Since my school-days I have been searching for a good teacher — one who was empathic, asked us our needs – where we failed to understand, our wishes, why we can’t fit a said topic with our existing schema, etc. I haven’t even found one – a couple of them were in between, of course. But only that much. In the process, I became that One.
I studied in one of a Huge Network of Schools catering primarily to transferable Central Government employees. The network is an autonomous body controlled by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, India.
I had seen only zombies — those who would attend classes because they were bound to. They were working as teachers because the job provided a secure life with additional source for earning easy money in the form of private tuition, and they fitted in no other. A teacher, who is a government employee working in an government or government-aided school, is barred by the Law from offering services as a paid private tutor. Actually, these teachers looked specifically for such paid private services 🙂 Whereas it is clear that private tuition by any teacher, not just those working with the government, amounts to Conflict of Interest, these teachers even resort to coercive means to have students coming to the tutor.
A Banana republic is not known by its comprehensive laws but the way it upholds the laws — whether there actually is a Rule of Law. India not only successfully competes with the best countries of the world in making numerous laws, but also successfully competes with the worst countries of the world regarding implementation of the Rule of Law. In the end money secures justice.
Of the numerous complaints received conviction rate for sacking the errant teachers is negligible, and that is because — they say — for want of evidence. A system which can’t find or generate real evidence is bound to fail. And it will fail.
I had the basic education because my parents could afford private tuition. But for a while I had really a tough time with mathematics. The teacher who taught maths in our +2 years would tell us to read and practice ourselves, and didn’t bother to come to class. When he came he would tell stories about IIT kids (some of whom he had come across when he was in a school which had children of the IIT teachers attending), how driven they were, how active, how poor we were in comparison, … Most of my classmates really had a tough time, particularly, those who belonged to financially weaker sections and could not afford private tuition. Many left Maths altogether.
Upon suggestion from my English private tutor (who also was the Vice-Principal of the Government-run school but seldom bothered to attend classes – he had some grudge against the authorities) my father fixed this very maths teacher to tutor me, and wouldn’t sack him even when I told him that the tutor was screwing me. My father feared that he would cause me harm. For nearly a year I complained regularly to let me go to a better tutor but he wouldn’t listen – he had his arguments. Then I told my mother that I would kill myself if this went on, and that ultimately got the man sacked. This time I found a relatively better private tutor who worked in an private school. I recovered my backlog somewhat, only gradually over time.
Then I went to a University for my undergraduate degree. I had no intent to earn a degree, I only wanted to learn physics. Since there was no one who could at least guide me I made my own meandering footpath, falling down, getting up, repeatedly.
And I had already chosen not to rote-learn. I would try to understand the topic first, assimilated it with my existing schema and then would try to remember as far as I could. It not only helped me to remain nimble but also lowered my marks. I didn’t care for the low marks so long as I believed I had my fundamentals fine to independently research in future.
It was here at the University that the Real Evil called University Science Education came to my notice. There was a printed syllabus, which the teacher were expected by the law to meticulously follow. And I can’t explain enough how these entities called teachers were. They were zombies. Couldn’t even pronounce the words properly. Lectures were in the local vernacular, and that too, in rustic vernacular. The history of the subjects, the old theories, the experiments conducted to replace an old theory with a new, better theory were never discussed. And none of my classmates bothered to object! It would invariably be I who would be asking questions. When I asked my classmates why they understood, they said, “yes!” with a body-language that betrayed full inconfidence. When I suggested that they asked their doubts, they said, “they will insult us”. When I said why to bother if someone says something so long as we learn, they said, “insults hurt”. When I asked at least why they didn’t try, they said, “it is like this only”. When I asked them what did they understand about this and that, they said they weren’t bothered so long as they had their degrees. They were just trying to procure degrees (minimum qualifications) to compete in the job-market, they said.
When I failed to get adequate explanations I stopped trying and proceeded to find good books. Still I would go on asking them questions, and it gave me a high and kept me grounded in reality — a continuous ‘Rain-Check’, as they say.
Those were the pre-internet days, so we didn’t even know of good books. The books recommended by the syllabus were mostly too garrulous and too brief on mathematics. There was a steep jump from what we knew from our +2 syllabus and what was being taught. There was no conscious effort on the part of the teachers to bridge the gap between the two.
And we let the teachers escape scot-free. It shouldn’t have happened but I had no idea about accountability, thanks to the earlier zombies I had in my school (and this is the same everywhere, as per the feedback I had).
Then I learnt about those examinations that we had to write. If someone had the syllabus and minutely observed the questions the trend was that every alternate year the questions were repeated. And my classmates were happy with this arrangement. They had their private tuitions and mugged up the notes given by the tutors, based on the general trend the question papers followed.
Answers had to be mugged up because the syllabus was huge, and full derivations (five-six) for each examination, separately for each of the four papers, spaced every two-three days) were asked in the examinations, for Physics.
