This School Leader is Taking the Path Less Trodden: Meet the Promoter, Educator and Self-Appointed Van Driver Extraordinaire

This School Leader is Taking the Path Less Trodden: Meet the Promoter, Educator and Self-Appointed Van Driver Extraordinaire

Home - Education - This School Leader is Taking the Path Less Trodden: Meet the Promoter, Educator and Self-Appointed Van Driver Extraordinaire
Surendra S, Srujana Sarovara Pre Primary School

Surendra S, Srujana Sarovara Pre Primary School, Nallurupala village, Hunsur taluk, Mysore

When Robert Frost penned the iconic words “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by”, it is likely that he was writing about individuals like Surendra S and his friends at Srujana Sarovara Pre Primary School, Hunsur.

We found Surendra in the midst of his duties, juggling different roles as one of the promoters of the school, an educator, and also the self-appointed driver of the school van. He shared with us the challenges he faced in managing these various responsibilities.

Despite the demands on his time, we were amazed to see how Surendra’s passion for education shone through as he spoke about the importance of providing quality education to every child from the community, regardless of their background.

Surendra S, Srujana Sarovara Pre Primary School

What inspired Surendra and his friends to start the school?

Surendra and his friends (Ravi, Santhosh Kumar and Abhi) started the school with the intention of bringing the quality of education provided in city schools to rural areas. He says “We completed our D Ed training at Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM), Sargur where we were trained and educated tribal children in the midst of the forest region. After completing the training, we realized that instead of seeking jobs elsewhere, we should come together and start a school.”

Reflecting on the past, Surendra continues, “The school was started by the four of us, but the core team has since grown to nine people, including the serving Principal and lecturers. Over time, people have come and gone, mainly due to monetary restraints. This is not a well-paying profession, especially in rural areas where a sense of service motive is needed.”

When asked if there was a specific event or strong persuasion that influenced the starting of the school, apart from their work with tribal kids, Surendra reveals that they had briefly worked at another school. However, due to differences among the people running the school, it had to be closed. This incident ultimately led the four friends to open their own school, which is located near the Nagarhole Reserve Forest.

Why did they choose the location?

Surendra states that their goal was to provide education to rural areas, but their financial resources were limited. After completing their D Ed course, they returned to Hunsur with no money. Hunsur is home to many tribal children, including the Hakki Pikkis, who do not have financial independence. Therefore, the location was suitable for their purpose and circumstances. Education is the key to assimilating tribal people into mainstream society, he believes.

Also Read: From A Farmerworker’s Son To Becoming A Proud Edupreneur

What were the initial challenges?

In 2013, the first academic year began, and Surendra reflects on the initial challenges they faced. “During the early days, we faced a significant gap between our theoretical expectations and the practical challenges we encountered. As a young and inexperienced team, parents were apprehensive about admitting their 5-year-olds to our school. We needed to understand the government’s departmental machinery, the children’s psychology, and the parents’ emotions. These were our major challenges.”

The school started with a 3-room premise, which consisted of LKG, UKG, and an office room. At the beginning, Surendra and his team rented a building for the school premises. After operating from rented premises for five years, they purchased land, constructed a building and added vehicles to transport students. “We, along with a mason, worked on site to build most of the structure ourselves. Our experience on the ground helped us to acquire knowledge in different areas, from building the school premises to arranging finances. Once operations commenced, we faced challenges related to special learning methods,” Surendra claims.

He further emphasizes that the strength of the school lies in the quality of education provided. This was evident from the increase in admissions year on year during the pre-COVID period. In the first academic year, they had 40 students. This number increased to 80 students in the second year, and with an annual increase, they had 250 students on rolls towards the sixth year.

Over the years, the confidence of parents in the school’s endeavour has increased. Surendra explains that in the school’s geographic area, parents of students have basic or no education. They conducted monthly PTMs, inviting Resource People to provide guidance to the students. “These meetings used to be an educational experience for the parents also.”

When asked about his daily work schedule, Surendra says “Even now, I drive the school van. By the time I drop all the students off and reach home, it is 6.30 pm. In the initial days, we could not afford a vehicle and hence had outsourced student pick-up & drop on a monthly retainer.”

Are there any plans afoot to increase student strength?

Surendra explains that they are taking steps to increase student capacity at the school. Firstly, they have applied for funding by mortgaging the building to improve facilities such as the computer lab, refurbishing the building, and providing a gate and parapet wall.

“Parents prioritize the appearance of the school over the quality of education provided in the classrooms. But we are not discounting these expectations and are working towards meeting them. In addition to these improvements, the school plans to invest in more technology for teaching in the coming days,” he says acknowledging. 

They are also considering extending the structure with 3-4 more classrooms to accommodate more students. Overall, the school is taking a holistic approach to increasing student capacity by improving facilities, investing in technology, and expanding the physical structure of the school.

Adverse situation faced during the pandemic

“Our team used WhatsApp groups to disseminate information and made weekly visits to distribute worksheets provided by Varthana. While this helped, it wasn’t enough to curb the drop in student attendance. The first wave of the pandemic left everyone scared, including parents and teachers, and they couldn’t do much to mitigate its impact,” Surendra says about the time when the pandemic was at its peak.

Regarding coping with the break in the study pattern, the educator mentions, “During the last academic year, we focused on imparting basic education and updating students without worrying too much about the curriculum. The students have picked up very well.”

Relationship with Varthana and expectations

“When we needed funding for land procurement and the construction of the initial structure, Varthana was a great help,” says the visionary leader. Academically, he adds, “The English and Mathematics training workshops have been extremely useful thus far.”

Regarding future expectations from Varthana, he notes, “While the activity books that they distribute are suitable for urban students, they may be challenging for rural kids to comprehend. Additionally, many parents prioritize low or no cost over quality. If the cost could be reduced, it would be easier to convince parents to use the facilities offered.”

Significant achievements or milestones

He says “Currently, we have classes till 8th standard. In the Prathibha Karanji event, one of our students was selected for the district-level storytelling competition. What’s more, the students in the 8th standard speak English fluently.”

When I asked how they achieved such fluency, given that many of them might not have an English background at home, he explains, “We ourselves come from a Kannada medium background. We first learnt and became fluent in English before we started communicating with the students. We have emphasized strengthening the basics/fundamentals in Maths, Science, and English. In turn, the students are enthusiastic about studying. They are happy to attend classes regularly, and absenteeism is very low.”

Surendra is a remarkable school leader and his passion for teaching is contagious. His dedication serves as a shining example for educators everywhere.

Overall, Srujana School is a young institution that’s taking steps to stabilize itself and course-correct when needed. Although their learning curve is still linear, they have made promising strides and are committed to delivering on their promises to students, parents, and themselves.

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