“When we started the school, we took a pledge that our school would strive for inclusive education and that under no circumstances would we reject or filter students in higher classes for the sake of getting better results”
At 60, Baby Saroja is quite content that the institution she started 25 years ago in Chromepet has achieved what the founders had dreamt of.
Principal of Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Matriculation Higher Secondary School on Ramachandra Road, Nehru Nagar in Chromepet, Ms. Saroja is now a familiar face after she received the National Award for Best Teacher from Vice President Hamid Ansari. She started the institution with her younger sister to cater to the requirements of children from poor families.
“Our family had a carborandum grinding factory. We were moved by the plight of the children who had little access to quality education and we started in 1985 in a small thatched shed on the terrace of our house,” says Ms. Saroja.
“Around the same time, our family business began to crumble and we faced a tough task running our school,” she recalls looking back at those years of struggle, adding they did not give up as they began to receive help from unexpected quarters, who were moved by their efforts to provide quality education to the under privileged.
“Even when we started the school, we took a pledge that our school would strive for inclusive education and that under no circumstances would we reject or filter students in higher classes for the sake of getting better results,” she outlines the institution's principles. It was a promise they had managed to fulfil till now.
According to Ms. Saroja, many students from the lower stratum of the society face a lot of communication problems. Such students are given extra attention and counselling at their school.
Teachers are also trained to be more sensitive to the needs of slow learners, first generation learners and even physically disabled and special children.
“We have proved time and again that with extra care and attention, every student can shine in academics. We do not want to deviate from it,” she asserts. It is Ms. Saroja's firm belief that education should be inclusive and students should not be categorised as poor and below average to be sent out so that school managements can claim cent per cent pass percentage.
Having completed her basic schooling in Neelmangalam village in Thanjavur district, Ms. Saroja completed her school in T.Nagar and B.A. in History from SIET College.
She was keen to get into the civil services but got a job in the State Government's Local Audit Fund office and rose to the ranks of Office Superintendent.
“When my sister and I started the school to provide education to poor children, there was stiff opposition, from our relatives," Ms. Saroja says remembering those tense moments. Over the years, she also recruited destitute women needing help and shelter. These women were educated and trained and are now qualified and successful teachers.