In 2017, when R Raghunathan “improved upon” the open terrace at his house in Nagarathinammal Colony, West Mambalam by having a washroom, steel roof and sidewalls on it, he was essentially offering underprivileged children from the neighbourhood the free gift of education. Little did he realise that this initiative would extend to his rooms on the first floor, which now supports the teaching initiative in a full-fledged manner.
Kalpavriksha Free Tuition Centre, as it is known, rolls out the red carpet to children from Corporation and aided schools, inviting them to use the space to study as well as get their doubts cleared by teachers.
Every day from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. and again from 5.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. the house turns into a tuition centre. And during examinations and holidays, the space bustles with children the whole day.
“Finding beneficiary-students was not at all difficult as there are more than half-a-dozen schools in the neighbourhood and the word just spread around,” says 70-year-old Raghunathan who retired from the finance department of a petroleum company.
Love for teaching and a desire to do something for society got Raghunathan to throw open a portion of his house for the cause of education.
Initially, he hired five teachers and brought many volunteers on board who would spare their leisure time for teaching students spread across Classes I to IX. Currently, the centre has five tutors whose salaries are paid with the help of donations. Raghunathan says offering lessons in the Montessori method was a turning point as it was different from what they had learnt at school and it drew many students. “My home on the first floor has also been opened up to enable this method of teaching,” says Raghunathan who lives with his wife and an adult son, and is a member of Nallorvattam.
Four educator friends trained in the Montessori way of teaching take turns to volunteer at the centre. “I read books to the children, another volunteer takes phoenix classes with stories and two others are trained to teach elementary science and mathematics,” says Archana N, a resident of Vadapalani, who decided to volunteer after seeing the positive impact this method of teaching had on her children.
In the last five years, the tuition centre has managed a raft of achievements.
Without taking a break during the pandemic, the centre adapted to the new situation, offering classes virtually. To aid learning, a Smart TV was bought. The team at the centre prepares students for National Means Cum-Merit Scholarship Exam and for inter-school competitions as well.
The centre is not just about teaching and learning. Yoga and fitness exercises are taught to students every day before the classes begin. On Sunday, they are taken to neighbourhood grounds for sports activities. Bhajans and Thirukkural classes are conducted once a week. Besides, there are mind games, quiz competitions, art and crafts sessions to develop the children holistically. Occasionally, they go on a field trip on the Metro, visiting entertainment zones. Every Saturday, students are treated to snacks. “Many people celebrate their birthdays by sponsoring food for the centre,” he says.
What is the biggest satisfaction that this senior citizen has derived for this initiative? A few of the students from his early batches are now pursuing engineering, having secured seats by merit. “I want many more students to pursue higher education and be successful,” he says.