Having been interested in education and particularly creating a fun, stimulating and caring learning environment for children, Meenakshi began a school in Dharmapuri District of Tamil Nadu in 2000. Starting with 7 children, the school now has 75 children and 4 teachers. Three of the teachers are from nearby villages while the fourth is Meenakshi.
Puvidham Learning Centre is located 2 kilometers from Nagarkoodal Village and 20 kilometers from Dharmapuri town. The landscape here is undulating and agriculture and daily wage physical labour are the primary occupations. Children from surrounding villages of various castes and communities come to the school, which is both a Tamil and English medium school. As people value more what they pay for parents are requested to pay school fees depending on their occupation and affordability.
Due to the dry conditions and difficulties of agriculture in the area, many people migrate for work to the cities, to construction sites, road works and other daily wage work. Their children are left behind or are taken along and live a very uncertain life on construction sites or in slums. Several such parents approached Puvidham to ask whether their children could board while they went in search of work. With this in mind, a hostel facility is being built which will cater to such children, and thus provide a more stable environment for them while they also attend Puvidham.
In 2000 Meenakshi started a learning center with a focus on farming. Most of the kids are kids of marginal farmers and Dalits. Farming is the most important occupation but is not considered a worthy occupation. Hence the high rate of migration of locals to cities. The school treats farming as a very important activity and its importance in the overall picture of life is discussed.
In 2000, Puvidham Learning Centre was started based on the ideologies of Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, using methods demonstrated by Maria Montessori and David Horsburgh.
The school uses the Maria Montessori method of learning by doing, David Horsburgh’s method of experiencing language, Math and Science and Mahatma Gandhi’s message of love and peace. There are no exams till the state board level and hence no competition. Real learning, questioning and solution finding through project work is encouraged.
For Mathematics, the school used ideas from Maria Montessori`s method and prepared its own material using locally available skills. The teachers have made a lot of teaching materials like inset boards, jigsaw puzzles, geometric puzzles, alphabet boards, movable alphabet, abacus, place value cards up to 9999 and lots of flash cards and word cards.
In June 2000 the school had 7 children. Today the strength of the school has gone up to 75.
The school starts at 9.30 am with a prayer session. This is followed by mimes and singing rhymes or songs which is repeated by all the others. This helps build the confidence of the child and helps him/ her understand the meaning of the songs from the actions .
On Wednesday all the children are expected to tell a story or relate an incident. This again helps in building vocabulary, memory and ability to describe events in the correct sequence. During this session, any questions asked by the children are addressed and the activities for the day are planned.
Problems of caste and personal conflicts are resolved by talking with the children. During the talk, they identify the problem and identify the most dangerous action committed and identify the person who was responsible for it. By the end of this session, each child is aware of what has occurred and his./her role in the whole picture.
The school did away with a rigid time table as these classes were a response to the interests of the children and so we work with in a loose frame work where the morning session is for language and science and afternoon session for mathematics and craft. It works in an atmosphere where both the teachers and students are equally surprised at the activities that are included and how they are conducted with ease and co-operation