Exemplary Educational Service by Sri Ram Charan Charitable Trust

- Rajeshwari Vijayan, Freelance writer, India - 
“As I was watching the children my whole heart went out to those children, ‘Is it possible for me to give them these lessons and the training  that are being given under your system, to those children?  “I hope that it will be possible not only for the children of the wealthy and well to  do, but also for children of pampers to receive training of this nature.”
_Mahatma Gandhi on Montessori System of Education

Big or small, each of us have a dream. Thus, it was the dream of Smt.Padmini Gopalan, a kind-hearted individual endowed with social  consciousness, to enable the children from underprivileged sections of the society to have access to ‘quality’ education, which would help them in their personality development; a dream that she had cherished and nourished over the years. As a result,  Sri Ramacharan Charitable Trust came into being in 1999.  It was the brain child of Smt.Padmini Gopalan. She wanted to help the economically backward people around her by providing interest free micro loans. True, when we make an unselfish resolve, help comes from somewhere. She tried to receive donations for the cause, at the rate of $100 per person from her NRI nephews and their friends. B.Sridhar , her nephew , was involved with an organization called Child Vikas International.  So,Child Vikas International came forward to provide the initial capital to start the scheme. The scheme proved was a great boon for poor people having school going children. Most people repaid the loans while some did not.  Those who failed to repay loans were not necessarily the poorest. Ms. Padmini does not say much about the defaulters, but she is all admiration for those who did pay back in spite of adverse circumstances.

She remembers vividly one such. It was a poor woman who had borrowed Rs.5,000/- for her son’s school fees. It was a two year old unpaid loan so they wrote it off. Then one day this poor women turned up and insisted on returning the money. Ms.Padmini told her it was not necessary as the loan was already written off. This woman said, “I took the money to pay my son’s education.  He has been blessed by goddess Saraswathi and he is earning well.  I must pay it back as a token of gratitude at least. Ms.Padmini was not satisfied with just giving loans for education. She wanted to see to it that the children were studying well. For this she started giving tuitions in her own house., Children were encouraged to come by promise of snacks and tiffin after school hours. The success of this venture gave her the encouragement to expand further and give tuitions in Corporation schools so that more children would benefit.  She approached a corporation school in Mylapore and was given permission provided she would pay the teachers and also give the children something to eat as they would be hungry at that time.  Teachers were paid by the Sri Ram Charan Trust, Tiffin for children was also managed from the same source.  This was in 2001.
 Smt.Padmini Gopalan Ms.Padmini, despite her age (70 yrs at that time) and physical discomforts pertaining to old age would visit schools to oversee her programmes.  On one such visit she was amazed to see small children, between the ages of 1 ½ – 4 sitting absolutely still, with mouth tightly shut and with blank, fear-filled eyes, in the classroom with an ayah sitting guard. Her heart went out to the little ones who were made to sit like that for 5 hours.  She decided to do something for them. She spoke to the Headmaster of the school and offered to takeover the pre-primary classes on behalf of the Sri R.C.C.T. The Head master was supportive but the only snag was that teacher would be required to handle 50-60 children and the ayahs to keep the room and toilets clean. As it was a corporation school there would be procedural delay. Realizing this Ms.Padmini volunteered to pay teachers as well as ayahs from Sr.R.C.C.Trust.  So the first project took off. The money required to equip the class with materials was about Rs.64,000/-. That was all the Trust had and they put it all and bought the materials.It is to their credit that Sri Rama Charan Charitable Trust adopted the Montessori Method of Teaching which aims at the overall development of children.
An Italian Lady doctor, Maria Montessori (1870-1950) was specially interested in the rehabilitation of children with mental retardation. Initiually she had introduced her educational system for the backward children, slow learners etc., but, with the overwhelming response and really positive results she wanted to try it on normal children as well. She first tried it on children of economically backward working class parents. Her first student-teacher was the daughter of a porter.  She trained the girl to take the class and by observation made changes and improvements.  Later a school was started called the Casa Dei Bambini (Children’s Home).  This was on Jan 6th 1907.  Her observations formed the foundation of her Method.

