For 100 years, elementary education in Puthur village was a tenant of the `, the local landlords. But not any more.

On Wednesday, 370 children of the Puthur Government Upper Primary School, the oldest school in Omassery panchayat here, moved into a two-storey building inaugurated by Education Minister P.K. Abdu Rabb.

The crumbling edifice of the old school building served as a backdrop to the cheering children at the function.

The new building, situated on 11.5 cents of land bought from the Puvathungal family, was procured after a long series of negotiations using Rs.25 lakh grant received through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), a Central scheme to universalise elementary education through community-ownership.

The school offers limited facilities to its students, mostly drawn from low-income groups, who cannot afford a private school education. It has no space for a playground, a dining hall, or an assembly hall.

Lower primary section

Besides, the lower primary section is in a separate building on the other side of the busy Koduvally Road. During class breaks, one witnesses the unusual sight of teachers hurriedly crossing the thoroughfare to be in time for the next class. Two young students were seen crossing the road with a wooden bench on their heads.

But for parents, the new school building is a relief. It has at least separate toilets for girls and boys, they say.

“I was a student of this school in the 1970s. My father studied here in the 1940s. There was not even a well in the school. When thirsty, we used to run to a well nearby, also owned by the Puvathungal family, for a drink of water. School games were held on the Puthur-Velimannu Road, then a mud road. Now we have two wells and can use the panchayat ground for our sports events,” Suresh Kumar A., a Malayalam teacher in the school and Theyyam artist, says.

Generations

For generations, the school has been a natural choice for Puthur to start their education. Ramanunni Nair, the 90-year-old patriarch of the Puvathungal family, gives the credit to his father for this.

“In 1912, the school was just an ezhuthupalli on top of a house. My father, Kalluveettil Chandu Nair, bought some land and built the school building. The idea of a school for the village was born of his insight that education was necessary for the development of the area,” Mr. Nair says, about his alma mater.

In 1922, the school was declared a lower primary school.

The government took over the administration and agreed to pay the family a monthly rent of Rs.13. In 1958, the rent was increased when the institution was upgraded as an upper primary school. With the coming of the SSA in 2005, the duty to pay the rent for the school building fell on the Omassery panchayat.

“In 2012, the annual rent was about Rs.30,000. The family was asking us to move out. The SSA grant was timely,” K.S. Moosa, who recently retired as headmaster of the school, says.

“The 11.5 cents was bought at Rs.20,000 a cent, which, I must say, is much below the market rate,” ward member C. Abdul Nasser says.

With now a building for itself, Mr. Santhosh said the school has a lot to catch up on, especially with more and more private schools cropping up in the area.

“We have only 19 new admissions to Class 1. Private schools canvass students, saying they have buses to pick up and drop children from their door steps. They also offer free food and uniform. We don’t have a vehicle to start with,” he says.