The students of Class I-A perked up when Saji Anto walked into the room. He plucked a balloon stuck to the wall and gathered them around; there were no formal greetings exchanged between the teacher and his students at the Government Vocational Higher Secondary School in Munderi of Wayanad district.
“You know how this goes. We pass the balloon while the song is on. When it ends, the person holding it addresses the class,” said Mr. Anto. However, as they launched into a full-blooded rendition of ‘Minungum Minnaminunge...,’ the students disregarded their teacher’s orders completely. There would be no passing of the balloon, there were to be no speeches. In fact, Mr. Anto joined the circle, singing and clapping along.
This is how classrooms across Kerala’s flood-hit areas will function until Monday: with songs, games and other activities to engage children. Students have been given an exemption from wearing uniforms till further orders as new ones are being supplied to those who lost them to the deluge.
At the Munderi GVHSS’ Class X-B for instance, students watched a video about the life of C.P. Shihabudheen, a motivational speaker and artist born without limbs. They waited patiently even during frequent power outages. Of the class’ 40 students, 34 were present.
Wayanad’s Deputy Director of Education K. Prabhakaran said the attendance has hovered at around 70-80% since schools reopened on Wednesday. All except three school buildings are functional: two because they have been declared structurally unsafe, the other because a relief camp still operates within. In fact, both schools out of the structurally unsafe buildings are open: nearby madrasas have opened their doors to them.
Worries bubble underneath, though. Class 1-A had three absentees on Friday, one of whom was reluctant to return home. “His parents moved to Thrissur when water entered their home. The boy has been scared of entering the building since,” said Mr. Anto, who interacted with the kid’s parents over phone.
A team from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences had conducted a workshop for the school’s student police cadets and other selected students in the morning. “They advised us about interacting with our friends who come from flood-hit homes. We were told about the value of listening to their concerns,” said Rehna Noureen, a student who attended.
Teachers this newspaper spoke to reported instances of children being gloomy in class and worried about dead pets.
There are also concerns about students belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. When this reporter visited them, children of the Nedunilam Colony had not gone to school even by Friday. DDE Prabhakaran said that it was something his department was looking into.
Mr. Prabhakaran said that he intends to rely on the ‘mentor-teachers’, recruited from tribal communities, and the Gotrasarathy jeeps to ferry tribal children to school.
On Thursday, teachers of schools from flood-hit areas visited tribal hamlets. “These two were at home, missing school. We spoke to them and today, both are here. They have no change of clothes and are forced to wear the same attire, but they are here at least,” said P.O. Smitha, who teaches at the Ammasahayam Upper Primary School in Thekkumthara, pointing to an image she captured on her phone.
Teachers say they saw even students from homes that had lost all their possessions return with textbooks. “Some of our best students say they grabbed their books first and placed them at the highest point of the house,” said Ms. Smitha.
Lekha C.K. of the GVHSS agreed: “For a student, her books are prized possessions. A number of of plus one students went to relief camps carrying books,” she said.
Vikas Gora, Regional Manager (South India) of the NGO Save the Children, who has 25 years of experience working in disaster relief efforts, said the people and government of Kerala had set a benchmark. “This really is an extraordinary demonstration of resilience of communities...The pace of their response is unbelievable. Schools are open, which means children are away from harm’s way. Even parents have been proactive, sending kids to school. In very many places, the first thing that happens in a disaster is a dropout, even for a short time. Here, what we find is that children are coming to school, which is unique,” he said.