It was one man’s vision. To father a school that would recognize the latent skill and potential that drifted into the school gate each morning and mould that endowment into singular global citizens by stimulating their curiosity, nurturing their creativity and leadership, and developing their character. To do this fittingly, he knew he would have to create an education partnership between an inquiring student and an informed teacher, one supported by enlightened school stewardship and committed parents.
The late KI Thomas, affectionately known as KIT, was born in 1914 in the village of Kunnamkulam, near Thrissur. His initial education at the local school was followed by an undergraduate degree at the Madras Christian College (MCC), Tambaram, in Chennai. Here he was influenced in his thoughts and methods and continued to remain so all his life, by two remarkable Britishers, Drs. McPhail and Boyd. In the early 40’s, during World War II, he went to Edinburgh and London for his postgraduate studies in Teaching. Returning to India at the end of the war, he briefly taught at the MCC, followed by Rajkumar College, Rajkot, and later Sind-e- Madrassa, Karachi. In 1951 he was selected to head the Lawrence School, Lovedale, where he successfully oversaw the transformation of a British Military School into one of the foremost Public Schools of India. He remained there for the next 20 years, etching himself indelibly into the memories of hundreds of students.
After his retirement from , Lovedale he. settled down in Madras (now Chennai), Here he laid the foundation for a new school , to be called , Sishya ,in 1972 along with his co founders – Mrs Grace Cherian and Mrs Thangam Thomas. Sishya, was conceived as a nursery cum preparatory school. He started with 28 students.
Sishya grew slowly and gradually gained in popularity. His approach to education was “do not take away childhood from children”. He felt Indian school education was repressive and wanted to create an atmosphere in the school that would make the students want to come back every day.
He knew his goal. To impart to young people skills that would provoke curiosity and rouse healthy inquisitiveness, and keep them inspired and actively engaged in holistic learning. To prepare them through that learning for the changing realities of the future. And to groom them into self assured, creative, and responsible adults characterized as powerful communicators, imaginative problem solvers, and responsible and empathetic citizens.
He brought in outstanding teachers who could provide that inspiration and empower his students on that all important journey of self-discovery and knowledge acquisition. People who could foster an institution of repute and academic excellence. Thus emerged Sishya as an educational paradigm.
His vision came alive through his dedication and perseverance in the face of odds and through the support of parents, well wishers and the community at large. In 1974, the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination granted affiliation to the school enabling the first batch of students to appear for the ICSE exam the following year.
KIT Thomas’s individual efforts were soon formalized by setting up the KIT Thomas Educational Society in 1974 together with a group of admirers and supporters. The Trust was registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Act. A registered christian minority trust, now owns and controls the management of the school.
Through all his years at the school, KIT Thomas remained an enigma to his students. They would watch him with awe and respect as he took slow measured steps down the hallways, nodding as he passed them by. KIT Thomas’ aura remained undimmed even as the school grew, the numbers swelled, and he withdrew himself from the din of activity. Despite the growth in numbers over the years and more recently in locations, Sishya remains rooted in the same values and principles that one man KIT Thomas envisioned for it almost fifty years ago. Its raison d’etre still remains its students and their learning, the fulcrum on which the school’s wheels continue to turn.
The late KI Thomas confidently placed Sishya in the hands of the KIT Thomas Educational Society committing the ownership and management of the affairs of the school to the Trustees who have since then successfully steered the school forward ensuring that the spirit of the school’s founding and its high standards have been kept alive.
KIT Thomas passed on in 1993. He has the singular privilege of having fathered and built two institutions that despite the passage of time remain synonymous with his name. To this day he is remembered in these places with much reverence.
The Co-founders of Sishya
Thangam Thomas (1922-1985)
Thangam Leila Mary Thomas (nee Verghese) was born in 1922. She completed her early studies in Trivandrum and her college education in Lady Irwin College, New Delhi. She married KIT Thomas in 1943 and was his strongest supporter and critic throughout his years at Lovedale and Sishya.
A charming hostess, she was also an accomplished musician and taught music to the younger children in both these schools. If KIT was nicknamed ‘Stiffy’ she was the very antithesis, and many of the little ones sent to boarding school at Lovedale were comforted by her presence during the early days of separation from their families. In Sishya many remember her for all the little things she did—like standing at the gate and handing out Easter eggs to all.
She passed on in 1985.
The first person KIT Thomas recruited at Sishya was Grace Cherian. Ms. Cherian was an expert in primary school education. She had worked with KIT in Lovedale, and later moved to the Lawrence School in Sanawar. She came to Sishya in 1974. A defining presence in Sishya’s history, she was engaged in every aspect of the school’s functioning. Nothing missed her keen eye. Much of the early success of the school can be attributed to her hard work and dedication. She was very fond of children and looked upon the kids in the junior section as her very own.
Grace Cherian is remembered as a strict but fair person. She was often seen standing on the verandah of the old block, arms akimbo, with a huge smile on her face. Her office, a long and narrow room with books lining the walls, was considered the hub of the school, the place from where she wielded the baton.
Nothing escaped her attention for she had her finger on the pulse of the school. She put her booming voice to good use, whether it was to ease a new teacher into the Sishya system or to pull up an errant student.
Grace Cherian was a punctilious woman, correct in everything she said and did. Every day she would write out the ‘thought of the day’ in her beautiful cursive on a white board. She was well known for her piles of notebooks, neat, shoe-lace bound and ordered with the best grades on top and the worst at the bottom.
People remember the very small pair of scissors Grace Cherian kept in her infamous medicine box which she would use to neatly cut the foil strip any time she needed a tablet. She was a math teacher par excellence, and everyone knew that a child she had tutored would be sure to ace the most difficult math exam paper with aplomb.
She passed on in 1989.