Dr P C Thomas has the same words of advice to the student who scored cent per cent in an exam and the student who got it all wrong: “None of these is right!” He wants the second student to improve his marks. He wants the first student to succeed in life as in the exam.
Born into a family of successful planters in Ettumanoor, Thomas was more interested in nurturing knowledge. His untiring efforts led to the foundation of the Good Shepherd International School in Ooty, one of the best schools globally.
The Good Shepherd International School’s brand is a passport of excellence recognized worldwide. The school houses students from about 50 countries. Alumni spreads all across the globe. The teaching methodology marries India’s traditional gurukula system to modern educational philosophies. Teaching draws on the possibilities thrown open by information technology.
A student’s aptitude in arts and sports is given equal importance as academics. Students are trained in developing their cultural and linguistic competency.
Thomas dedicates his success to a word of encouragement from his wife, Elsamma, the daughter of thespian Jose Prakash. Elsamma encouraged Thomas to venture beyond his career as a teacher in the Loyola School in Thiruvananthapuram, Sainik School in Bijapur and the posts of headteacher at the Cordite Factory School at Aruvankad near Coimbatore and the Breeks Memorial Anglo-Indian School in Ooty. He always wanted to set up a “total school” in the countryside and Elsamma stood by his ambition.
Thomas’ life-changing event was an astrological prediction. He was a degree student in the St Thomas College in Pala when his professor invited him home one day. Prof. K Ramakrishna Pillai asked the student for his birth date and time. He wrote a horoscope and predicted that Thomas was destined to leave a legacy in the education sector. He said that Thomas would set up a school in a hill station and employ hundreds of people and become world-famous as part of a vast voluntary network.
Somehow the prediction helped put Thomas firmly on his track. The horoscope acted as a leading light for the 20-year-old. Ramakrishna Pillai said that Thomas would initially fail in his business venture but succeed in the second endeavour. That was to be so.
Thomas soon realised that business was not his calling. He worked with the Rotary Club in its charitable activities around the world. He went on to become a Rotary governor and an International Director of Zone. The work Thomas did amid the tsunami-affected people in Chennai earned him wide recognition.
While Thomas was struggling to overcome the teething troubles of the school he had set up, a friend told him: “If I were in your place, I would have shot myself. But I am sure you would overcome it.”
Thomas tapped into his family inheritance and borrowed heavily to keep the school on track. Both Thomas and Elsamma took personal loans on a monthly basis to keep the venture going and pay their staff. They tried out several campuses before settling on the present campuses at Palada and Fern Hill. The couple chose to live near the school.
Elsamma also wanted to become a teacher. She became much more than that. She was like a mother to the students of the school. Students from faraway lands joined the residential school right from the first grade. At night, the lonely children started crying. Elsamma would let them sleep with her. “She knows lullabies in almost all languages,” Thomas joked.
The couple made sure that their own children, Jacob Thomas and Julie, stayed with the other students in the dorm. Julie is currently in the top management of the school. When she reminds her parents that she was treated just like any other student, Thomas replied: “Students were like our children. But you were full-time students.”
Pursuit of perfection
Thomas likes to believe that the pursuit of perfection is never-ending. Good Shepherd International School is one of the few institutions in the country to offer the best three pre-university examination systems in the world. The school has been accredited by agencies certifying excellence. The school has received a lot of awards, thanks to the management’s attempts to emulate best practices from around the world.
The school is an out-of-the-world experience. Right now, the institution offers all facilities for students in grades from three to 12. There is an associated finishing school for students who pass the 12th class. A 50-bed hospital is prepared to treat about 800 children.
A 40-acre farm produces the vegetables, meat, fish and milk needed for the students’ mess. Even bread and biscuits are baked on the premises. Students certify that it is a good place to eat.
Arts and sports are an integral part of student life in the school. The school offers an opportunity for almost all art forms and musical instruments from around the world. The campus houses 15 badminton courts and 12 basketball courts and two world-class cricket fields and two football fields. There is a swimming pool and a golf course too. Students can also learn horse riding on the 30 magnificent beasts owned by the school.
The school has a massive counselling section. The school campus is shaped like a ‘Jnana Gramam’, or village of knowledge. The school has given the Palada area a facelift. The establishment offers employment to several people from the locality.
Even as the school is known for its world-class education, it offers free education to a few students. The school is also involved in charity work by adopting other schools and habitats in the vicinity as part of compulsory social service for its own students. The P C Thomas Foundation is also involved in charity work.
Thomas still keeps the horoscope written by his former professor. Ask him if he believes in the horoscope, and he would say that he trusts his professor.
(Dr P C Thomas’ autobiography is published by Manorama Books)