The teacher puts you decades ahead

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

APJAKhalam As a young student at St. Joseph’s College, I had the opportunity of watching a unique and divine personality go about the college campus every morning teaching mathematics to BSc (Honours) and MA (mathematics) students. Young students like me were in awe of the personality who symbolised our culture. When he walked, knowledge radiated all around. This great teacher was professor T.Totadrii Iyengar. At the time, ‘Calculus Srinivasan’ was my mathematics teacher. But I had the opportunity of attending Prof. Iyengar’s classes as the B.Sc. (Hons) and the B.Sc. (Physics) students had a few integrated classes. I learnt modern algebra and statistics from Prof. Iyengar.

St. Joseph’s had a Mathematics Club to which every year 10 students from B.Sc. first year were selected by Calculus Srinivasan. To this club Prof. Iyengar used to give a series of lectures. One day, in 1952, I still remember, he gave us a one-hour lecture on ancient mathematicians and astronomers of India and introduced four great mathematicians and astronomers. The lecture still rings in my ears. During these lectures I was introduced to Aryabhata, Bhaskara and Ramanujam — pioneers in astronomy and mathematics. These scientists gave the world, the concept of zero, the orbit period of earth around the sun and recently, number theory.

Bird Story
My teacher in Class-V, way back in 1940, Sri Sivasubramania Iyer, a great human being, taught us science amongst other subjects. One day he was teaching us how birds fly. The importance of the shape of the bird, how it flaps its wings to create lift, how it gains momentum, how the tail gives it direction, and so on. He taught well, but somehow, we could not visualise how birds flew. Then one day he took us to the sea shore and there, at sunset, we watched the sea birds, fly. We watched them flap their wings then stop as they gained momentum and change the direction with a movement of the tail feathers. That day, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I would study the science of flight. My teacher, his life and his way of teaching showed me the way.

While classroom learning is important, what the child learns by observation outside the classroom is equally important. A child must become an active participant in the process of learning through observation, field studies, experiments and discussions. A child’s individuality and creativity needs to be given due importance in our education. Further, in addition to innovation in curriculum, priority needs to be given to the reorientation of the outlook of the teachers and the overhauling of the examination system so that it recognises and evaluates creativity and new thinking rather than memorisation of facts.

The two teachers I have talked about provided the foundation for my learning. They gave me hope and taught me values I needed in my life. My teachers of primary, secondary and college education had put me a few decades ahead. This is indeed the vision.