Profile of Students at 4 Schools in Thiruvallur

Report based on detailed discussions with the Head-mistress, Asha teacher and a bunch of students at 4 supported schools in Thiruvallur. Will help understand the background of the students and the challenges at these schools.

Students Profile – Sept 2022

I am Rajaram, a volunteer of Asha Chennai. I wanted to present a picture of the kind of children and schools that we serve. On Sept 23rd I visited 4 schools. At each school I talked to the Head-mistress at the school as well as 5 or 6 children. These are all schools that Asha has been supporting for at least 3 years. Three of the schools are supported by Amazon and one of them (PUPS Palavakkam) directly by Asha.

The teachers selected children who are from the poorer sections for most part and also selected children who are more keen on learning computer science. At each of the schools, I talked with the HM for a little bit to get details about the school and children. Then I spent time talking to the selected children about their interests, background etc. Finally I asked the teachers in the school to visit the homes of these children in the evening and send me photos to give an idea of how they live. At Palavakkam I was able to visit the children’s homes myself.

In talking to the HM and the children I also learnt some more about the nature of the 100-days work (MGNREGA), about land ownership in these villages etc. I have added some of this information in this reports as well.

Click here to see photos from the visit.

Note the names of the students below have been changed to protect their identity.

PUPS Athivakkam

This is a primary school in Ellapuram block of Thiruvallur Dist. It is a good 4 Kms from the highway and a little remote. We have been supporting the school since 2018 and the school has always been very cooperative and we select this school for trying out our new programs. We are planning to start English training with Karadi Path at this school. We have a regular teacher, Sukanya, who teaches English for all the classes and our computer teacher Priya comes to the school for 2 days a week.’

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I talked to the HM Ms. Amudhavalli about the school and the children. The school has a strength of 87 and has 3 government teachers. Ms. Amudhavalli has been the HM here for more than 10 years. She changed the school to English medium back in 2015 or so and since then the enrolment has increased. Only about 20 children go to private schools. Most the children coming to the school belong to the MBC castes. They are often Reddiyars or Vanniyars. The parents are mostly engaged in Coolie work and own no land. Even those employed in some profession like lorry driver do not get regular income.

The school was a CAL centre. So the children got exposed to computers a bit. But a dedicated teacher from Asha to teach computers two days a week has completely changed things according to the HM. She felt the children were also enjoying learning things through the computers. She was very happy with the teachers provided by Asha. Recently Priya opened a couple of computers that weren’t working, cleaned them up and got them working herself. She was quite happy with that herself! But the HM seemed even more happy and proud of what Priya could achieve!

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I also talked a bit to our teacher Priya. Even though she comes (by Scooter) from Guruvoyal a village about 8 or 10 Kms from here, she was very happy at this school. She has full freedom to do her work here. There was never any problem with scheduling classes to her. The children were also very bright.

I then went to another room to talk to 6 children. Other than Selvaraj and Oviya, rest of the children had all attended our mini-school run by Soundariya in this village. All of them recollected seeing me in the mini-school. While the children are poor, even in their strata most of the children’s parents own smartphones. All of them enjoy learning through the computers. Programming had not been taught to them much though they have done the grid activity. They know OpenOffice well. They all knew folders and how to search for files in them.

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Here are some details about each of them.

S.Selvaraj, 5th std

Priya told me that Selvaraj was a very bright kid. He will be a team leader for his team. He will always remember what was taught last week. He comes from rather difficult circumstance. Talking to him, I learnt that his father is a lorry driver and mother goes for 100-days work. He has one elder sister who goes to the Govt High School at Athivakkam. He is from the neighbouring village of Kilambakkam.

100-days work
This is how everyone in TN refers to the work under MGNREGA. When talking to the children I noticed how most of the mothers are doing this work but not the father. I asked the teachers about this and they explained. They give the work for one person in the household. As the men can get other work, it is usually the women who taken up this 100-days work.As can be seen in this village, every poor family desparately depends on this. This has become the de-facto social welfare net for the rural poor and its importance cannot be over-stated.
Dilipraj, 5th std

From his teacher, he is always very energetic, eager and sharp. His parents are living in Chennai and he lives with his grand-father and grandmother. He has one brother and he is going to the Govt High School at Athivakkam.