Full derivations meant, for example, deriving the equation for a struck string from the first principles, the Kepler’s Planetary motion up to elliptical orbits from his laws, the moment of Inertia for rigid or hollow sphere from the first principles, Cavendish’s experiment and equations to prove Coulomb’s law, the gravitational field and potential owing to a spherical shell, the shape of a water drop on a glass plate, the equation for Newton’s ring for a plano- convex lens on a glass plate, the Magnetic field by a current carrying solenoid at a particular point, etc., all from the first principles.
The argument that each such derivation had taken at least a full lifetime for a scientist or more, didn’t count. We had to reproduce them. Also, our mathematics classes were just the same zombified version of our physics class. That ensured that we remained very poor in mathematics despite having a very good mathematical background.
The syllabus was so huge that I didn’t have adequate time to cover it in its entirety.
I would keep crying within myself but no one heard. None tried to even hear. My parents were oblivious. And I didn’t want to traumatise them further. They had high expectations from me, and I couldn’t let them down. This is a part of the Social Conditioning by which we frame our moral guidelines by observations and tid-bit information. Ours is a folk civilisation.
So this is essentially the Indian Education System — no good teaching in class, no interactions encouraged, no questions asked, only some equations derived in class, no discussion, nothing.
Then in the examinations the following pattern was followed and repeated ad nauseum : Last year’s questions would not be asked in the present year, questions asked the year before last year was very important, and then the importance decreased geometrically with the rest passing year.
You couldn’t choose your courses, couldn’t design your own learning. It was fully generalised, whether you liked it or not.
What you learnt didn’t matter. What mattered was only what you rote-memorised. I understood that the system works this way because my teachers were the ones who had been successful in such a system, and they knew no other system. They didn’t want to know about the latest developments in their fields. Rather it gave them pains, because that meant they would have to learn some more. They were just happy with their secure jobs. Even if they did not teach but just voted for the right persons in the Teachers Union and remained in close association their jobs were secured.
And pujas (religious festivals involving worshipping the Gods of a pessimistic-fatalistic pantheon of Gods) were the ones which drew everyone. By their rote-learning and avoiding discussions and challenging questions, the teachers had been successful in keeping their faith and memory separate, and what they learnt did not form a part of their schema, unlike mine.
And it showed : None of my teachers were suave, handsome — all were pot-bellied, or thin from chronic intestinal ailments –, or easy to engage in lively conversations; they were socially cut-off, in fact, just differently-abled people who had no moral rudder, no intrinsic drive and didn’t have the ability to be a Gestalten, no urge to know, be perpetually aware of the surroundings, and help others know. They only had a better control of brute memory, that helped them clear their examinations. I used to ask them questions and their answers to my questions left no uncertainty in my mind then, and in my mind now.
The same story goes for the best of them all in India, the IITs, the other better Institutes, and even possibly the IISc. Please peruse a 20-30 year IIT question Bank for Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. You will find that it’s a small book and that all the questions that were ever asked are covered. If you could memorise them your selection is assured. And then there are people — very insecure people — who can’t imagine a damn innovative idea, but are experts in rote-learning who regularly achieve this feat. In India (I believe in every scripture-oriented tradition, including democracy, wherein there will be people who would rote-learn the Constitution!), there is a tradition of rote-learning among those who are lettered. Typically, it would be the priestly-class (the Brahmins) and the Hafiz class (the muslim scholars) who used to memorise entirely the Gita and the Koran, front-to-back, by rote. So our Education System is a new garb for old habits and traditions. And you would rarely find native Indian-, Arabic- or an African- scientist with an outstanding peer-reviewed paper that ushers towards a new paradigm of understanding. But finding good managers, with mind-boggling compensation package and perquisites, is common.
For many year until recently I had a faulty notion about the IITs, I thought they were doing the best research and teaching in India. When, enthused by the news of digitisation of the IIT lectures of its best professors, I ordered a bunch of CDs from NPTEL and watched them, as if a thick veil fell from my eyes! When I was young I used to watch physics lectures in the National Broadcast of the UGC Country-wide classroom. There, a physics professor, I don’t clearly remember his name – maybe it was David Goldstein- used advanced equipments to educate learners on physics, particularly, the laws of conservation of momemtum. And those lectures were thrilling. It is not that physics lectures can’t be made interesting. But here were the same zombies that I was so familiar about. Hardly left their desks, used a digital blackboard instead of a physical one, and hardly were their voices modulated – a giant leap from chalk-and-talk to Digipen-and-talk! I felt that it was a misadventure of mine to have been gullible about the IITs and their CDs. The money was totally wasted, to say the least! It felt that I had just bought a can of capsisin-loaded pepper-spray and shoved the entire spray up my arse!
So the people of worldly needs, aspirations and dreams seldom need anything else but to get into these institutes and secure their future. I don’t say it is bad. They do what is normal for them to do. It is the people, who are something more, something extra, who have the drive to crack the secrets of the universe, who are better placed to take the humanity forward. It is not easy for them to be reclusive and not hanker for power, prestige, wealth and fame, their own families falling apart, insecurity, … nothing seem to deter the dedicated men of science, including the rationalists, against doing science.
