Lunch is served in the traditional Indian manner at St. Antony’s English Medium School. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Children gather for prayer at the start of morning assembly. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Organized exercise is part of the school’s curriculum. (photo: Sean Sprague)
A boy displays his artwork as his classmates look on. (photo: Sean Sprague)
A girl examines a slide during science class. (photo: Sean Sprague)
The residents of a rural Indian Christian community have brought secondary education to their village, Karottukara. For a student body made up of children of impoverished farmers and traders, the upward mobility this opportunity offers has the potential to change the areas economic landscape.
St. Antonys English Medium School, which educates children from primary school through high school, is the result of efforts begun nearly a decade ago to introduce greater access to education in this isolated area in the state of Kerala. When St. Antonys opened its doors to its first class of 17 children ages 4 to 6 in 1994, Karottukara had just one primary school in which classes were taught in Malayalam, the language of Kerala.
Now, St. Antonys boasts an enrollment of 374 pupils who are schooled in Malayalam, Hindi and English, the latter being important for advancement in Indias diverse and competitive climate.
We believe it is best to teach students in English as they will be better prepared for university and good jobs later on, said Titus Kallarakkal, principal of St. Antonys. Emphasis on education resonates throughout Kerala where literacy rates top 90 percent. Instruction in English is essential for university preparation.
Indians may have mixed feelings about their past occupation by British colonials, but they do value the legacy of the English language. Although Hindi is the national language, it comes from the north where it has been imposed again in colonial style on a reluctant south. The Keralites and Tamils who reside in the south usually prefer to use English, the unifying tongue of the multilingual subcontinent, when conversing with northerners from Delhi or Punjab.
As St. Antonys Medium School prepares for its first class of graduates, the inhabitants of Karottukara will look to see where their children will go with their English education. The pupils already cite a diverse range of interests, including careers as engineers, nurses, lawyers and police officers.
St. Antonys flourishes as a Christian institution in a nation whose political problems test its religious minority populations. Keralas longstanding Christian associations trace back to St. Thomas the Apostles mission to the area in the early days of the church. Ninety percent of the schools pupils belong to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The figure disproportionately represents Christians in India who make up only 3 percent of the national population.
As a minority, Christians, as well as Muslims, experience difficulties in the current political climate of India, particularly in the north. Attacks on priests and nuns have increased in the last decade and Hindu fundamentalists have destroyed churches in the northwestern state of Gujarat.
Such an atmosphere has made it difficult to obtain state endorsement for religious-based educational institutions like St. Antonys. However, Indias Central Board of Secondary Education has given full approval to the school, ensuring it a protected niche in which to flourish.
St. Antonys students study traditional subjects such as mathematics, music, English and science. The curriculum includes less common subjects such as karate and dance.
Catholic students attend a Divine Liturgy celebrated each Friday in a church adjacent to the school, while non-Catholic students attend prayer services. As such, St. Antonys is a testament to interfaith tolerance in the name of a common goal, which is to educate the children of Karottukara.
Thomas Mazhuvanchery, secretary of the board of trustees of St. Antonys English Medium School, is the man behind the vision that brought secondary education to Karottukara.
Mr. Mazhuvanchery, a native of the village, left to work in different capacities as a manager in the pharmaceutical industry. He traveled widely throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa. A year ago, he settled once again in Karottukara, involving himself with the livelihood of St. Anthonys parish and its English Medium School.
Mr. Mazhuvancherys inspiration for starting a school in his home village comes from his own educational experience and his desire to improve employment opportunities for future generations.
He attributes Karottukaras slower educational development to its isolation and notes that his own education was conducted at a school three miles outside the village. Because of this experience, Mr. Mazhuvanchery decided to establish local opportunities for the villages children.
The training and exposure I gained throughout my career have given me the ambition to devote time and energy toward bettering my society, he said. I hope when these children grow up they carry on this tradition.
Additionally, St. Antonys has been aided at all stages of its development by donors eager to see its mission for quality succeed. In its early days, the school relied upon the resources of a small, local Christian minority in this majority Hindu nation.
As enrollment increases with every passing year, new classrooms are built to accommodate each advancing grade. The most recent addition will house pupils in their last four years of secondary education at the school.
A $25,000 grant from CNEWA has helped to ensure that educational excellence with all its life-transforming potential will continue at the school.
Father Raphael, the local parish priest and head of the school board, explained the significance of St. Antony, the patron saint of Karottukara.
Sixty years ago someone brought a statue of St. Antony of Padua to the village and miracles took place, he said.
Sick people were healed and lost things were found. It is tradition that if you pray to St. Antony on 13 consecutive Tuesdays, your prayers will be answered. We still do that here today.
St. Antony is the mediator between the people and God. We believe our school is one of his unfolding miracles.
Sean Sprague travels the globe for CNEWA WORLD.