Jyothika, 5th std

I could myself see that she was clearly the brightest and boldest of the lot. She was the one who stepped forward to answer all my questions. Priya also confirmed that she is indeed a very bright girl and is always the team leader in her work. She understand everything and does everything very well. He father is a mason assistant (சித்தாள் in Tamil) and mother goes for 100-days work. When I asked how learning through computers is better than usual chalk and board teaching, she was the first to understand my question and explain how recall is better and how she enjoyed the different ways in which things are taught with computers. She is an only child for her parents.

Oviya, 4th std

Priya was telling me how it moved her to see Oviya in her house. It was a very small thatched hut and four of them were living there. Despite this, she is a bright girl and does well in her studies. Her elder sister has finished 12th std from GHSS Kannigaiper and was doing a diploma in nursing. Father is a fisher-man (who fishes in nearby ponds) and mother handles garbage.

Sruthi, 5th std

Priya explained that Sruthi is a very soft spoken quite girl. But she will understand and do everything in her own quite way. I could also see the same. Her father was a farmer and mother went for 100-days work. She has two elder sisters both of whom were studying in GHS Athivakkam.

Krishnadevi, 4th std

Bright girl but had to take a lot of leave early in the year. But she caught up quickly with the rest of the class. She has one younger brother who is also studying in this school. Her father is a lorry driver and mother does 100-days work.

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PUPS Ariyapakkam

Next I went to Ariyapakkam, another primary school in Ellapuram block of Thiruvallur Dist. This is right on the highway from Periyapalayam to Uthukottai. The teachers were telling me how this used to be a sleepy road with arched trees on both sides and lots of areas to play. Now it is a busy highway. Many trucks from Chennai port to Andhra Pradesh take this route. This school also has a regular teacher Thenmozhi and computer teacher Anusuya who visits once a week on Wednesdays.

I started by talking to the HM Ms. Chintamani. She has been a HM here for about 14 years now. We know her well as her daughter worked for Asha a for a little while. The school has always been very supportive of all Asha activities. Even when we had a problem once in Ellapuram block and there was restriction on teachers from any NGO coming to the schools, Ms. Chintamani allowed our teachers to continue working in her school!

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The school has a strength of 66 and there are 3 government teachers plus one provided by Asha. Only about 8 children came from the Ariyapakkam hamlet itself. These were Reddiyars and Mudaliyars. Most of the children, 49 of them, come from the Ariyapakkam Colony. These are scheduled caste children. A few really poor children come from the river bank and lake shore at Periyapalayam. These are tribals. Only about 10 to 12 children go to private schools. They are from both Ariyapakkam Ooru and Ariyapakkam Colony. In this entire school of 66 children,

Caste and Land Ownership in Thiruvallur Villages
Caste defines the geography of the villages around Thiruvallur that we work with. Most of the hamlets are single caste hamlets. The older areas where the Panchayat office, schools etc. are located will typically be the place where the upper castes live and usually called the ooru (ஊர்). Note the upper castes in these areas will be Vanniyar, Reddys, Naidus, Mudhaliars, Rajas etc. They are also for most part classified as OBCs and MBCs.
The Dalits live in hamlets near the main ooru. Often the place where they come from will be called Colony. They will mostly be classified as SC but sometimes also as MBC.
Tribals tend to live farther away in newly settled places. Often, they will be living in what is still classified as forest land or waterway and therefore not have any property rights. This will deny them even the basic governmental services. They will have to come up to the ooru to get these.
Flooding etc. tends to affect the tribal areas the most and then the colonies. The oorus will be in higher ground and not be affected by this.
Land ownership tends to be concentrated among those living in the ooru. Even there the bigger pieces of land (5 acres and above) will be owned by very few families. These families would have already migrated to cities and only the older generation will be living here.
Sarva Sikha Abhiyaan in the 2009-12 period set up Computer Aided Learning (CAL) centres in many schools. They provided the school with a couple of computers and provided a wide variety of good contents sourced from Azim Premji Foundation, Ernst and Young Foundation, Regional Inst of English etc. They also provided some training to the teachers.
The program was a complete failure. While the contents were good, there was no mapping provided to align it to the curriculum. The teachers didn’t have sufficient training and had other priorities. There was no maintenance of the computers. Asha Kanini still carries these good contents.

