Friday, October 31, 2008

My visit to Pallikoodam

When I left for Pallikoodam, my head was filled with lot of biases and prejudices. Back home my relatives in Kottayam who heard I was visiting Pallikoodam had mixed responses. Some where in awe of the school and could not afford such education for their children hence saw it as an ideal school where their children ought to have been. Some others said "what’s the big deal children can study anywhere, if they got brains"."And if we had an option we would send our children to government schools but it’s this societal pressure and standards that make us send our child to an ICSE school". Some others said “Oh Pallikoodam, the school where the principal dresses in mini skirt and snobbish spoilt brats study”. "Now what good is a swimming pool and dramatics to our kids? You and I did not learn any of this are we anyway less educated?" So I began my journey with mixed feelings but praying they don’t interfere with my research work after all I had read pages on how Researcher’s bias could ruin the research ( How much deschooling I required !!!!! ).

Right from the Bus stand at Kottayam anyone I turned to for directions, seemed familiar with the school, Oh Mary Roy’s school said some, Corpus Christi referred many others. When the auto stopped in front of a bakery it just looked like any semi urban locality I had seen in Kerala. The rubber trees,pepper creepers and coffee plants in the compounds of houses was a typical Kottayam I had read and known. A stony path led me to a red brick structure, I expected a glossy building but this was just a red brick structure with lot of plants and trees. Had it not been for Heidi Baker’s Aesthetic strokes the school looked like an estate tepee. What struck me when I stepped inside the school was its interior design, it wasn’t just some fancy art depicted, and it was art which was showed the taste of the students. I could see a worli painting with peacock and butterflies embossed with some pieces of mirrors. Every cupboard, bathroom doors was designed using crayons. Classrooms had no segregation except for wooden screens decorated with paintings again. For colour lovers it was a wonderland. Classes were divided into blocks of primary, upper, primary, high school and higher secondary. The construction seems to be innovative and eco friendly which was done by Laurie baker on the agreement that his daughter Heidi be educated in this school.

I was greeted by Ms June Jose the administrator who gave me an interview and took me around the school. Pleasant faces greeted me with ‘Namaskaram’ a greeting I never used or had received earlier. Children in the lower classes were so engrossed in their work that they did not bother who was walking by. The teacher introduced me to a student of class 3 who won Camlin painting competition at national level. His father was a student at Pallikoodam who was a fashion designer. Since Onam was arriving, the students were involved in drama and dance practice. Senior classes had board exams and seemed busy with it. But the atmosphere was filled with an air of joy, enthusiasm and elation.

