Education as Transformation: College founder’s vision helps drive social change in southwest India – Part 2

by Sean Sprague

5224 - Auto-Rickshaws, Trivandrum, Kerala, India.

5224 - Auto-Rickshaws, Trivandrum, Kerala, India.

Read Part 1

After rattling through the noisy streets of Trivandrum on the back of an auto-rickshaw, it is a relief to enter the arches inscribed “Mar Ivanios College” and find one’s self in the peaceful sanctuary of the college. The various college buildings are tastefully set on the leafy grounds, centred around the main building with it’s pink tower. From an original enrollment of 145 students in 1949, today there are over 2500 students studying any of ten degree courses, seven post-graduate courses and at four recognized Research centres.

9937 - Nursing student studying for exam, Nursing school at Muttuchira Kerala, India

9937 - Nursing student studying for exam, Nursing school at Muttuchira Kerala, India

Maintaining a balanced spread between arts and sciences, the college offers a two-year pre-degee course, and degree courses in Economics, English, Commerce, Videography and Mass Communication, Tourism and Travel Management, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Botany and Zoology. The post-graduate courses are in English, Commerce, Tourism Administration, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Zoology. The recognized research centers are in the departments of Chemistry, Physics, Zoology and Commerce. In celebration of the college’s recent golden jubilee, the newly constructed Mar Ivanios Institute of Advanced Studies houses an impressive new computer lab as well as a language lab offering courses in 5 languages. Increasingly, the courses available are responding to the highly competitive job market in India. Although the original mandate suggested by Mar Ivanios had been the creation of the whole individual, “hasn’t education degraded itself as a means to obtain a job?”, the current thinking is more pragmatic, realising that a whole individual needs a job at the end of his studies if he or she is to have any self esteem at all. Thus the recent emphasis on computer courses, video and mass communication and tourist administration, all of which are fast growth areas in modern India.

9933 - Nursing students in class, Nursing school at Muttuchira Kerala, India.

9933 - Nursing students in class, Nursing school at Muttuchira Kerala, India.

In all there are 120 full time teachers working at the college. They all receive their salaries from the state government. Among the teachers, there are some 40 who were themselves students at Mar Ivanios, such is the affection held for the college. Shirley Stuart teaches in the English department, and was also a student there, as was her father who taught in the college for 32 years. She explained that all the teachers have life-time tenure, after an initial probationary year, though she complained that retirement is at the relatively young age of 55, a measure to ease unemployment. She added that, unlike other state colleges, at Mar Ivanios they did not have the system whereby new teachers were required to give  a cripplingly high donation when initially hired, rather like a dowry.

9910 - Botany class at Saint Anthony's English medium school, Karottukara, Kerala, India.

9910 - Botany class at Saint Anthony's English medium school, Karottukara, Kerala, India.

Anne Moreira, also teaching in the English Department, described how the college was “way above other colleges” and never had student or teacher strikes. If there were any issues to be discussed, they were invariably done in a cordial manner. And this makes a change in Communist-run Kerala which is plagued by trades union strikes and demonstrations. The tameness of the students derives from their being in awe at attending such a prestigious institution on the one hand, and by a vigilant guardian-teacher assocation (GTA) on the other. The GTA informs the parents/guardians  about the progress or even the slightest problems encountered by the students. Although there is a students’ union, there is apparently never any trouble which would disrupt studies.

The present principal of the college, Father Daniel Kuzhithadathil, explained that students are selected irrespective of caste or creed. Their admission policy allows 50% of students by general merit, 20% from the under-priveliged scheduled caste or scheduled tribes, 10% from the Syro-Malankara community and 20% from the so-called “management quota”. The definintion of the latter was vague, consisting of those unable to pass the entrance exams but who excel at sports, or those with so much money that their generous donations allowed them unquestioned entrance. (The definition depended on who you talked to). In any case, most of the students come from the middle and upper classes.

Continued, part three coming next week…

Originally published in November-December 2002 in CNEWA’s One Magazine.

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