Education as a Common Goal

Tolerance and cooperation are tools of change for one village

text and photographs by Sean Sprague

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The residents of a rural Indian Christian community have brought secondary education to their village, Karottukara. For a student body made up of children of impoverished farmers and traders, the upward mobility this opportunity offers has the potential to change the area’s economic landscape.

St. Antony’s English Medium School, which educates children from primary school through high school, is the result of efforts begun nearly a decade ago to introduce greater access to education in this isolated area in the state of Kerala. When St. Antony’s opened its doors to its first class of 17 children – ages 4 to 6 – in 1994, Karottukara had just one primary school in which classes were taught in Malayalam, the language of Kerala.

Now, St. Antony’s boasts an enrollment of 374 pupils who are schooled in Malayalam, Hindi and English, the latter being important for advancement in India’s diverse and competitive climate.

“We believe it is best to teach students in English as they will be better prepared for university and good jobs later on,” said Titus Kallarakkal, principal of St. Antony’s. Emphasis on education resonates throughout Kerala where literacy rates top 90 percent. Instruction in English is essential for university preparation.

Indians may have mixed feelings about their past occupation by British colonials, but they do value the legacy of the English language. Although Hindi is the national language, it comes from the north where it has been imposed – again in colonial style – on a reluctant south. The Keralites and Tamils who reside in the south usually prefer to use English, the unifying tongue of the multilingual subcontinent, when conversing with northerners from Delhi or Punjab.

As St. Antony’s Medium School prepares for its first class of graduates, the inhabitants of Karottukara will look to see where their children will go with their English education. The pupils already cite a diverse range of interests, including careers as engineers, nurses, lawyers and police officers.

St. Antony’s flourishes as a Christian institution in a nation whose political problems test its religious minority populations. Kerala’s longstanding Christian associations trace back to St. Thomas the Apostle’s mission to the area in the early days of the church. Ninety percent of the school’s pupils belong to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The figure disproportionately represents Christians in India who make up only 3 percent of the national population.

As a minority, Christians, as well as Muslims, experience difficulties in the current political climate of India, particularly in the north. Attacks on priests and nuns have increased in the last decade and Hindu fundamentalists have destroyed churches in the northwestern state of Gujarat.

Such an atmosphere has made it difficult to obtain state endorsement for religious-based educational institutions like St. Antony’s. However, India’s Central Board of Secondary Education has given full approval to the school, ensuring it a protected niche in which to flourish.

St. Antony’s students study traditional subjects such as mathematics, music, English and science. The curriculum includes less common subjects such as karate and dance.

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Tags: India Children Education