Keeping children curious a challenge: Leelavathi N

Keeping children curious a challenge: Leelavathi N

The woman behind the Sri Vidya Mandir Education Society, which turned 50, speaks about her journey

Sri Vidya Mandir Education Society recently celebrated it’s golden jubilee. Housed in the heart of Malleswaram, the school has separate blocks for the primary section, middle school, and high school and pre university sections, all located close to each other.

The story of Sri Vidya Mandir is inseparable from the woman who founded it. Leelavathi N started her career as a teacher in Chennai and fell in love with the profession. Marriage brought her to Bengaluru and the rest, as they say, is history.

Metrolife spoke to the educator about her journey and the current education system. 

What motivated you to begin the school?

I had just resigned as the headmistress of a high school and it was sheer providence that brought me in contact with a few ladies who were keen on starting a school at that time. That resulted in the birth of Sri Vidya Mandir on January 18 1970, with three students, two teachers and one non-academic help to with me as the headmistress.

What is the vision you had for the school? Has it been achieved?

My vision was to make value-based education available to all, especially the underprivileged sections of our society, so as to help raise their standard of living. 

Yes, I have achieved my vision of what we wanted to achieve. I was particularly pleased when students who were enrolled into the school as part of the Right to Education Act performed on par with the other students, thus proving that these students, if provided with the right opportunity, can step up to any challenge. 

What are the challenges you faced then, have you overcome them now? What the new challenges now that the school is well-established?

We have faced challenges of all kinds from day one. Putting up the first construction without any means when the leased premises we had occupied was sold, was probably one of the first challenges we faced. Overcoming chalenges became a part of our daily routine. 

We have an overload of information today and the role of a teacher is to distil the information, convert it into knowledge and keep children curious. The challenges today are around the curriculum, the ability to communicate effectively with the students and parents, getting the authorities to see your point of view and so on.  

What would you say is a career defining moment?

After completing my degree I was keen on pursuing a career in the administrative service and had enrolled in a post graduate programme.

My friend had forced me to shift to teachers training programme against my wishes and I did not like teaching at all. The first demonstration class I gave at a municipal school changed my outlook towards teaching. That was the first career defining moment. 

The second was when I fought a case all the way up to the Supreme Court against the establishment and won the case. This was after everybody had told me we had a weak case. That was when I realised that if you believe in yourself and are fighting for a cause, you will eventually win. 

What are the kind of values you imbibe in the students?

Honesty and sincerity is something that is very close to my heart. Gratitude and respect to elders, valuing our traditions, serving society, tolerance, teamwork and trusting others, accepting that
failure is alright is something we try and imbibe in our children right from an early age. 

Do you believe that a good balance between academics and extracurriculars is important?

I absolutely believe that a healthy mind in a healthy body is what every child needs. Respect for culture, tradition etc., all come from the time a child spends away from class. 

What do you think of the current education system in the country and what should change?

One of the biggest challenges we educationists face is the problem of cost, quality and scale. This is to provide high quality education at an affordable cost. Online education was expected to solve it, but I don’t think it has. 

The current system is very confusing for parents with multiple syllabus choices. Ideally, one curriculum across the length and breadth of the country would be ideal. I would prefer if children up to class II are taught only the language of their choice and math. This, I think, would help them learn other subjects well when introduced. 

The cost of real estate is another factor which significantly impacts our ability to provide education at affordable costs.