The introduction of smart boards in a majority of TN schools has led to the chalk piece becoming redundant.
This scenario brought in by an adaptation of technology has not only hit Kathiravan’s business, but also the nearly 200 cottage industries involved in manufacturing chalk pieces in the State.
Until a few years ago, educational institutions-including colleges-in the State were bulk purchasers of chalk pieces, with Kathiravan alone once making 500 bundles per month of the product-numbering to approximately 1.75 lakh pieces. Each bundle has about 3,500 pieces.
“For the last five to six years, my production went down by 75%. It is basically due to the introduction of smart boards in many schools where sketch pens and markers are used instead of chalk pieces,” Kathiravan rued. Although he said he is getting around Rs 50 per box, which contains 100 chalk pieces, he adds, “Sometimes, we are forced to sell it at Rs 30 per box to the retailers.”
Chalk pieces go a long way back in time regarding its functionality. Chalk pieces used in school classrooms come in slender sticks that are approximately three inches long. Lessons are often presented to the entire class on blackboards using these sticks of chalk as this method was proven to be cheap and easy.
Made of mostly natural products, chalk has been found to have been used for drawing since prehistoric times where, according to history books, it helped to create some of the earliest cave drawings. Later, artists from different countries and drawing styles began to use chalk mainly for sketches and other creative works.
It is learnt that blackboard chalk was originally made from the sedimentary rock of soft limestone. Chalk, composed principally of calcium carbonate, formed underwater by slow accumulation and compression of the calcite shells.
The rich history, however, seems to end there, as chalk piece manufacturers in the State rue of the lack of patronage, among other things, that has hit production hard.
Woes of the manufacturers
Though there is no association or union for the chalk piece manufacturers in the State, there around 200 small-scale industries involved in its production here.
Mutharasan, proprietor of such a chalk manufacturing unit in Cuddalore district, says he needs at least 60 litres of kerosene a month to make a minimum of 250 bundles of chalk.
“I was getting a moderate number of orders from a few schools in the district. However, after the stoppage of special allotment to our unit, the business went down further. If we purchase kerosene from the market, the cost incurred would be triple the value of the commodity’s price offered by the government”, he said.
“Even after we supply chalk pieces to the schools with great struggle, the payment from the institutions gets delayed,” Mutharasan said. “It thereby becomes difficult to give salaries to the employees, who are mostly local women”, he added.
Things also become difficult with manufacturers if the summer time passes. The best season for manufacturing chalk is from March to June, which is the period of summer in the State. Accordingly, the chalk manufacturers make maximum number of pieces during summer when it is dry. The production is minimum or even nil during monsoon season.
In addition to this, S Karthikeyan, a member of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said that a majority of chalk piece owners in Tamil Nadu cater to the local consumption only and so export is less. “Southern states, especially Andhra Pradesh, produces more chalk pieces than our State since limestone availability is more there,” he said. Limestone, which is the raw material for making chalk pieces, is available in southern and central Tamil Nadu.
Admitting that the chalk piece industry is on the decline, he rued that there will not be any chalk piece production after a decade.
Schools move on from the chalk piece
With around 55,000 government schools and a little over 15,000 private schools functioning in the State, most of them-including government institutions-have made drastic changes in the classroom environment.
While Tamil Nadu Teachers’ Association president P K Illamaran said that chalk pieces are mostly used in primary government schools, he added, “The government has already started setting up smart classes to aid effective studies of the students. All the blackboards are replaced by smart boards. Smart class facility is widely welcomed by the students and parents too.”
Although Illamaran said chalk pieces are necessary for schools over their comparatively lower pricing and easy usability, he, however, adds, “Nowadays, most of the teachers prefer smart boards”.
K Valarmathy, a Class XI teacher at a private school in Pammal in Chennai, said chalk piece usage has reduced over the years in the institution. “Most of the institutions prefer smart board since students also prefer it,” Valarmathy said.
According to K Savithiri, principal of a matriculation school in Pammal, maintenance of a blackboard is difficult since teachers find it difficult to wipe the text written with a chalk piece. “The letters written through a marker pen on a white board is more legible and students also prefer it,” she said.
The ill-effects of chalk use in classrooms
Doctors claim that chalk dust might be harmful to allergic persons and may cause breathing trouble in the long run due to it containing calcium sulphate. “Teachers will surely inhale the dust since they have to open the mouth frequently while giving lectures,” they said adding dust might also cause eye irritation.
Dr Prithivraj, an ENT specialist in the city, said that inhaling chalk dust is not only harmful for the teachers, but also students since the particles move around the classroom.
The only solution is to wear face masks and increase the distance between the seats and the blackboard that can prevent teachers and students from dust hazard. Prithivraj also said smart board in the best option available in such a situation since it requires low maintenance and proves to be reliable as markers or sketch pens do not create much health issues.