Society

Degrees of freedom

S. Malarvizhi with students  

Life has come a full circle for a renowned academician, a physics lecturer, an IT professional and a student of management. They are back in college, where their journeys began years ago. Sheela Ramachandran is Vice-Chancellor of Avinashilingam University, S. Malarvizhi is the chairperson and managing trustee of VLB and Sri Krishna Institutions, Anusha Ravi is CEO, Park Group of Institutions and Nithya Ramachandran is deputy joint secretary, Sankara College of Science and Commerce. Three of them never imagined they would have anything to do with managing education, but they have learnt on the job, allowed their hearts to guide them and brought about a holistic transformation in their campuses.

Sheela Ramachandran

57, Vice Chancellor, Avinashilingam University

After 24 years of teaching in a college and six heading it, Sheela made a comeback to her alma mater when she was appointed Vice Chancellor in 2010. She came at a time when the University was in the cusp of change. It was a transition from one iconic institution (PSG CAS) to another, but Sheela banked on her years of experience to tide her along. She followed her heart. It helped that Avinashilingam University was known for doing the same. It pioneered outreach programmes, taking education and knowledge to the masses.

One of Sheela’s first decisions was to improve the choice-based credit systems and value-added 40-hour certificate courses for students. “About 60 per cent of our students come from conservative, underprivileged backgrounds. It was difficult to convince those at home that the children need to stay back to study. So, we rescheduled the college timings so they could do a two-hour course and still leave college early enough.

Other changes include a participatory, students-first approach. They have been trained to think for themselves, with just a small group of faculty to mentor them. They work on everything from curriculum restructuring to what the students want. “It is a bottom-up approach.” She says.

The student council is one of Sheela’s favourite areas. This is where children share ideas and think of holistic growth, for themselves and the institution.

All in a box Students with a grievance can drop in a note, even anonymous, into a box. It is opened every day, documented and left on Sheela’s table. “This helps them speak of issues they are uncomfortable speaking face-to-face.”

Heart talk CARE, an acronym for Centre for Ambitious & Resourceful Endeavours, takes care of the mental health of students. Anyone with issues can head there for therapy or counselling. It also helps take care of academically-backward students, and good students who can get even better. The best part? It is not segregated from other buildings; so, anyone can walk in, without worrying about what others think.

A new LIFE The Department of Life Long Learning is where women who cannot take up formal education are trained in activities that will help them gain a foothold in life. “Sixty six per cent of our candidates become entrepreneurs,” says Sheela.

S. Malarvizhi

47, Chairperson and Managing Trustee, VLB and Sri Krishna Institutions

Malarvizhi started as a lecturer in physics before joining VLB College of Technology. She was always interested in administration, and circumstances saw her take over management of the educational institution she was part of.

Her mentor Vankatram later became her husband. After his demise, she set about achieving his dream.

She’s known for her attention to detail — from the wilting brinjal at a food demo and a non-working mic to a mistake during emceeing. “I immediately point out mistakes, but five minutes later, I laugh with them and move on. The idea is not to find fault but to make them learn,” she says.

“College is my second home”, says Malarvizhi, who runs five colleges (including Sri Krishna Institute of Technology and Sri Krishna Arts and Science College) and two aided schools. Small things matter to her. “I can’t change myself now. I don’t move to the next level unless I have understood the previous one,” she says.

She wants her institutions to become places where children develop their personalities. “They must make the most of their youth.” This is why the college has a cell that promotes Indian culture and ethics and another that celebrates Tamizh. There’s also a start-up development cell. Motivational lectures for students and staff apart, surprise rewards are handed out to those who go beyond the call of duty. Treats include flying 60 staff members to watch an IPL match!

Malarvizhi spends a lot of time with her staff and students. The food court is her favourite adda, where she chats with students on campus. She also visits them in their hostels to see if they are doing fine. “I don’t concern myself much with academics, but always tell the staff to treat the children like their own. That is the only way to help them bloom,” she says.

GREEN DRIVE Among Malarvizhi’s greatest successes are greening and landscaping a 12-acre space that was just mud and stone two decades ago. The campus is lush. “It’s a great environment for learning,” she says.

PET ISSUES Clean restrooms and a neat campus. Malarvizhi walks into student restrooms without intimation to check the cleanliness.

JOURNEY OF HOPE Her favourite CSR initiative is Sadhana, a training programme for women prisoners to help them begin a new life after their prison term. “It’s a great programme, but so much more can and should be done.”

Nithya Ramchandran

25, Deputy Joint Secretary, Sankara College of Science and Commerce

Nithya hails from a family of educationists. She grew up watching her grandfather and parents discuss education at home. But, taking forward that legacy was the last thing on her mind when she pursued her Masters in Business Management in the U.K. She came home on vacation and was convinced to stay on. She worked without a designation for the first six months, learning and absorbing. “The only advice I got: ‘Students are our first priority’,” she says. Nithya experimented with learning models and introduced e-learning. Students take the benefit of myklassroom.com, an interactive e-learning platform.

Nithya works with teachers and students, even bringing in trainers from outside to help the children perform better. They now handle all college events by themselves.

Special move Among Nithya’s initiatives are welcoming 30 hearing-impaired students to study at Sankara. Two trainers translate everything in sign language. The college is disabled friendly and classrooms are changed so that students never have to climb stairs.

A day to remember Nithya is especially fond of Bhoomi Matha Day that the institution celebrates on July 31. For two hours, electricity is switched off and academic work comes to a standstill. Everyone sits on the ground for a while, plants saplings, and greens the campus.

Aha moment Nithya is happiest when she is able to touch lives. Like the student who was facing disciplinary action. After being told what he was capable of, he went on to win the Best Student award the very next month!

Anusha Ravi

40, CEO, Park Group of Institutions

Anusha grew up with the babble of school children around her. Her house doubled up as the first campus of Tirupur’s Prema Matriculation School.

Education was part of her everyday existence. “But I never looked as it as a career. I studied, went abroad, and worked in the U.S. as a computer engineer. I did my Masters in Information Technology. When I returned home in 2007, I envisioned a small role for myself. I never imagined running the institution set up by my parents,” she says.

Once she came on board, she brought along with her two of her passions: IT and education. It helped that Anusha loves being around people, and is attuned to her environment.

“Poverty eradication, environment and women’s development are issues close to my heart. That is now a part of the ethos in our institutions. Whatever event we have, the kids do their bit for both. They have fun, but also make a contribution (money or time) to an orphanage or any institution that needs help. That’s the way to progress,” she says.

They also use technology to come up with innovative solutions for these.

Anusha’s own kids study in the family-run Park Global School, and she says she thinks like a parent, when running the school and college.

“My only guiding thought is: Is this is what I will give my children?”

Management mantras One shoe does not fit all. So, Anusha customises programmes for students so that they achieve their full potential. Also, an open door policy ensures anyone can walk in with a suggestion. “That’s thanks to my U.S. stint,” she says.

Social connect Anusha is very active on social media and says they provide a great platform to interact with parents and students alike.

Aha moment A fresher in college from a rural background was in awe when he saw an Apple Mac. Now, he’s a technical manager at Apple.


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Printable version | Nov 23, 2021 2:57:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/degrees-of-freedom/article5757130.ece

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