Interview with Shri T N Venkatesh IAS
September 26, 2015
“I feel that two things are very important for success—hard work and determination.”
Shri T.N. Venkatesh IAS, is the Joint Commissioner (Education), Corporation of Chennai. He joined the IAS in 2001 and served as Joint Commissioner, Commercial Taxes and as District
Collector of Karur. During his tenure in 2007, Karur was adjudged the Best District for working towards the rehabilitation of the Differently Abled.
Shri. Venkatesh is a fan of Carnatic music and attends concerts regularly.
In an exclusive interview, Shri T N Venkatesh IAS shares with Marie Banu the education initiatives of Chennai Corporation.
Who has been your inspiration? Was it tough for you to clear the Civil Services Examination?
My uncle Mr. Santhanam, an IAS officer himself, has been my inspiration. I made up my mind when I was around ten years old that I would become an IAS officer. Early seeds were sown
into my thoughts regarding joining Civil Services.
I cleared the Civil Services Examination in 2001. The competition was very tough as only 53 were selected for IAS compared to 180 in recent years. One has to score very high in order to
get a posting in their own home state. I stood 18th at the All India level.
What is your advice for youth who aspire to join the civil services?
One should have a clear vision without any ambiguity as to what they want to become in life. If you have an ambition to become an IAS officer, you will have to start preparing early in life.
I feel that two things are very important for success—hard work and determination. There is no recipe for success without these two. The youth need to be clear that there are no short cuts to
reach Civil Services. Ever since I joined the Civil Services and until today, I work really hard with the commitment and determination that I should make some difference in the department that I
work for. Systematic planning and perseverance will take you nearer to your goal.
Can you share your achievements as the District Collector of Karur?
As the Collector of Karur, I won the ‘Best District Award’ in 2007 for working for the welfare of differently abled persons. It was a National Award given by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to District Collectors.
A District Collector will have to work with different departments, each of them having specific schemes for the differently abled, but all working in isolation. Through an integrated approach, I ensured that the family which had a differently abled member received maximum help from every department.
Today, I am very happy to say that around 250 families in Karur district are having their own livelihoods. Some have started their own restaurants, small scale units, and one visually challenged couple even started an orchestra.
What are the schemes launched by the Chennai Corporation to encourage education, especially among girl children?
We ensure that the children who enroll in our Chennai schools are offered the best in terms of quality education. One aspect that is missed out often when you talk about schooling or children is that people focus only on academic pursuits. But, we also focus on the non-academic pursuits like drawing, music, dance, public speaking, and spoken English classes. The Chennai Corporation has launched a lot of initiatives in the recent past, especially keeping the extra- curricular activities in mind.
We have also introduced more English medium sections. This is because there is a great parental aspiration for children to speak in English. Last year, we started separate English Medium sections in 30 schools.
With regard to girl children, we provide sanitary napkins for those studying in the middle and higher secondary schools. Also, gynaecologists visit our schools twice or thrice a month to conduct regular health check-ups.
We have also tied up with NGOs like Ashraya, Ekam Foundation, and Eco Kitchen (a project of YRG Care). These organisations provide counseling for adolescent girls on health, their overall well-being, goal setting, aspirations, and self-esteem.
We have started music rooms in 30 of our Chennai schools and have appointed 30 part-time music teachers who conduct classes thrice a week. Specialized music training is offered to children who are studying in 6th to 8th standard.
I would like to make a mention about ‘Aanma Jothi’, an organization that is keen in spreading awareness about our classical music and dance amongst the Chennai school students.Normally, children in private schools have constant exposure in the form of field visits or celebrity talks. But, the Chennai school children miss out on this. Organisations like Nalandaway and Samudhaaya Foundation have in the recent past done a lot of programmes for our children to bridge this gap. We are also regularly sending our students to Dakshin Chitra to participate in
traditional festivals and know about the rich heritage of South India.
There are a lot of challenges that our teacher’s face today. What are your views about the change in teacher-student relationship?
Absolutely! The role of the teacher has changed a lot, especially due to technology. The teacher’s role when you or I were a student was totally different. We relied entirely on her or him for information.
Now, there are many other ways the children can get information from. Therefore, if you are going to be just passing on information, you may not be able to connect. You need to walk that extra mile to strike a chord with your students. I really feel that the teachers of today should be good mentors, and need to set examples themselves. They should make their mark by their good conduct, attire, and attitude towards work. They need to take the effort to nurture the potential that lies in each child.
I am happy that our teachers pay special attention towards the slow learners. When you compare the government and private schools, the proportion of slow learners are much higher in Chennai schools. Most of the children studying in Chennai schools are first generation learners. So, there are a lot of challenges for our teachers as there is minimal parental support.
How can NGOs help the government in addressing the issue of quality of education in Chennai schools?
I would like to mention about an organization called ‘Teach for India’ who have partnered with seven of our Chennai schools. Young Teach for India Fellows handle English Medium sections in these schools and teach children subjects of English, science, mathematics, and social studies.
They have built up the confidence of the children and have brought a visible change in these classrooms. Classroom is a very important place where the child spends a lot of time, especially at the primary level. So, the kind of influence that the teacher has during the school hours makes a lot of difference.
Our ultimate aim is to encourage a child to come to school and enjoy the learning process. The challenge is to not only make the classrooms attractive physically, but also engage the children in joyful learning.
I would like to encourage NGOs to partner with us and make our classrooms brighter, lively, meaningful, and effective. There is a lot of synergy by doing this work together. Ultimately, we need to come together to make a difference.