The inhabitants of the Vaddera community are traditionally stonemasons and rock cutters. Members of this community are found in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Among these is the small town of Indira Nagar in the Siddipet district of Telangana. It’s the Zilla Parishad high school here that Ramaswamy payyavula was transferred in 2015. What he noticed there as principal eventually led him to win a national award for teachers.
Ramaswamy had been director before. Since 2009, he was director of a school in another village in the same district. Thus, an administrative role did not bother him. “When I arrived at this school in Indira Nagar, I found an abandoned building. Locals, especially those in the Vaddera community, thought education was a waste of time. Parents sent their children to school just for their time while they went to work, ”recalls Ramaswamy.
Finally, Ramaswamy decided to take matters into his own hands. He knew he had to reach the parents before he could bring the kids to school. “I organized lunches and asked parents to meet with me. For a few months, I tried to convince parents of the importance of education and why their children should go to school, ”says Ramaswamy. And the school itself had to be changed. “The teachers have been trained to be more empathetic towards these children. I contacted NGOs (Lions Club and other local organizations) who helped the children get free uniforms, notebooks and books, ”he adds.
In addition to this, Ramaswamy also received help to improve the infrastructure. “New classrooms have been built with better toilets with the help of Natco Trust,” he says. And the learning method also had to evolve. The children could not be educated according to the state government curriculum because they did not even have basic reading and writing skills. “So we had to start from scratch,” says Ramaswamy. He also introduced digital classes in the school and encouraged computer learning. “I wanted to computerize the school and also make sure that the teachers were not involved in any office work. They should focus only on the teaching-learning process, ”says Ramaswamy.
What Ramaswamy wanted to do with the school is to make it feel like a private institution. “Private schools usually have all of these amenities, it starts at 8:30 am every day. I also wanted to bring that. So my students come to school at 8:30 am and take behavior and personality development classes. Through the lessons, students also learn about time management, self-awareness and how to build relationships, ”says Ramaswamy. And that’s not all. He also started coding lessons at school.
Ramaswamy and his teachers focus on ICT and also post videos of the lessons on YouTube, which he says has helped a lot over the past year. “I trained in the use of Google Classroom, Zoom, etc. and then also helped my teachers get the proper training. These teachers formed a group of students who, in turn, trained their classmates. In a few words. for months, students took online courses and also sat for exams, ”says Ramaswamy. “We also gave students smartphones and tablets. Local politicians distributed tablets and I gave them second-hand smartphones through a crowdfunding initiative, ”he concludes.