At first the class was equipped with a chair and table for the teacher, black board a stove, smaller chain for children and grou- tables for them and a locked cabinet for the equipment i.e materials developed by Montessori for the childless. Activities for the children included personal care such as dressing and undressing care of environment such as dusting, sweeping and caring for the garden. The children were shown the use of materials developed by Maria.
As Montessori observed the reactions of the children, she changed the materials to suit their needs. She noted episodes of deep attention and concentration, multiple repetition of activity, and a sensitivity to order and method, care for the environment given free choice of activity, the children showed more interest in practical activities in the Montessori materials than in the toys provided for them,  They were surprisingly unmotivated by sweets and other rewards.

Over a time she was delighted to see a spontaneous self-disciplined change.  Based on her observations Montessori implemented a number of practices that became the hall mark of her educational philosophy and method.  She replaced the heavy furniture with light weight chairs and tables that the children could move and placed the materials on low shelves so that they were easily accessible to children.  She expanded the range of activities such as sweeping and personal care to include a wide variety of exercises environment awareness etc.
Montessori felt that by working independently children could reach new levels of autonomy and become self-motivated to reach new levels of understanding.  The need to acknowledge children as respectful individuals and treating them as such was realized.  This led to better bearing and fulfilled the potential in each particular child.

The Montessori system spread slowly in Italy and spread to Switzerland. In 1909-1913 there was International recognitions and growth of Montessori education. It spread to UK, France and some Western European countries.  These were plans for Argential, Australia, China, India,Japan, Korea, Mexico, Switzerland, Syria, the USA and Newzealand. 
Her books were widely translated and published many languages. Montessori and her son Maria had come to India in 1939 and were staying at the Theosophical Soceity premises in Adayar. She gave a training course at Adayar in 1939 and lecture tours were arranged all over India Mahatma Gandhi was very impressed with the system and he said “As I was watching the children my whole heart went out those children, ‘Is it possible for me to give them these lessons and the training that are being given under your system, to those children?  “I hope that it will be possible not only for the children of the wealthy and well to do, but also for children of pampers to receive training of this nature. Sri Rabindranath Tagore gave full support and some schools were established in Bengal.  However world war II was declared at the that time and Maria Montessori and her son Mario were combined to the Theosophical Society premises as “enemy aliens”.  The end of the war, from 1944-46, she gave a series of lectures all over India and the first All India Montessori Conference was held in Jaipur. So the Montessori system had set foot in India more than sixty years ago.

This system of education that should have spread all over India and been well established by now, was not liked by petty-minded people who managed to confine it to a few places. Their main objection was that the equipment required would be too expensive, and so it is elitist.  So in most parts the system died a natural death.

But, Ms.Padmini, realizing the significance of this System of Education took the bold step of introducing the Montessori System in Corporation schools.  There were the usual adverse criticisms from various quarters but since the monetary burden for the Project was borne by the Trust she could go ahead and start one class in one school. Specially trained teachers were required and for this the Teachers Training Institute run by Ms.Uma Shankar helped.  Teachers trained at that Institute took charge.
So the dream project took off and went on well. The children responded brilliantly. Groomed under the Montessori Method of Education by a group of earnest and committed teachers they proved a class apart. Neat and clean, well- mannered, peaceful, they were also very disciplined. These children showed a caring and sharing attitude.  When they see another child with a disability they go and help. The good values they imbibed at the infant stage were totally internalized and have become a part of their personality.

Usually  most  elders and children tend to laugh at a deformed child and even call him by that name.  The Montessori children never do this; instead, they would be ready to lend any help possible to the differently-abled child.

As pointed out earlier, the Montessory System leaves a lasting impact on the children. The children learn important human values and internalize them. The Montessori trained could respect himself, all others as well as the environment around him.  He is taught to handle things with care. He will not think of stoning buses or burning innocent bystanders to express protest.

By introducing the Montessori system of education in all schools we may solve many of society’s problems like delinquency and eve teasing.  All persons regardless of class, creed or economic status will be able to lead a life of dignity and they would be able to differentiate between good and evil. Having come into the world, we can do something to make it a better place before we leave.Hats off to Ms.Padmini Gopalan for making us aware of the Montessori system and fighting so valiantly for the cause. 

Email : sriramacharan@yahoo.com
Website Home URL: http://www.sriramacharan.org

Sent by: Latha Ramakrishnan ramakrishnanlatha@yahoo.com