Fun learning

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“It’s just destiny. Of course, I followed my heart but what attracted my heart to this path, I don’t know. It could be due to some divine intervention, ‘’ says Sathyanarayanan Mundayoor, who won the Padma Shri Award this year. Sathyanarayanan has been promoting education and reading culture among tribespeople in Arunachal Pradesh and has set up a library network in the region over the past four decades.

He began his career as an educationist after the Vivekananda Kendra appointed him up as an educational officer in the northeast. Later, he launched Lohit Youth Library Network for promoting interest in reading among children and youngsters in the region. Altogether, 13 libraries have been set up as part of the de-institutionalised library movement.

Sathyanarayanan did not conceptualize libraries as mere reading rooms. Instead, he designed them to function as centres of learning and discussions. They aimed to introduce the joy of reading to children through storytelling, poetry recitation, talks, discussions and quiz sessions. While each library is managed by volunteers themselves and the readers, the salient feature of the movement is its extension service: The readers-cum-volunteers take the joy of reading to those who are unable to visit the libraries.

Improving the quality of education in Arunachal Pradesh was a big challenge as there were few schools in the region and those which were functioning did not have proper facilities, even electricity. Means of transportation were inadequate and it was also difficult to bring the children to schools as they were finding it hard to cope with the disciplinary climate in these institutions, having led a free life till then.

“My contribution as an educationist is that I was able to make education a joyful experience to the children,” he says, adding that the teachers of the Vivekananda Kendra schools were good, but the regimented setting must have been a dampener for the children. “I play with the children and tell stories to them’’ he says.

“The library network has many similarities with the literacy movement in Kerala. The movement does not have a hierarchical leadership, and each unit functions with full autonomy,” he says.

After completing his school education in different parts of Kerala, Sathyanarayanan moved to Mumbai for pursuing higher education. His first job was with the LIC and then he joined the income tax department. “I was lucky that there were some officers in the I-T department who recognised my passion for reading and education, and deployed me in the training department,’’ he says.

“Swami Vivekananda’s emphasis on pursuing knowledge has certainly inspired me. I have always been a continuous learner. In fact, I have learnt a lot from students and volunteers of the movement and the Padma award is a recognition for their work as well. We want to build an army of volunteers who will be able to continue the campaign,’’ he says.

On being a lifelong bachelor, he says: “People have different priorities, and mine was promoting reading and education. But Vivekananda Kendra is not a monastic mission and there are several married people associated with it.’’

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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