The HM felt that the children have really learnt computers well. They are able to help her when she has doubts! In addition to that they develop the confidence and ability to work on their own. She is able to notice the change that has come about in the children. The computer teacher comes on Wednesday and there will be less absentees on that day! This school also used to be a CAL centre back in 2009. But they could only teach the children some typing and MS paint. They weren’t able to focus on that. Having a dedicated teacher for this helps a lot. Parents and the students both want the computer education to continue.

Ms. Chintamani always tries from all personal and government sources to get the best things for her school. Even the small area of the school is very well maintained and the rooms look real good in this school. She has over time brought in music, dance and silambam classes to the school. But all these stopped due to the Corona. She hopes to start them again. She was really thankful for the support Asha and Amazon are giving to her school. She also had only positive things to say about Thenmozhi and Anusuya, the Asha teachers here.

I then went to another room to talk to 6 children. Alice was new to the school and to the whole area. Her father is a pastor who has recently moved to Periyapalayam. Rest of the children had all attended the mini-school that Asha conducted. This was also conducted by Thenmozhi at her house which is just next door to the school. Anusuya was also teaching at the Ariyapakkam mini-school most of the Corona days. She felt a very strong connection with the children at this school because of that.

Why do they want to learn computers? They all said “ஜாலியா இருக்கும்” (makes them happy or it is fun). They like playing games.

What is good about learning regular subjects through Computers? It helps them understand better. It is fun and there are no pressure to get marks!

What did they enjoy doing on the computer? They enjoy typing. They enjoy putting their picture in table. Anusuya gets them to take a photo of every student on the laptop camera and put that picture in an excel with each student’s name and picture. They enjoyed that activity.

They all opined that if Anusuya is absent on Wednesday, they will keep asking the other teachers about her and will really miss the class. They have all been taught OpenOffice as well as a little bit in programming, esp. unplugged activities.

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Here are some details about each of them.

M. Chandrasekar, 5th std

Anusuya told me that Chandrasekar was from a very difficult family situation. He still enjoys learning computers. His father is a lorry driver and mother a Coolie. His elder sister is studying in JMM Matriculation school. This is not uncommon here because GHSS Periyapalayam is not doing well! He wants to work for a bank.

J. Joyce, 5th std

She moved here only during Corona times and her father is a church pastor. Her mother is a housewife. Her brother studies 8th std at PUMS Kosavanpettai. She wants to become a teacher.

G. Gayathri, 5th std

According to Anusuya, Gayathri knows things very well. She is the best in the class and can do everything that has been taught in OpenOffice. Both her parents are coolies. She wants to be a doctor. Her elder sister is studying 8th std at Victoria Matriculation.

V. Nethaji, 5th std

I remember him very well from the mini-school days. He is always the most talkative kid and will keep answering me and asking me questions. Anusuya says he is from a difficult family situation as well. His father and mother work as a Coolies. His brother studies 8th std at a residential school run by a trust in Chennai. He also has a younger sister studying in 4th std here. He is very good with computers. He also had an Asha role model. He wants to maintain computers and be a systems engineer! He has been seeing our systems engineer coming to school for maintaining the computers.

C. Priyadarshini, 4th std

She is from Ariyapakkam Colony and her parents are also Coolies. She made Anusuya very happy by saying that her goal is to become an Asha Computer Teacher!!! It also made me happy that our teachers also serve as role models for these young minds! She has a younger brother. He doesn’t come to school as he has health issues. Priyadarshini is a very bright girl and I remembered her from the mini-school days.

