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Holding on to a chance and making the best of it

Dhamodharan Muniyan’s recent achievement may not sound like the crowning glory of his career and life, but that is only if you don’t know his story. He just completed his Ph.D. viva voce in the Department of Anthropology of the University of Madras, based on his thesis ‘Education and learning outcome among children in rural, tribal areas’.

He dropped out when he was in Class 10; he returned to formal schooling after seeing children around him, he says.

He was born to agricultural labourers of Kachirayapalayam in Kallakurichi. His father had big dreams for Muniyan, though as a child he worked alongside his father in the field or installed electrical posts along the rail track in Kerala.

When he failed in Class 10, he ran away from home and worked in brick kilns in Kerala. “I worked there for two years and when I saw children going to school and my classmates continuing their education, I returned home.”

It took him four attempts to complete the Class 10 examination and with his mother’s support, he managed to persevere and complete Class 12.

But before he could join college, she died after sustaining an injury while grazing cattle.

A year later, through a friend he managed to get admission to B.Sc. Botany at New College, Chennai. He and his friends found accommodation at Taramani. It was here he came across volunteers of IIT-M teaching slum children.

He was noticed by Balaji Sampath, who runs an NGO, AID India. Mr. Balaji encouraged him to teach other children. And that is how Mr. Dhamodharan went from being a drop-out to a teacher, a path that took him as far as a Ph.D.

A survey of children in the slum behind the Ripon Buildings led him to consider doing Ph.D., he says.

“We found that children came up with different answers to simple addition sums. Two out of 10 knew the operation. Children were afraid when they were given long sentences to read in Tamil. I started observing why the children dropped out,” he says.

To understand if there was a pattern, he studied children in the Javadhu Hills and the Kalrayan Hills. In his thesis, he came up with a solution to the problem.

“Our research found that 90% of the parents in these areas do not even know what their children are studying. Children are not measuring up to the level of their peers. Since many children are not good at reading, they lose confidence and drop out... We taught teachers to identify the skills the children had learnt and take them forward from there,” he says.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 2:00:40 AM |

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