From the age of 10, I studied in Netarhat Residential School close to Ranchi. It is about 156 kms from Ranchi by road and at a height of about 3700 ft. It was a boarding school and open to students from Bihar (Comprising of current Bihar and Jharkhand until year 2000). Students between age group of 10 to 12 years were taken in through a tough state wide competition.
I wanted to share a few of my educational experiences which I liked during my school days. We had one teacher Mr Dey, who used to teach mathematics. His teaching style was quite unique. He would never solve a problem on the board by himself. In fact, sometimes we used to wonder if at all he could solve any problem by himself. What he used to do is to write a problem on the board and then ask us to solve it. The one, who solves the problem first, would go to the board and write what he/she has done. what was surprising that many of us learnt maximum in that class without him apparently teaching us at all. So how did we learn maximum in the class? There was a competition among us to be the first to solve the problem and go to the board. To make this possible, we used to go to library and find all possible books from which he may give a problem. We used to solve them and be ready before the class. This did the trick! So the question that one has to ask- “Is it important for a teacher to appear knowledgeable or it is more important for students to learn irrespective of whether teacher is knowledgeable?”. In my opinion learning outcome is more important than the process. Somehow in Indian education system, we are more focussed on process with no guarantee of outcome.
I would take another example from my geometry teacher, Mr Pandey. One day he wrote a statement on the board and asked us to prove. Many hands went up. Then he put a condition that you have to close your eyes and turn your back towards the board. Without seeing the board you have to solve the problem. As we know in geometry, we usually have to do some additional constructions while trying to prove a particular statement. All the hands went down but I took the challenge and closed my eyes. I visualised the whole drawing in my mind and dictated any additional construction. Someone else helped by doing the additional constructions on the board. I could successfully complete the proof and it developed my capability to visualise systems in my mind and be able to understand a problem in a much different way than we usually do.
When I went to the school at the age of 10, we used to have many subjects which were quite unusual. For example, we had metalwork, woodwork, agriculture, music and fine arts in addition to other regular subjects such as science, mathematics, language, social studies, history, etc. In agriculture, it was not a theory class but we had to actually work on given plots of land to learn agriculture. Similarly, in metalwork and woodwork, we had full-fledged workshops where we used to work with our hands. I think that exposure to working with hand helped me grow and when I got into nuclear fusion research and other areas later on, I always focused on problem and had the capability to realise them by actually developing things in the lab. I never focused on publication-oriented research but rather, I would solve problems which came along my way to help nation or society.
One more experience from my school days was the fact that we lived the life of what is expected out of a students in Gurukul style of education system. We lived in ashrams, where every work was done by the students. For example, one day I would clean all the dishes (not just my own). On another day I would clean all the toilets and on the third day all the floors and so on. All of us did this – whether senior or junior. In addition to this , we did morning exercises, evening games, cross-country run and variety of other sports. It helped in making me a better person by valuing the dignity of labour and eventually it has helped me in both my professional and personal life. We were also trained in talking to everyone in respectful manner and adding a “Jee” to them such as “Dhobi (Washerman) Jee”.
Unlike most Indians, special males, who hate to cook or do household work, I can cook reasonably well and take care of household needs as and when needed. For last 3 months my cook had gone away and I opted to not get food from outside but rather cook on my own. I have done this throughout my life and I am sure some of this has come from my training during the childhood in the school.
When I was child, girl students used to have a course in Home Science and they were tested in cooking etc.This was not done for the boys. Probably that practice has now gone away for girls too. But my feeling is that in our education system, we must have a course on “Life Skills”, irrespective of gender. Most of us have to do these things when we go out of India to the developed countries. But when we come back we forget all that. It is actually affecting our innovation capability and one of the reasons, we are poor as nation, in developing innovative “physical” products.
So to be a better human being and to develop a better nation and society, we must inculcate some of these value systems in our education today.
We had organized an event, J N Dar Memorial Function, on behalf of our school alumni, NOBA, in Delhi during 2015 on “Dignity of Labour”. Video of my talk from that event is at :https://youtu.be/yX5EM5IbnhM
PM Modi talking about dignity of labour – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTDQwMCY5k8
I also maintain a Facebook page named “1-In-1”, where I suggest that we must encourage our children to work with hands at least one hour in one week! (https://www.facebook.com/india1in1/). Please like that page and contribute to this thinking if you too believe the same.