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PUPS Perittuvakkam

After lunch I went to Perittuvakkam. This is another very remote village. It is some 4 Kms from the Thiruvallur – Uthukottai highway. It is a small village and the school is also a small school with just 32 children and 2 teachers. Asha teacher Geetha visits the school once a week.

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I talked to the Headmistress Ms. B. Sarasa. The school has never seen a computer before Asha started coming here in 2019. She is very happy with Asha teaching the children computer science. She felt everything these days require knowledge of computers. Children did not know anything about computers. This gives them an opportunity to learn that and gives them the confidence to use computers. She was also very happy that her school received a Ford laptop and was also very happy with the work done by our computer teacher Geetha.

Ms. Sarasa told me about the village. The village is divided into two hamlets, one occupied by BC (Naidus and Reddys) and another by SC. 10 and 19 children come from these hamlets. Another 3 children come from nearby hamlet of Upparapalayam. Only 3 children in the village go to private schools.

Then I moved to the next room to talk to the children. Children were always eager for the computer classes which are on Mondays at this school. They like to play the games, and see the stories. They enjoy working on OpenOffice. Here are some details of the students.

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Naresh T., 5th Std

His father is a Coolie and mother does 100-days work. He has an elder sister who goes to GHS Pondhavakkam. He wants to become a lawyer. Geetha added to me later that his family lives in the mill where his father works and is very poor. He is very bright and does computers well.

Harish V., 5th Std

His father is a Coolie and mother does 100-days work. He has a younger brother studying at the same school. He wants to become a Policeman. Geetha said that he is from a very poor family but will do well in his studies.

P. Mohanapriya, 2nd Std

She likes computers a lot and will always complete things first. Her elder brother studies 6th std at GHS Pondhavakkam. Her father is a Coolie and mother does 100-days work. She wants to be a nurse.

R. Sabari, 5th Std

His father is a Coolie and mother does 100-days work. His brother studies 2nd std here. Geetha said that he does OpenOffice well. He will boldly ask doubt if he doesn’t understand anything. His parents are illiterate but he studies well. He wants to become a doctor.

P. Sadhana, 4th Std

Her father is a Coolie and mother does 100-days work. She comes from a poor family. The place where she comes from, all the families are very poor. She does computers well. Her brother is in the Balwadi. She wants to become a teacher.

R, Hemalatha, 2nd Std

She lives right next door to the school and I also visited her home. She has a younger brother who is too young to come to school. Her father works at a flower shop and mother does 100-days work. She is very happy to learn computer science. She is very bright and will do all her work fast and properly. She wants to become the Collector.

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PUPS Palavakkam

The last school I visited was Palavakkam. This was the biggest school I visited on that day. This is a bigger village and was situated right on the Periyapalayam – Uthukottai highway. It has a strength of 156 and 6 teachers. Our computer teacher Sukanya was visiting the school 2 days a week.

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I talked to the HM, Mr. J. Viswanathan first. He has been posted to this school as HM only this year. Despite its high strength, the school has not received as much from various government schemes. It was not a CAL centre and other than the single EMIS laptop given to all schools, it has not received any computers. It has not got one of the new wave of Smart classes either. Asha has given the school 4 laptops and they have received 2 desktops from a company nearby. For now our teacher uses the 4 laptops. They are trying to setup a computer room. Once they do the desktops will also be put to good use.

The school gets students from many hamlets. The main Palavakkam village itself is a mixed community village and has as many as 7 caste groups within it, mostly OBCs and MBCs. But due to its relative prosperity, they get only about 10 children from here. Most of the children here go to private schools. There are about 75 children in the primary school ages who go to private schools. Palavakkam colony has SC population. There is a CSI school with just classes 1 to 3 in the hamlet. So children come to this school only for classes 4 and 5. About 30 students come from here. There main source of students are two tribal hamlets of Eri Colony from where about 30 children come and J.J. Nagar from where about 70 children come.

