General Articles


Where is the joy of learning?

This “business of schooling” is serious. There’s no time for exploratory learning and the joys of creativity when syllabi have to be completed and marks scored. Learning and the joys of creativity when syllabi have to be completed and marks scored. Learning and scoring are two distant ends: if you fail to see that, you lose the battle. As Somit Chakraberty, a former school topper, cynically remarks, “you learn by rote-reproduce that as answers and promptly forget.... Success depends on powers of memory than on real intelligence or understanding. “Students, teachers and parents are caught up in the scoring game. A School’s credibility depends on it.

“The evaluation system and particularly the public schools try to select the best and the process of elimination is a handy tool to show improved results.” - (Hindustan Times, Delhi, 5 March 1997)

The Economist has published a study on the educational standards of 41 countries, based on science scores of 13-year olds. Surprisingly, Singapore and the Czech Republic fared better than countries like America or Britain, who spend more per pupil. Evidence suggests that teaching methods are the key. In teaching maths, for instance, the countries topping the list, spend more time on basic arithmetic, emphasize mental maths, rely on standard teaching manuals and favour whole-class (as opposed to group) teaching. If education is the key to success in the new world economy, it is reassuring to know that money is not the sole criterion. – (The Telegraph, Calcutta, 7 April, 1997)


Rohit is eleven, and studies in one of the leading schools in Delhi. He is bright and brimming with energy-participating enthusiastically in all school activities. Yet, since Rohit came to class VI...equilibrium at home seems to have been disturbed.

Mohan, his architect-father shared his experiences:

“After the first semester examination, my wife and I were summoned to the school and told plainly that we parents had to pay more attention to Rohit’s studies. With a class of 45 students and four sections of the same, how could my “talkative, inattentive, troublesome...son”, be attended to. Clearly the onus was on us to improve his grades.

My wife was humiliated and upset. She decided to give up her career and take charge of Rohit. As soon as he returned home from school, she began her tirade to get his homework and study done. But it was a catch 22 situation. The more she pressurized him, the more he rebelled.

So, we decided to change tracks. For Science, we went to the Natural Science Museum. Rohit fiddled with magnets and mirrors...we learned Mathematics playing Monopoly and quizzed each other for Geography. Rohit learnt. Even if he didn’t, I didn’t care. Let him take his time.

There were some teachers at school who chipped in with our efforts, putting in extra time after class and egging him on at other activities, too. My son seemed to bloom he was happy and confident (later learnt it was because he was excelling at cricket).

Then, came the next round of exams for the final term. Rohit seemed nervous and apprehensive again. We had got some amount of studying done-but it wasn’t enough.

This time, he didn’t fare, too badly. He did well in Computers. Science and Geography but his performance in other subjects wasn’t too encouraging. I was still awaiting other results. And I wonder...Is he ready for class VII? Even if he qualifies at what cost? Would the same rigmarole be repeated in the next class? What more is required? Some teachers had helped. His mother sacrificed her career. I had become a social recluse. But how long can we continue like this? Rohit had to eventually be on his own. Would he manage in the senior classes...the Board exam? In a-45 students’-class, with minimum teacher contact, by and large, only the good can succeed. While the bad, only become worse. Or must we, as parents take on the teaching of our children in deference to careers? Am I pushing my child too far? Do other parents, share my dilemma?” (as told to Thelma Abraham)

“The current system does not permit the process of teaching-learning in a conducive strain-free atmosphere.” - (S.L. Jain Secretary, Forum for Public Schools) THE QUESTIONS

Mohan’s concerns are shared by many parents, often resulting in mounting pressures on children and a myriad of other behavioural problems. * Is the teacher-student ratio unviable for effective learning for the majority of students?
* How do children cope with the competitive pressures?
* English seems to be an almost unanimous favourite (irrespective of grades) while many of the students I spoke to have a “Mathematics block”-why?
* Is role learning and formulated answers the only way to success-all through school life?
* Is there a decline in disciplined behaviour both at school and home? Does this correlate with academic decline?
* Do teachers themselves lack commitment?
* Do parents put in quality time to guide their children’s learning?
* Are we ‘spoon feeding’ or really teaching children?

