A municipal school in Tamil Nadu is making waves for encouraging its students to excel in karate and chess.
A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com brings you their inspiring story.
At a time when most parents in India don't mind paying a hefty donation to send their children to English medium schools in hope of a brighter future, a municipal school in Tamil Nadu is trying to do something different.
The Pallavaram Municipality Primary School in Zameen Pallavaram (also called Old Pallavaram), on the outskirts of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, is trying to build skills in students outside of academics, and excel in contact sports like karate and brainy ones like chess.
And they are going out of their way to arrange funds so that they can send their students to international competitions to gain exposure as well as win accolades.
Unlike most civic schools which are either defunct due to lack of teachers and/or students or in dilapidated shape, this school is well maintained.
It has tall and clean whitewashed buildings. There are classes from 1 to 5 with a strength of 580 students and 17 teachers.
When I visit the school, Headmaster N Karthikeyan is addressing students from class 5 who are sitting cross-legged on the ground.
As we are speaking, a young lad enters the class room.
"I want to meet Karate Anna," the boy, who had heard about R S Sreenivasan, the school's dedicated karate teacher, says.
"We took only three students to Sri Lanka and came back with six medals -- five gold and one bronze," Sreenivasan tells me later.
The three students from the school -- M Aaris (class 2), A M Siddesh Hariharan and I Hari Govind, both from Class 4 -- participated in the 5th Open International Semi Contact Shotokan Karate Championship in Sri Lanka on October 6 and 7.
Some 1,500 students from Australia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan competed in the championship.
At another tournament in Aranthangi, Tamil Nadu, where all the five southern states participated, this school won the overall shield and was also the only government school to have won prizes.
It started in 2016 when the government of Tamil Nadu issued a notification that schools should have karate classes for girls so that they learnt self-defence.
"If we only trained the girls, there would never be enough students. Therefore I decided to train the boys, too," Karthikeyan recalls how the idea came about.
A Geetha, a teacher at the school, recommended Sreenivasan's name.
A day after the government circular was issued, Sreenivasan began training the school's students.
"We told the master that we would pay Rs 100 per student. He expected at least Rs 5,000 a month for two classes a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm," says Karthikeyan.
"These are poor students. Some pay and some don't. I pay the difference so that the Master is not disappointed," he adds.
Arranging funds for the Sri Lankan tournament wasn't easy either.
But help poured in from all quarters.
"Whenever there is a small shortage of funds I pay from my pocket and if we need more I have a few friends that help out," says the headmaster.
Tamil Nadu Education Minister K A Sengottaiyan was so pleased to know that a government school was participating in an international tournament that he called the headmaster and asked what he could do to help.
The minister sponsored the air tickets to Sri Lanka and also requested government officials on the island to look after the kids.
"We were received at the airport and well looked after. We had a vehicle at our disposal. They had arranged for our stay with separate accommodation for the kids," says Karthikeyan.
WATCH R S Sreenivasan train the girl students at the Municipal Primary School in Zameen Pallavaram.
It's not always the funds that bother Karthikeyan.
Just when we are speaking, a lady comes in with her son, a student at the school.
"I asked you to come because he was supposed to be here at 6 am for a tournament but he didn't come," says Karthikeyan.
"He overslept," the mother answers.
"He will oversleep, he is a child, you should have woken him up. There were 30 students, you don't expect me to call everyone of them in the morning."
"The tournament and travel fee was Rs 300. I can't ask the tournament organisers for a refund nor can I ask the transporter. I don't mind paying as long as he participates. He did not participate, but someone else could have and maybe even won the prize there. I didn't want him to win, but I definitely wanted him to participate. Next time, don't let him sleep," the teacher admonishes the parent.
Karate is not the only game the students excel at. They have won medals in chess too. The Thirumal Chess Academy, Mudichur, coaches the students for free.
"We offered to pay a nominal amount, but they refused," said the encouraging headmaster, who proudly displays the prizes his students have won in chess and karate.
"We also have carrom here, which I teach. It's free. After school they can play as long as they want," the headmaster adds.
WATCH: R S Sreenivasan trains the boys at the school.
Students at the school recently participated in the national karate tournament in Kanyakumari.
"What we really require is to participate in an international tournament in Malaysia and Singapore in May 2019. The cost per child will be Rs 75,000," says Karthikeyan. "We are planning to send a dozen kids and a coach. We need about Rs 1,000,000 which we hope to get from our well-wishers."
Readers, if you wish to help, you may contact Headmaster N Karthikeyan on +9195431 97917/9566119477 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.