5 student, V Mazhildhini, adds, showcasing what she just learnt in a science experiment.

Her classroom is the shade of a tree, and her classes are accompanied by birds chirping and squirrels squeaking. Mazhildhini’s mother, a domestic help, spends most of the day at work. “So my brother and I used to just eat fermented rice and pickle for lunch. But for the past month, our teachers have been giving us delicious tamarind rice, vegetable rice, dal rice, and tomato rice with egg,” the little girl smiles.

That’s because her teachers have started providing mid-day meals though classes aren’t being held on the Dr T Thirunanam Primary School campus in Madurai. The government-aided school was shut in March 2020 due to the pandemic, and to ensure students don’t miss out, the teachers started taking classes on the streets near students’ homes from July last year. Students from other schools also join in.

Then, from November 2020, the teachers taught the children farming and encouraged them to grow vegetables at home. Because of this, their parents now use vegetables from their gardens to cook.

The ‘street schools’ are not easy to miss if you visit Chinthamani, Viraganoor, Sakkimangalam, Panaiyur and Kalmedu. Roughly 30 students from the Dr T Thirunanam Primary School reside in each locality and begin their outdoor classes with warmup exercises. Besides their academics and science experiments, they learn silambam and dance. Puppetry, drawings, and books are used to raise awareness about child sexual abuse. Around noon, all the children eat a healthy meal together.

“Initially, each teacher used to contribute Rs 3,000 per month for the lunch. But now, voluntary organisations cover the cost,” P Geetha, a teacher, explains, adding that they give out 200-300 packets of lunch with eggs every day, depending on the area they visit.

Explaining the rationale behind this, headmaster K Saravanan says, “Most of the students’ parents are daily wage labourers. Though the government provides dry ration for mid-day meals, they aren’t able to provide a healthy lunch to their children on time due to the nature of their work. Last year, we provided snacks, and from last month, decided to provide healthy meals. This gives great pleasure to both us and the children.”

Interestingly, visiting students’ homes is nothing new to the teachers. They’ve been doing this for the past four years for activities such as storytelling, street science exhibitions, and celebrating important days.

The headmaster too isn’t new to creating waves in the region. Saravanan is renowned in the School Education Department for his innovative teaching methods. His ‘LU-SA-LA card game’ and ‘clip puppets’ for teaching were showcased at the national toy fair organised by the Ministry of Education in February 2021. At the beginning of the pandemic, he released animated videos to raise awareness among children, for which he was appreciated by the Department of Education.

“We also teach our students the martial art of Silambam, besides drawing, reading, communication, dance, and traditional games to keep them from being hooked on to online games. Children imitate what they see, so I keep that in mind while teaching. For example, if I’m taking a class on exercise, I do the exercise in front of them. Once lessons, games and values are registered in their subconscious minds, they can never be erased,” Saravanan says.

Highlighting the impact of the school, V Girija, a parent from Kalmedu, says, “Most families here are economically weak, so we need to go out to work though it’s not safe to leave our children alone at home. But the teachers have taken the initiative to ensure our children are on the right path in life. Because of them, we can work confidently, knowing that the teachers are taking good care of our children and even giving them a healthy lunch,” she says with tears in her eyes.

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