The most fascinating place in the school was the last corner of the campus with art room, cookery class, tailoring class and a small courtyard for dance class facing the swimming pool. Each pillar around the swimming pool was painted and decorated by the students, which took away the look of a trendy, conventional swimming pool.Each corner of the school was owned by the children and it showed. The art room had very few displays of the students but the teacher explained the kind of work done. Cooking and stitching was compulsory for students and for both genders, she said. “Our children experiment everything from biriyani to payasam and boys never show any inhibitions to learn cooking they realise it’s a skill required to sustain oneself and an art in itself”, spoke Ms June. “When we introduced stitching and tailoring we were not very sure how boys would take it. But we are happy we did it because if not for those classes we would not be able to bring up a fashion designer an alumnus of ours who went for fashion designing to France. Any free time he found he would be here creating patterns on fabric”, said the administrator. Students also seemed to have maintained compost pits to utilise the waste on campus constructively. I met some students who were asked to direct me to the main building. They started off a conversation asking me if I was Ms Rema’s daughter.
Ms Rema was their dance teacher and it was she who told them thiat I was her daughter and I was to be guided to the Administrative building. I told them I was Ms. Rema;s friend’s daughter. And then they asked me if I was a journalist who came to visit their school. The conversation trailed off to what made them feel I was a journalist and then one of them said she wanted to be a journalist and how she hated science. All of them seemed inquisitive to know about Chennai and the weather, culture and  food habits of people there. And I asked them about the school, how they felt it there. One student said, “We know things are not the same in other schools. Students can’t speak openly to teachers. Here we can speak anything we wish to our teachers and we don’t worry how they would judge us”. “When we go back home”, said another student, “we see how tensed our friends in the neighbourhood are with their homework, they don’t seem to love school. We love being here.” They did not seem to be children unaware about happenings outside the world as many often pinpoint while trying to find faults with alternative schooling.
What is your ambition I asked them, an age old question perhaps they attempted essay writing on from 1st STD. “Well can’t decide like that but don’t want to take up anything conventional”, said one girl. It felt nice to listen to her confident statements. “I would do something like environmental science, law or photography” said another. There was joy written all over their faces, quite a different picture from my own school days were school bag saddled with books and a water bottle hanging we walked like camels in desert.
It’s not that everything I heard from Pallikoodam were rosy stories. I had read about a controversial incident concerning a student of the school. While talking about recent incidents it came into the conversation. The teachers feel students who have studied all their years in Pallikoodam have picked up the culture and hence there has never been an unhappy incident. But mostly students who came for a year or two found it hard to adjust with the culture of the school.
"There was a student who joined in 11th STD. Right from the beginning he was addicted to pornography and was given warnings. His camera was confiscated and complaints from his own class mates whom he tried to lure to such activities made the principal take stern action. But the student’s parents being politically involved twisted the story and turned it to a harassment of the boy by school authorities and he wrote his exam requesting police protection making the news more sensational", said the administrator. But from what I heard from the teachers and parents I met, I felt the story was not true. Though the school did not issue a conduct certificate to this student he wrote his board exams.I was hearing just one side of the story and I wish I could learn the other side, but since my interactions were limited to the administrator I left with very little I could learn.

As I started to leave the campus I could hear drums and gongs , drama practice had begun and on the other wing small kids were practicing”kuttanadan punchayile” the boat race song , pretending to be boat men they enacted it with the fervour of boat racers at Nehru trophy. And that’s all about my unrecorded field trip to Pallikoodam.


Anonymous said...

Dear writer,
As an alumnus of the school I must say that I quiet enjoyed your article, However I am deeply disturbed by how grossly misinformed you have been regarding the boy who according to your sources was "addicted to pornography".
This particular boy was a classmate hence I was witness to the actual issue.I can assure you that there was no pornography involved rather it was a classic case of mismanagement by the school authorities. I do not intend to get into more details.
I'm ashamed by how Pallikoodam, a place that I've always held high, chose to cover up it's mistake by maligning the student.

The quirk said...

Dear Anonymous,

I deeply respect your comment for you took time to tell me how misinformed I am. Frankly, I don't know the issue but I do know that perhaps there is a lot that we do not know in every story. I accept apology for writing a one side story and when I wrote this never had I thought this blog would reach people and it took me some minutes to recollect the whole incident.Hope your classmate is doing fine in life.

Anonymous said...

Teena Ma'am
I read the whole article and would like to congratulate you on this article and your take on my school. I have to concur on most points where Pallikoodam is truly a school apart when it comes to imparting "wholesome" education and puts its money where its mouth is, investing time and money in cultural and sporting activities. I believe I can appreciate with the best perspective this comparison especially as I come under that distinct class of students who you have been told “struggled to adjust to the school's environment” joining in the 11th grade.
Though I regret to say that statement reeks of elitism on the part of whoever made that statement.
Yes! I joined Pallikoodam in the 11th grade after many deliberations between my parents though I was not completely convinced of the decision. My parents consulted relations whose wards were students in the school and in a similar sounding statement to the one mentioned, oh! So regrettably; my uncle compared kids joining Pallikoodam akin to “letting a dog out of the kennel after weeks”, he also was not evidently keen on some on the school’s approach to education. A hilarious metaphor said in the native tongue at the time with a cataclysmic effect, furthermore said in the gravest fashion it only served to allay the fears of my mother about my impending release from the kennel. Although I soon enough came across the deep rooted hypocrisy in the societal structure that served in these sound bytes. I intend elaborate on that later.
I came from another well regarded school in a neighboring district where even though the same ethos was sold in the school brochure in a albeit more commercialized way, however these were generally references for a purporting nature most of the schools nowadays have to embody. A daily rigor of hauling large bags to school than later to tuition classes was the norm in my previous school especially if you remained on the fringes of a classroom, like you ever so eloquently described as being akin to camels in the desert in your days.

