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  • Published 3.10.05

For Ramapati Maity, education is not just a vocation. It?s a family tradition and a passion.

His father was a primary schoolteacher, so it was only natural that the son followed in his footsteps. But the journey to get there has been riddled with obstacles.

Despite the struggle, the 80-year-old has spent 60 years as an educationist. Maity was honoured with the Dr Mrs NB O?Brien Lifetime Achievement Award on September 28, at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence, held at Science City auditorium.

But ask him about his life?s work and the man from Midnapore modestly replies: ?Many of my students have done very well for themselves.?

He lost his father at age four. Soon after, his sisters died of malarial fever and his mother suffered from depression. Undeterred, he passed his matriculation with a first division in 1942, while participating in the Quit India Movement. Fighting cyclone, famine and poverty, he graduated from college and became a teacher in 1945.

In April 1952, he became headmaster of Changrachak Jagdish Smriti Vidyapith, in Moyna Block, East Midnapore. He retired in November 1990.

?The school was in a dilapidated condition when I joined, with about 94 students till Class X. Now, it is a Higher Secondary school, with the students frequently appearing in the top bracket in Madhyamik and HS,? he says.

Some of his students were at Science City, cheering their former mastermoshai. ?There are many professors, senior bureaucrats, doctors and engineers among them,? Maity proudly declares.

The school comprises one three-storeyed and two two-storeyed buildings with 1,800 students, a hostel housing 300 youngsters, three tubewells for drinking water, two bathing tanks with a swimming platform, a playground, laboratory, library?

Maity has volunteered in famine and flood-relief operations, and led his students on street and forest-cleaning drives, and even fire-fighting efforts. ?I have also worked to include moral education. I wanted students to understand the importance of being responsible citizens and leading simple lives,? explains the follower of Swami Vivekananda.

Shyamal Bandopadhyay, headmaster of Habra High School, is also driven by that belief. Awarded with a Frank Brothers Honour for an Educationist at the same function, he was applauded as much for his work in the classroom as in the community.

?I am close to retirement now, but in the past 22 years as headmaster, the thing I am most proud of is creating caring citizens of tomorrow. Our school has become quite well-known for its high rankings in the Madhyamik and HS results, but education is not just about that,? asserts Bandopadhyay.

The head of the local chapter of the Red Cross has started regular eye check-up and surgery camps for the poor, led initiatives to help the handicapped and even started a school project on medicinal plants. He is now starting a teaching-through-theatre scheme in the classroom.

A fellow awardee was Dhan Adenwalla, founder of the Oral School for Deaf Children. Now a resident of Pune, she founded the school on Short Street in 1964 for her daughter Denaz, who was born deaf. At the time, there was no school in Calcutta for the hearing impaired, so she did her research, attended courses and built an institution that has since shaped many a life.

Eighty-seven-year-old Shantaben Patel was another woman of substance felicitated at the awards ceremony. An educationist for over 60 years, the freedom fighter was a pioneer of the Montessori system of education in India, having collaborated with Maria Montessori. The petite teacher of Vidyanjali High School is also an active social worker, passionately campaigning for women?s rights, particularly against dowry.

Sharing the Lifetime Achievement award with Maity was 90-year-old Enid Isaac Warsi. The sprightly lady from a Muslim-Christian family in Lahore left for Canada after completing her education.

She married and migrated to India in the 1940s. The founder of Modern School and Modern English Academy, both in Barrackpore, still moves around the school, keeping a watchful eye on her young charges.