Students, parents, teachers pass the buck on to each other and of course, we all blame the system of education. But even within the existing system, I believe that individuals can make a difference to bring in the joy of learning. - (Thelma Abraham) A TEACHER WITH A DIFFERENCE

(Based on ideas of Joseph Epstein and recorded in affectionate memory of a great teacher and remarkable Jesuit, Fr. Antonio Sabino, S.J. (1919-1997) -(Courtesy) JIVAN, Mumbai, April, 1997).

TEACHING is a performing art, and great teachers, like great actors can only be described, not explained.

This may seem an astonishing description, because courses and curricula have led us to think differently. We are eager to pick up the tricks of the trade, impressive skills, infallible techniques. We want to be updated with information and audiovisual media, confident that thus we will dominate the classroom.

Not so. Subjects to a teacher are as role to an actor. Skills and techniques are the costumes he wears, all of them important-but none of them vital. What is vital is the gift of the imagination, and the ability to communicate it.

When one watches a gifted performance on stage, one forgets time, space, the crowded hall, the discomfort of sitting. One identifies completely with the actor. So too, when you listen to a great teacher you allow yourself to be challenged by him. Provoked. Stimulated. Persuaded. Aroused. Reasoned with. Soothed.

And you become intensely aware. Imagination takes over, and learning begins. That is what all great teaching is about. But it is more than imagination. Imagination captures the attention, but integrity sustains the commitment. What is this integrity, this ‘wholeness’ which the teacher brings?

In the ancient world teachers were respected and honoured. Brahmins and mandarins set the advice of philosophers. Not so anymore.

Today learning is not the exclusive domain of any one class. Knowledge is democratic and can be picked up and absorbed from books and newspapers, correspondence courses, television and computers. And all learning, it seems, has a price tag. So, who needs teachers anymore? Why pay them any longer?

A teacher does not manufacture products or trade in them. A teacher’s task is to shape ideas.

Ideas, thoughts, values, beliefs-these are the legacies of mankind. Products pay for themselves, but ideas are noncommercial. And yet, we need them. “Without a vision, the nation perishes”. We need all those men and women whose activity is basically non-commercial, intangible, unpragmatic. We need artists, poets, writers, actors...teachers. Men and women who give us new visions, who transmit the traditions of the past into the currents of the present, who persuade us when we are bored, reason with us when we are irrational.

Computers and books have their place, no doubt. Still, there is no substitute for contact with a great mind and noble heart.

The test of effective teaching is realized in the heart of the student-through the heart of the teacher. Like few other human activities, it brings home the feeling that one is doing something precious, very essential. For what is more vital than this continuing conversation about the things which have made one what one is?

For that is what a good teacher does he discovers what the important works and the far-reaching questions are, and then helps students to engage with them, and by doing so, develop their own powers.

But great teachers go one step further. The student perceives here an extraordinarily intimate relationship between the teacher and his subject, as if to say that his sense of his subject is indistinguishable from his sense of life. Indeed, how much of a person’s meaning is represented and embodied in his teaching?

Such questions only arise with great teachers, whose lives are symbols of integrity, and seamless wholeness between living and thinking, doing and teaching.


A difficult and misleading question. Student evaluations must be accepted warily. Too often students judge a teacher solely by his likeableness. But being likeable and being effective are two completely different things.

Does a student really know which lessons stay after all the years? Does even a teacher? A teacher, who seemed dull when one was taking his courses, can later seem to be decisive to one’s development. Another, who kept one laughing, and led one to believe that one was mastering one’s subject, can later on seem quite negligible. It is not always easy to know. The influence that passes from teacher to student is probable best recollected and understood in tranquility-that is to say, only in years to come.