These schools in my opinion offer a small prism into the problems we face today – an education system that would have rivaled Henry Ford’s assembly lines of the 1900’s wherein we mass produce school educated students in the most controlled and tunnel-vision fashion. Not a thought passes on freedom of expression or understanding a student’s pace at harnessing and processing concepts and instead we are admitted to an intravenous flow of information without adequate conceptualizations. Forget academics, co-curricular activities were mere drippings, often offered as window dressing for the rare public occasions like the parent teacher conventions.

Pallikoodam on the other hand took a hard stand on tuitions though this did upset the parents of some students but it was in my opinion, an inspired decision. The onus of one’s academic merit squarely was on oneself with most teachers being rather supportive in my opinion especially in the lower classes. This is further enhanced by the favorable student teacher ratio the school enjoys with school having just 400 or so students. This reduced the pressure on students while at the same time quietly rightly hinting at the students that their destiny lay in their hands.

Anonymous said...

A paradigm shift from the teacher, to the student.

I was fairly shy student in my previous environs but quickly got accustomed to my new surroundings and with support of certain members of the staff and especially my fellow classmates. I took a brave decision concerning my stream after which I took to the water like a duck and now has the courage to the reply to your take with several agreements but several dissentions as well. For a large part of this change – Pallikoodam was the catalyst but the environment the school offered to the students more than some of the teaching and non-teaching staff was the ultimate influence. Students looked after each other, be it rather in the dormitories or the laboratories. There was serious attempt to empower the student to a certain degree as freedom was extended to a better degree with regards to movement, thought and activities.

An “Island of liberalism” in an otherwise constrained region where I was “liberated”.

This however does not go down well with certain sections of the teaching staff or even some of the parents if you remember my reference to my uncle in the second paragraph. Kottayam is still remains rooted to its traditional ways of parenting, ideas or even etiquette. The novel role model remains attached with words – “successful, hardworking and respectful” (a euphemism for obedient on many occasions). A culture of “creative, self-paced and contrarian” is easily deemed as subversive to the established social structures and norms. The vision provided by the esteemed principal dwindled as the years advanced on her and a rather obvious power struggle ensued and among pitched opposite camps with some contrarian views.

However one must not forego context in the midst of appraisal; the students who enter into the institution comes from reasonably well of backgrounds. Composed mostly of the Kottayam upper and upper middle class Christian communities as well as some Hindu and even fewer Muslim students with some coming from nearby districts as well, the school has its reputation of being snooty as you mentioned primarily due to these factors. The school is also staffed by a large part by its former students as well. In my understanding the image you happen to come across of the school has nothing do with the schools doctrine on education but is rather based on the ancient stereotypes when the wealthy and flock together on a green pasture perpetuated by the “have-not’s”; this however is understandable and is a form of rationalization that must always be misunderstood.

The misunderstanding enhances structure.

This is so due to the schools fee structure being on par with some of the more expensive schools in Kerala hence the students have an access to internet, TV’s, Books, magazines etc giving them considerable edge over students from say a Government run school who most definitely would have reduced access to the same. Mind you, this is in the most literate part of the country as well. However there are exceptions too with the school extending some generosity to the students of some its lower level staff member however these students do face an uphill struggle in their advanced classes as I personally learned from one or two of the lower staff members who interacted with me effortlessly as though I had done my entire schooling there.

Anonymous said...

