Education as Transformation
College founders vision helps drive social change in southwest India
text and photographs by Sean Sprague
After rattling through hot, noisy streets in an auto-rickshaw, it can be a relief to pass through the shadow of a stone arch carved with the inscription Mar Ivanios College.
The college campus is a peaceful sanctuary located in the northern suburbs of Trivandrum, capital city of Kerala, the coastal state in southwest India where literacy is valued and education is prized.
Founded by Mar Ivanios, first Metropolitan Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, the college recently celebrated its golden jubilee.
The present head of the church, Cyril Mar Baselios, said: In the 1940s, Mar Ivanios was our only cleric to hold a postgraduate degree. Perhaps this is why he saw education as a continuous process of information, formation and transformation.
He believed this process would develop values like compassion, justice and truthfulness in young people. Today, college faculty members take such character building seriously. In this way, the teachers help the students become involved in transforming our society.
For Mar Ivanios, social change was the ultimate goal.
Kerala faces the rich Arab Gulf states, and Keralas citizens many of whom migrate back and forth to the Gulf as laborers have consequently been exposed to diverse cultures and traditions. There is less local poverty because of the work available and in many ways this familiarity with other peoples has helped the state avoid much of the roiling ethnic tension that plagues India.
The state has a population of about 30 million, and of that number 20 percent are Christian, 60 percent are Hindu and about 20 percent are Muslim. Traditionally, Christian schools have contributed to the high literacy rate in Kerala, but it was Mar Ivanios who believed there was a need to provide an institute of Christian higher education. Ironically, Kerala, a communist-run state, has a strong government-supported continuing education program from which no one is excluded. The state mandate of education for all and forever echoes Mar Ivanios philosophy of education as a means of social transformation.
Kerala is only one of a handful of communist states in India along with Tripura and West Bengal. The Communist Party of India was founded in the 1920s to create an alternative to the existing Congress Partys anti-imperialist agenda. The communist movement grew out of economic revolt and was pitched against the class system, both British and Indian. The Communist Party in Kerala has been in power regularly, though not consecutively, since 1957 when Kerala became the first place in the world to democratically elect a communist government.
In 1949, Mar Ivanios purchased 200 acres of land spread over seven hills. There, he began to realize his dream of establishing a college.
At present, about 3,600 boys and girls study in the 70 primary schools managed by me, Mar Ivanios wrote when requesting permission to start the college that had been originally affiliated with the University of Travancore (the former state name for Kerala). I believe it is time to expand my involvement to include these students higher education.
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