Galileo could have been a rich man by directing his skills towards engineering designs and building a big business, he even could have been a favourite of the Church. But he did not become one. He could have resolved his differences with The Church. But he did not. He covertly fought, and consciously chose to, against the then-powerful establishment to the detriment of his own interests.
Jiordano Bruno was burnt at a stake for heresy, perhaps he was an irritating personality who left no one unscathed. So he found no supporters who could offer him protection. But that doesn’t justify his burning on a stake.
The fine balance between annoying others and maintaining a working relationship is very hard to arrive at, not because the scientists are naive, but because the masses is very touchy and fearful. They have no strong internal belief system and are easy to vacillate from one conflicting thought to another, distance themselves quickly from people who they perceive as the ones could bring trouble to them.
In erstwhile British-ruled Bengal there was a Social Reformer who was the grandest of them all but has totally been forgotten. People often cite his devotion to his mother as an example. During the heavy monsoons he swam across the mighty Damodar River (a torrent of a river) as he couldn’t find a ferry to take him across the river. And that too because he had received a postcard from his mother who had asked him to visit her.
But this very man rejected his mother in his later life just because she chose a wrong road. This man, Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay, a prolific Sanskrit scholar also known as Vidyasagar, who was an atheist, used the Hindu scriptures to re-introduce the then-banned Widow remarriage via the British Supreme Court in India (in Calcutta) when he saw the exploitations of the hapless, illiterate and fair, young widows, including forced prostitution. People have forgotten about him, even the women of India for whose empowerment he worked so much. And he didn’t believe a line of the scriptures.
People are unpredictable and unreliable. One can’t expect rational behaviour from the crowd. And presently, the Indian crowd want isolated security, regular bellyful and a secure future (money to buy material necessities). So government service is coveted, and the government science institutions are very strongly protected against the onslaught from the developed world, resisting modernisation of education and doing away with the peculiar education system that was changed way back in the 1930s by even their foster fathers, the British, particularly, G.H. Hardy [the same man who discovered Ramanujan, the accidental Indian genius, who brought about his own death by his own dysfunctional belief system].
India has also forgotten J.C.Bose, an outstanding Physicist and a biologist, also a genius in his own right, as he did not represent the belief system of the masses. Perhaps the masses believe that geniuses are accidental and that geniuses can’t be bred. So they have cast themselves off to the whirlpool of pessimistic fatalism and the heartless education system. Herein lies the ignorance and foolish inference of the masses – that it requires only geniuses to innovate. There is no belief system that talks about necessity, self-belief, love and curiosity as the sources for innovations.
That is why Coaching Centres and Training Centres, to help students secure admissions to the IITs and IIM and other management institutes, have mushroomed in India, and are now ubiquitous. While virtually all educational institutes everywhere in the world could have become even something better than an MIT, a Stanford, a Harvard or a Princeton in themselves, what they do in the end is lament the absence of geniuses.
If you buy a CAT preparation guide you will be shocked by the questions asked, for example, the last digit of a number raised to 40th power. The have four options. And they have the shortcuts given there. Of what use is this problem other than helping to rote-learn a formula that will seldom have a real-life application?
It is the more so with the Medical Training. All throughout my life I have interviewed and of late, cross-questioned numerous doctors, some well-established ones, and asked them basic questions about the logic of their line of treatment, including rampant antibiotics abuse and a prescription for every sneeze. Most of them failed to answer.
I give you this verification Method: Ask any renowned Professor any question (of his/her own field) you have deeply understood, including the mathematical foundations and derivations. Every one you survey would run, as fast as the one could, away from you, or attack you verbally or even physically. This is true for all exact Science subjects, even Biology (including Medicine). In the other fields bypassing the questions is easier because of evasive options available.
For a long time, I have been asking various (both in India and abroad) institutions – both government and private – whether they have the provision for a customised course for me, where I would be the active designer of my syllabus. Needless to say, the Indian ones don’t reply 🙂 They can afford not to. They have their secured lives 😀 ! Why should they bother to move their butt at all?! But the ones abroad reply and express their regret — at least they have the decency to reply.
There is no other reason why India doesn’t have good, peer-reviewed scientific papers, high quality patents, etc., let aside inventions or discoveries (but only managers and salesmen). They have their secured, salaried lives steeped in their millennia-old cult, rituals, beliefs. The teachers don’t teach science. They teach securing future via rote-learning. The future of this country is doomed, unless people choose differently.
All of India is a celebration of its infamous Rote-Learning. The hidden controllers of our society wants that people are dumbed down and controlled. They don’t want Progress and co-operation, they only want Control and competition for resources without themselves ever having to compete in them.
People have to dream, think and choose differently if the world is to really improve, improving lives and dissolving government-enforced boundaries.
But in the end, I am not concerned about what others do. I will choose according to my own free rationality and my sphere of ever-widening wisdom, including my ever-increasing sphere of awareness about my ignorance.