For several decades,Pala in central Kerala,known as the land of latex with its rubber saplings and nurseries,has been attracting farmers from across the state and parts of Karnataka. Over the past few years,the headquarters of Meenachil,the countrys leading rubber-growing taluka,has acquired another identity. Thousands of youths aspiring for engineering and medicine have made this municipal town a coaching hub.
The makeover started when around 5,000 teens fresh out of Class XII attended a year-long repeaters course at Brilliant Study Centre for various engineering and medical entrance exams. A repeater means one who has not cleared these entrances at the first attempt,though the course does not exclude those who didnt take the entrance. On weekends,another few hundred from other parts of Kottayam district join Brilliants special sessions. And students from across Kerala take a year-long foundation course join a higher secondary school.
Seven years ago,Brilliant shifted its main campus to Mutholi village,3km from Pala and quieter.
Of the 5,500 students who have joined the repeaters programme,around 4,000 are staying in hostels or as paying guests. We have 150 houses that take paying guests,apart from a couple of hostels. We assess the required facilities,and fix a general menu and fees, says Brilliant chief mentor Sebastian Mathew,who along with three others floated it as a tuition centre in 1984 before shifting to coaching for entrances.
Providing paying guest facilities has become a major source of income for villagers, says T N Muraleedharan,who plays host for 30 students. Many families have dismantled their cattle sheds to build rooms for students. Vacant houses of migrant families too were taken on rent for students. Some elderly parents living alone provided part of their property.
Mathew estimates the accommodation facilities alone would earn the providers,including hostel managers,at least Rs 1 crore a month. The lions share of the money is being pumped back into the village.
Brilliants teachers are paid by the hour,earning between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. They include retired college teachers and specialists in training for entrances. The yearlong course costs Rs 25,000.
Says Mutholi panchayat president Rajan Mundamattam,The stay of around 4,000 students has created a wide range of job openings for women,from catering to housekeeping. Every family in the region is in the job chain. In many houses,women and their daughters work as wardens in the small hostels attached to their property.
The hundreds who stay in the village have motivated local students too. Our children have learnt a lot of discipline. There is a general academic atmosphere in the village, said panchayat member Sebastian G.