Nothing can be taught
I attended the inaugural of “summer program 2010’ at 9:00 AM on 5th May 2010. The program is held under the auspices of the “Research Science Initiative” Chennai, an effort by a few citizen of Chennai. This program is intended to develop an attraction for basic sciences for the high school children at this era when every parent wants his/her child to become an engineer.
This program has been led by Padma Seshadri Bala Bhawan group of schools with the support of other institutes including IIT Madras.
I was invited to the inaugural by one of my seniour colleague Prof. V. Balakrishan (we call him Bala). Bala himself is a stalwart in arranging such programs and has been one of the key figures in this program also.
To be a mentor /Lab visit
Bala had come to me while I was busy in conducting/correcting Physics II (Electrodynamics) for 641 students of B. Tech first year. He came with a question if I was available during this one month to be a “mentor” for one of the students (out of 34) they have selected. Since I was going to be away in North India during those few weeks, he wanted me to give a “lab visit” to the students. I readily agreed to it even though arranging a visit of 34 students to a sophisticated laser laboratory was a difficult task. But I was sure that the well trained Ph.D. students (Ramanaiah, Basanth, Akbar and Namboothiri) will be able to show some useful things to the students. I shall talk about the demonstration we had planned at a later stage.
Kindly remain seated:
It started with a few remarks by a 11th class girl student who conducted the proceedings gracefully like a professional TV anchor. On of the best things I ever heard as the phrase “kindly remain seated” immediately after announcing that ‘a few students will now sing a prayer “Nav ichcha teete”. It is petty unusual but people start getting up every time when there is an announcement for the prayer in any function, as if it is a national anthem. I have always felt that one could appreciate the prayer much more by sitting calmly than standing up. Anyway there were some reasons but it also broake the tradition of unnecessarily standing for the prayer!
Nothing can be taught
The director of IIT Madras, Professor M. S. Ananth has been an excellent speaker on any occasion related to education and science. I have been listning to him over a decade now. But time and again I have admired his speech on a particular topic. This time it was education-to-high school students. Ananth started by quoting a book “Science and Common Understanding” . Referring the book (without quoting it verbatim) he told that the message from the book is something like as follows: “ When we see any ancient monument, we admire the art. We do not see that the beautiful art was the ‘ordinary human effort’ with the vision and the direction given by a visionary.”
House of education:
Science learning is like a house with various rooms. Some of the rooms are complete means we understand everything; we put it in the text books of the schools. Some rooms are half done (we understand them reasonably), we teach it to the graduates and undergraduates. When the room is not at all started, we do not know how the room will look like (we do not know much about it) and that’s what we teach it at Ph.D. level.
Not to cover the course but partly uncover it:
Ananth remembered of his friends who joined IIT Kanpur when he himself joined IIT Madras, This is a famous story. His friend went to Prof. Kelkar (who was the director of IIT K) and said : Sir, I am sorry that I could not cover the full course contents of the fluid mechanics”. Professor Kelkar smiled and replied, “ Gentleman, I have not hired you for covering the full course!, I have hired you to uncover the part of it”!.
7 Principles of teaching-learning processes:
While fully aware of he fact and the requirement of good grades obtained by the students (generally by studying themselves just a month before the exam), Ananth gave a few known principles on the modern experience of the academicians :
1. Nothing can be taught: Different students learn the subject on their own (even when we teach all of them in the class, what we taught them, and in spite of what we spoke).
2. Near to far: In teaching, we should take examples from nearest places. For example, in teaching pollution control, we will take data from the city of Chicago, as for any Indian city the data was jut not available. Even if it is available, it will not be authentic. For example, in weather control, some times May 3rd will be cloudy in 1982, 1983, 1984 etc, shear by the habit of filling the records by the office.
3. Diversity of the problems
This is contrary to the exam pattern. Instead of solving several problems, emphasis should be given in solving the same problem from the different angles. He gave an example of a problem being solved by a mathematician and a physicist.
4. Repetition is essential
When a professor was told that he has repeated his point 7 times in the lecture, he said: “Did I do that? Thank god, we are supposed to tell it 7 times.” But He quoted that we definitely should tell 3 times with the following rule: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them”.
5. Right Brain and Left brain
When research was done on accident patients whose left or right brains were damaged. It was concluded tat the 2 brains of the human brain has different tasks. The left brain gathers and keeps the data, while the right brain is logical, good at step by step analysis , musical and imagination etc. That tells us an important point that many students are not really listening in the class but their left brain is working. This helps them when they are preparing for the exam and remember why professor was stressing this point again and again.
6. Experimental verification
Aristotle had said that women has less number of teeth than the men. This statement was never checked for its validity for years (and later found to be wrong). Actually Aristotle himself had two wives and never troubled himself to count the number of teeth his wives had.
7. Right to question
Habit of questioning is one of the important aspect for teaching learning process. Some one has said: “ Young people must listen to elders carefully but do not believe in it necessarily.”
Further on the necessity of ‘science and humility’, Ananth recalled a story of Ramanujam visiting Hardy in Britain. Hardy posed a difficult problem to Ramanujam. Ramanujam immediately wrote the formula on the board. The formula (as Hardy said) was too beautiful to be not TRUE. Hardy carefully solved problem onver a period of one year and found the same answer. Surprised at this Hardy asked Ramanujam: How did he guess the answer so quickly? Ramanujam answered : “Due to the intelligence and the faith in the god”.
Ananth said that Science is the most arrogant. In this ever expanding universe, inside a small galaxy, in a small planet a person thinking that he knows everything – is it not the arrogance then what is this? He concluded with a suggestion that we must always practice humility.
I shall edit this text when I shall get an opportunity. Best wishes from Champawat with the help of the BSNL mobile e-connection. 21 May 2010.