Attendance is a major issue for multiple reasons among the children from the Eri Colony and JJ Nagar. Firstly, there isn’t a strong demand for education among these communities. So the initiative to make the children come to the school has to come from the school HM. This is often a little difficult to expect. For Eri colony, they have arranged an auto to transport the children. This is paid by the government. Despite this, the attendance is low. At JJ Nagar matters are worse. There is a bus that runs between JJ Nagar and Palavakkam (a distance of about 2.5 Kms). This is very unreliable and on some days it doesn’t run! Even when it does, it comes to Palavakkam only by 10:00 and leaves by 3:45. With JJ Nagar accounting for 50% of the school strength, this makes the running of the school a major challenge. When the bus doesn’t come the HM scrambles and arranges couple of auto trips paid out of the teachers’ own pocket, to go collect the children, especially if there is a visit from a BEO, DEO or someone like that! There is a plan to start a school in JJ Nagar itself. I hope that materialises.

Asha has been supporting Palavakkam since 2018. We were also running mini-schools in this area during the Corona break. We ran a big mini-school catering to about 50 children in JJ Nagar from Nov 2020 to April 21. However, after the elections and summer holidays, we weren’t given the permission to continue using the place where we were running the mini-school. Our teacher went to Eri colony. This was an even poorer place. Our teacher boldly ran a mini-school here even though she was from Uthukottai and the mini-school had to just run under a tree. Couple of the children from JJ Nagar recognised me from my visits there. One girl from Eri colony also came to say hello to me. Many of the children from Eri colony were absent today. They have been absent most of the week.

I went to another room to talk to the children. Our teacher Suganya had mostly selected children from JJ Nagar who are also keen to learn computers. They are all very poor but have a strong desire to learn despite their difficult circumstances. These are the children who walk the 2.5 Km to the school even if the bus is not there on a day. Many of them come to school without having breakfast and struggle to concentrate on the first half of the day.

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Why do you like to learn through computers? We can learn fast. It is interesting and we can understand better.

What did you enjoy doing on computers? Playing games. Drawing using Tuxpaint.

Here are some details of the children.

G. Karthik, 4th Std

His father is a local labour contractor and mother does tailoring work. He has a younger brother studying in the same school. They are slightly better off than the other residents of JJ Nagar. They also have a small shop in the village. He wants to become a policeman.

R. Janani, 5th std

Her father drives an Auto and mother is a housewife. She has an elder brother studying 6th std at GHS Palavakkam. She wants to become a computer engineer! She is always keen to learn new things. Janani has expressed to Suganya how she feels bad about being treated differently in a tuition class. She feels proud to use the laptop and be good at that. She wants to become a software engineer. Her father came in his auto to take her home.

E. Devayani, 5th std and E. Nagammal, 3rd std

They are sisters. Their father is a Coolie and mother a housewife. When I visited their house (an unfinished group house that government had sanctioned) there were number of other children also living in the same house as them. Both of them want to become doctors. Our computer teacher Suganya met their mother. She has no education and can’t even write her name. She feels very proud that her children have learnt to use computers! Parents have several married siblings sharing the house!

N. Harikrishnan, 5th Std

His father is no more and mother works as a cleaner at some company. He has an elder sister studying 7th std at GHS Palavakkam. He wants to be a lorry driver. His mother is very keen that he studies well but he is a little irregular in his attendance. That is the biggest issue. Otherwise he is bright and will ask lots of questions about computers. He is keen to learn new things.

K. Srivalli, 5th std

She is from Eri colony. I could remember her from my mini-school visits. She has one elder brother studying at GHS Palavakkam and a younger sister studying 3rd std here. She wants to become a computer teacher! Again credit to our computer teacher serving as a role model. Suganya was saying that Srivalli is regular in attendance but a little weak. She has a strong desire to learn though.

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