Coming to the final few paragraphs of your blog article, concerning the student who “was addicted to pornography”; I believe you have had the same experience Neville Chamberlain had when Adolf Hitler invited him and caressed his ego and entailed him to sign the now infamous Munich Pact promising to not take over the Czechoslovakia, not inviting Czechoslovakia to decide its own fate. At this juncture, your wonderful and soulful article took the very plunge which you as a researcher stated at the outset wanted to avoid – Bias.

Full disclosure is required when I make this strong statement and hence I confess that I was a dear friend to the student and still am obviously taking the trouble to clarify on this point. However I was also witness to most of the events at close quarters and unfortunately you seem to have been misguided for the large part concerning the events. There was NEVER any pornographic material found on the boy and there was NEVER an attempt to lure anybody into any such acts but a suggestion to this regards worries me about the facts you faced of the unfolding drama which was merely a clash of egos; a clash between the students and the establishment; a clash between the contrarian culture that was held inside and outside the school.

The sheer lack of evidence to this claim is preposterous but instead one single video on a mobile phone NOT a camera was the clinching evidence for the authorities. The video which I will attempt to describe was just a video of the said student relieving his bowels taken from 180 degrees BEHIND by another boy. On no part of the video can any private parts be seen as the student was wearing trouser and a shirt. The only audible sounds are the video-taker, the boy’s friend laughing at the prank he had just committed never realizing the predicament that awaited his friend.

The boy who was victim to this silly prank was fooled as there were two doors to the toilet; while he thought that he closed one – his friend opened the other unlocked door and shot the video with a hysterical laugh (which was later openly speculated with glee that the laugh belonged to a girl the boy talked too often). This video was also taken in the home of the second boy (day-scholar) off campus and the authorities came into possession of this mobile phone by chance. This was a prank; this is NOT pornography. Period.

Mobile phones were banned in school like most school in the country. The day of the event was introduction party the new-comers to the 11th grade was to attend. After the party most the hostelites left for home; it was as late as 8pm when the phone which was in fact with boy’s friend and NOT IN HOSTEL handed over to him as he prepared to travel overnight to his house by train – a 9 hour journey. The boy’s mother called him on the phone as he was signing his name in the register to gain permission to leave. The phone rang in the midst of several non-teaching staff who immediately confiscated the phone. The boy argued his case in vain as the authorities stood firm on not giving the phone back. He left for him and as panicking mother finally got to learn of the story form the boy himself when he called from his local guardians house. She did not enjoy the trouble the boy had to go through quite obviously as it was visible the call from her on the phone’s screen.

Anonymous said...

In fact if the school believed it was pornography why was the second boy not hauled up as well? The school clearly entertained a bias. Well if I could come back to the point of where the distinction between someone who joined in 11th and had spent their entire school life in the same school was made up again – here the school entertained their subjectivity in disciplining the other boy who had the had brought up and held as first class student throughout his entire time in school right from Kintergarden. The second boy was of indeed of impeccable character and he had no previous record of misdemeanors and his part was never investigated. In fact the story revolved around the victim of the prank and all his minor misdemeanors of missing swimming classes et al was further compounded by the school authorities. He was made a scapegoat while they should have been none in the first. The school resorted to an easy – fix which was not only overhanded but seem to entail “the newest apple is the rotten apple in the basket”.

Again let me provide you with some context by providing several other mishandled issues which was merely cases of mischief in the school.

• A 14 year old boy who had a record of mischief had accused the Principal of embezzlement of some funds related to their batches’ excursion amongst his friends. As I have presented content in the gravest light let me apprise you of the boy’s modus operandi statement – “She must have made money out of it!” --- The reaction was to send the boy to the travel agents who organized the trip and later force the boy touch the feet of the principal by herself In front of the school seeking her pardon. If you don’t call that an over-reaction, I don’t know what is?

