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A teacher’s mission: These students in rural Tamil Nadu speak the Queen’s English

Annapurna Mohan, who follows the phonetics method of teaching English, shudders to think what will befall her students when they are sucked back into the regular education system.

tamil nadu Updated: Apr 30, 2017 08:22 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Annapurna Mohan,Queen's English,Kandhadu
A smiling Annapurna Mohan takes a selfie with her students at Kandhadu in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu.(File photo/ Facebook)

M Pushpa is a class 3 student at a panchayat union primary school in Kandhadu, a sleepy village tucked away in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district. And yet, when she parts her lips to speak, it is in English that would make even the Queen go wide-eyed with appreciation.

Ask the girl who her language tutor is, and she will introduce you to 36-year-old Annapurna Mohan – a novel educator and a darling of students and parents alike.

So, what distinguishes Annapurna from the others in her profession? For starters, consider the long string of degrees – BCA, MBA (HR), MA (Eng) M.Sc (Math) and B.Ed – that make her a trifle overqualified for a primary teacher’s job. Then look at the way she dotes on the 25 students in her class, who have all mastered the English language at a tender age. Lastly, check out her workplace.

A peek into her classroom shows how Annapurna’s teaching style differs drastically from her colleagues in the school. While the walls of other classrooms remain dull and dreary, hers are plastered with cheerful sketches and portraits painted by young artists under her tutelage. The students sit on colourful plastic chairs, and are taught through audio-visual aids such as CD players and a smartboard.

“I spent quite a bit from my own pocket to do up the room. As I wanted to create a good ambience for my students, I pledged my jewellery to acquire a loan of Rs 1.6 lakh,” she says, adding that the headmaster neither permitted nor objected to her project of bringing her students on a par with those being educated in expensive private schools.

A view of Annapurna’s classroom, refurbished with her own funds. ( File photo/ Facebook )

Her techniques seem to be working: Annapurna’s students can speak better English than any of their counterparts in neighbouring schools. “They have gained a lot of confidence too,” says Annapurna, who has posted many videos and photographs of her classroom activities on her Facebook page. The online exposure has done her good – she is getting rave reviews, and complete strangers are coming forward to endorse her teaching methods. A regional television channel even aired a segment on Annapurna and her students, turning them into local celebrities.

However, Annapurna is also apprehensive about the fate that would befall her students after they pass out of Class 3 and re-enter the world of rote learning. “In my classroom, I follow the phonetics method of teaching English. I shudder to think what will happen to them when they are sucked back into the regular education system, which is fast becoming obsolete,” he says.

Annapurna first became interested in this novel method of teaching when the Tamil Nadu government organised a training session for teachers a few years ago. “Sadly, not many teachers seemed inclined to teach English to their children the way the British do. They are too set in their own ways,” she says. “I have been looking at ways to ensure that students continue to learn English the way I have taught them to. However, there really isn’t much I can do when so much lies beyond my purview.”

The teacher admits to have entertained the thought of calling it quits on a couple of occasions. However, just like a village doctor who is willing to continue working for patients who cannot afford to pay in fat cheques, she trudges on for the sake of social betterment. Annapurna says that the smiles she gets from her students and their parents are payment enough.

“They (the parents) don’t know English, or how well their wards are doing. They only seem happy in the knowledge that the education I provide will help the children secure admission in good matriculation schools,” the teacher says.

Annapurna says that if matters of education were left to her, she would change the way English is taught across government schools – providing their students with a level playing field to compete with those from more privileged educational institutions. “Who knows,” she says. “Even this may become reality someday.”

First Published: Apr 22, 2017 11:50 IST