Walk into the Class 3 English class taught by Annapurna Mohan at this school in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram, and you’ll have trouble believing that you’re standing in a government school.
From an interactive smartboard to colourful and comfortable furniture to the stacks of English-language books, this classroom in the Panchayat Union Primary School (PUPS), Kandhadu seems as good as any in a well-funded international school. And what’s more, the students talk to you in crisp English, as fluently and comfortably as if they’ve been speaking it all their lives.
But the students of this classroom are fortunate to have had Annapurna for a teacher,
She has not only struggled hard to build her students’ language skills, but has even sold her own jewellery to create the kind of classroom she feels her pupils deserve.
Annapurna realised early on that teachers in Tamil Nadu were ill-equipped to properly teach English pronunciation, and that the existing system needed to be changed. She began to implement more efficient methods of teaching in her classroom.
I tried to create a good environment for English in my classroom. I conversed with my students in English from the beginning of the class till the end. In the beginning, some of them didn’t understand it, but in time, they began to respond.Annapurna Mohan
Annapurna used phonetics to help the children with their pronunciation – teaching the students how to read and write the phonetic alphabet, and get a grasp on the language through this. She also focused on helping her students get a lucid understanding of sentence structure and grammar.
I used to teach them in a British accent using phonetics. Teachers in Tamil Nadu don’t use this system and teach English by parroting, which builds a fear of English in students. Through phonetic basics I taught them the sounds, which helped them read out complicated English words.
Annapurna says that she worked hard on making her classes more engaging, converting each lesson into a short skit, which would then be re-enacted by her students.
Within months, her students began to respond to the methods, and Annapurna uploaded a video of the children speaking in English on her Facebook page. The video was shared multiple times, and supportive comments poured in from people across the country. Annapurna began to upload such videos more frequently, and before long, people began sending in money and small gifts for the children.
I uploaded a video of a skit on my Facebook, and a teacher saw that and sent a money order of Rs 10 for the student in the video. That student was excited upon getting the money order. And then that student started doing well after being appreciated.
This encouraged her to post more of her students’ activities on Facebook, and the recognition spread. “People from places like Canada and Singapore also started appreciating them, and even sent in a badminton racquet. It made me think that I have to do something for my students who deserve it," she says.
She decided that if an unknown person from another country could do so much for her students, she also should contribute in any way possible.
Around the same time, Annapurna was approached by a news network for an interview. Using the interview as a pretext, Annapurna decided to radically transform her classroom.
Within three days, she arranged for the money by selling off her own jewellery, and installed a digital smartboard system, new furniture, a new floor and even bought books worth Rs 5000 for her students.
“I decided to do it by myself because I did not want to burden anyone. Doing it myself also helped to get it done more efficiently, as I did not have to rely on anyone else,” explains Annapurna.
Meanwhile, Annapurna’s interview has garnered her class even more attention, with several more people coming forward to help her and her students. With so many offers of funding pouring in, Annapurna now aims to change the methods of teaching used across her school.
The standards of teaching in government schools are not as good as those in private schools, and parents pay lakhs of rupees for education that is offered for free. With a little bit of effort, government schools can also provide quality education for families who cannot afford the fees of a private school.