• A group of day scholars entered a dormitory of the boarders. This is against school regulations – a case of mischief. The boys had entered for conversation after school hours and to prevent from being seen closed all the windows of the dorm. They were caught and after a low down sent letters to their parents which accused them of “Pornographic or homosexual activity”. What’s with the obsession with the sexually deviant?
These are just few of the goof-ups the management has made, but I think I have provided enough for context. Moreover one must look into the basic structures of some of the teachers in campus with several bearing weakened family ties. Not to mention the lead orchestrator herself who prides in her struggle for equal women’s rights, however she unfortunately seems to have had rubbed many in her life at some point in the wrong manner.

Moreover questions of sexuality needs to addressed in a freer manner. The school desperately needs a trained counselor who can be approached for guidance comfortably. On the question of pornography, we still view it with much taboo, while its pretty much known that most men and many women would have explored their sexuality in the privacy of their rooms at some stage of their lives. It’s a part of growing up and it is not too difficult to understand that. Oddly a couple of non-teaching staff were later rumored to have indulged in adultery itself and this was incident suppressed with both losing their jobs simultaneously. It could have been indiscretion on their part but by making sex a no-go area completely, I believe the sexual tension has risen in general in the school. The incident also provided a few good laughs for the alma mater, though I dare say it was ever discussed openly amongst students in school.

Anonymous said...

Why did I take the trouble of comprehensively refuting the facts in your article? Well this is not the first article to come on the disputed incident concerning that poor boy. A story even came in a national magazine (Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 26, Dated July 05, 2008) though the magazine changed the boys name, many obviously know who the article referring to. Furthermore the author of the article has a clear link to the school which is a clear journalistic “conflict of interest” which can entail bias rather easily. The link to the article is provided here :-

The poor - he has feelings like all us as well and his entitled to his privacy. Finally the sad reality of today’s internet linked world is a reality where any information is available and presentable it surfer may not be link the information viewed chronologically which means each article he comes across is filled with these stories and lies is another crack to his brain taking him to memories one desperately tries to forget and move on from. However this George Bush-esque disinformation campaign carried out by the school only leads one and one’s friend to despair at the predicament and standard of the school.

Finally to end I would suggest that the school authorities watch the movie “Scent of a woman” or at -least the last part and take a long hard view of their idea of a school again. Everything needs a repaint after a while. So does a school.

Thank you! I do hope you take the time to read this and forgive for the length. Memories just came in rushing!
Yours Sincerely


P.S: I refused to reveal my identity as the school as a record of crossing the line between sticking to its principles and misguided personal vendettas, however for a inquisitive faculty and a staff room that earned a nickname - “the gossip column” from the students, I’m sure they can speculate and narrow down on the author of this reply rather easily. Moreover I have left enough clues in this “long comment” to anyone who got to know me to recognize who I am.

The quirk said...

Dear Anonymous,

You are free to write whatever you want but I have only posted two of your comments because I was unsure if I should post them all. If they would hurt your friend when he reads it again. Maybe he is already hurt with the misjudgements pronounced but I thought I should ask you if you want me to post the rest? I have no means of contacting you, but I guess you will come back to read this. And since I guess it was an emotional outburst, you would be fine now, so please tell me if I should post them all.

I understand your sentiments. And I agree to your philosophy of schooling, the cog in the wheel system we are stuck in today. Thanks for taking your precious time to discuss something so personal and emotional which is again why I am unsure if you would like it to be here on the blog.

If you need to contact me again plz do mail me at maybe in mail you don't have to maintain anonymity.

rajan mathew said...

i have two kids and my elder son is studying in an alternate school in Gujarat (icse) he is in 1st standard and does not know read/write malayalam. am planning to put my kids in Pallokkodam school. can any ex pallikoodam school students or parents their experiance about admission and whether such kids who doesnt know malayalam can co op in lower classes ie 1st or 2nd....

rajan mathew

Anonymous said...

Check out the record of mariamma paul a teacher with considerable influence on the school. The mental torture that she put me, her student, through is the kind of behavior that you would expect from a mentally ill person. Not writing out of spite but experience