Thursday, 28 June 2012


There is a lot of noise about the JEE. The IITs want to take in the best students who clear their class XII.
Is it possible to have an institution that will take anyone who comes by, and turns them into excellent professionals? Is that a do-able goal?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012


In my school, we used to do 'comprehension' in Hindi and in English. The English one was more complex than the Hindi(second language).
We were given a passage to read and then had to answer questions based on that.
In geography to, we had something similar. We would get a large map of some small was a small town in the West Indies for my 10th class exam, for example. The map had latitudes & longitudes, contours, water bodies, marshland, harbour etc marked and we would be asked questions based on this map. .. what would be the climate, nature of the crops grown, possible livelihoods of the the people there etc. You just had to give logically reasoned answers, and it would test your ability to read the data and derive information from that.
This is all that is required to test a person and sift the ones with"innate ability" from the rest.

I set papers for a local science talent test for school kids. I do not stick to the syllabus. If a new concept is clearly explained, then the child should be able to deduce the answer even if he has never come across the concept before. In fact, I give one comprehension passage and ask 3 or 4 questions on it. In fact this levels the playground for those who are innately good, but have not been taught well in their schools.
I do this at class 8,9,10 level, but I am sure it can be done for the 12th class students.
Then no one can guess what questions will be asked, so no coaching is possible. Or, if children are coached to think, read data and deduce information, such coaching is not a bad thing at all.
One may ask questions from any field of engineering and science and need not stick to any syllabus.

Monday, 25 June 2012

pesticide manufacturers

British Petroleum has a subsidiary- BP Solar - where they develop alternative energy sources. Companies are reinventing themselves.
Why cannot pesticide companies do the same?
Surely they know how harmful their products are.(the person on Aamir Khan's show must be pretending). Imagine if even one of them had the foresight to start research on more benign pesticides and had by now developed a couple! What a great business opportunity that would be!!
Instead, they spend money trying to prove BHC and DDT are totally harmless! Why do they not look at the long haul?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

pesticides..satyameva jayate

Maybe it makes for good TV viewing, but seriously, when two parties in a debate take on black and white positions, we have no means of understanding complex problems.
Anyone who has grown up, knows that very few problems have easy answers. If they did, they would have been solved long before.
Vandana Shiva has strong views on the use of pesticides in farming -- that many of us have heard many times.
A CEO/MD of a pesticide company firmly states taht all accounts of harm caused by pesticides are lies.
Where is the possibility of a debate?
I am old enough to remember the taste of food before pesticides and fertilisers and hybrid varities were introduced. The taste was better. However, housewives spent considerable time putting dal, chillies, rice and sooji out in the sun regularly. This was a daily job consuming an hour or so and prevented the food from getting infected by pests. Failure to do this meant worms in the sooji, insects in the dal. How many of us can do that nowadays?
I also remember the standing in queue for food ration. There was genuine food scarcity. We lived on inferior PL480 hand out.
So the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides did increase food production and decrease food wastage due to pests.
However, this should have been treated as a short-term solution for food scarcity, and meanwhile, other sustainable methods researched. THIS was not done.
There should have been a control on the use of fert/pesticides, ensuring that none were overused. In those days, everything was under quota/control. So why weren't fert/pesticides?
Even now, pesticide companies, instead of pretending BHC is as good as vit B, could steal a march by developing environment-friendly variants themselves. They can educate farmers on precise dosage, provide scientific consultancy- they could make money out of this.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Public schools in the 1960s and 70s

Some of the public schools in our country, really had excellent facilities. My school has 2 games fields, tennis courts, swimming pool ( In my days, we had to share the pool with the boys' school. ), a good gym, all with good coaches. The neighbouring boys' school had much better facilities. It had 7 fields, a superb gym, cricket, football and hockey fields, swimming ....
The standard of sports and even the march past was excellent. We would get hit with a baton if we did not march to time. Nowadays, no school has a good march past. My children's school had a very ragged one. I was no good at sports, but could see the high quality. The boys' schools had a even higher standard than ours.
At that time I would have been horrified if I had to be given marks for sports, since I would have barely made a C grade, but now I think it is a good idea. There are some children who fail in academics, get berated by teachers.. but they are sports champs. Their day in the sun comes during our sports meet. This ensures almost all children get some sense of achievement.
In those days, such schools ensured everyone got something to achieve at.
In fact, the year I joined the school, I got an ovation for not wasting stationery-- (I had bought the least number of excercise books)!! I also got an end term prize for progress!!!. You got the progress prize if you improved.....even if you moved from last in the class toe to say just 15th position out of 30 children.
That is how rewarding should be done.
On the first day of the ISC exam, the Principal accompanied us to the exam centre, and gave us chocolate and her usual piece of advice..."Keep your wits about you"! She was good at her job.

The Standard Bearers

The NDA at Khadakwasala is an impressive establishment. I have always known that it makes a "man out of a boy". People who have gone through that training are able to multitask easily in their professional life. They do more varied stuff with their lives. They are not demotivated by criticism. But watching the film made on the NDA, is a wonderful experience.
Those who think IITs have a hectic schedule, need to see this.
Their academic curriculum is a little technology oriented, as perhaps is the need of the day, but I think they should include more psychology. Afetr all, their whole career is some form of HR management or the other.

Another thing is all colleges both regular and professional must have rigorous courses on ethics..with readings and case studies --not just question-answers like we do in other subjects.
Is that feasible? Maybe not!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

entrance test

Amidst all the drama of the 'mutiny' from IITK and so on, my two bits worth is--
How does anyone think having all ones hope riding on one day one exam is less stressful than writing 3 or 4 exams, one of which may click?


In continuation of my previous post, as Julie points out, getting a good job is tough.
In college, we may focus on academics, but that may not get us the job we want.
In fact, very often, the 9.8 GPA person is not the one whose career graph soars for the next decade. The required skill sets are not totally similar....barring the basic need for reasonably high intelligence to get 9.8 gpa, as well as for doing well in ones career.
Sometimes, we don't know what the 'good job' for us is. The problem is, we need to decide this at an age when we are not experienced enough to know.
Sometimes the job we had to take is actually the right job for us........or maybe we grow into it, like a shoe.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Bioscience careers other than docs

I am supposed to talk to students who have passed their Inter/XII class in the bioscience stream about possible careers open to them other than becoming doctors or dentists.
Many children and their parents believe that if one does not get admission into an MBBS course or at least a BDS course, life is over. So we hold a set of talks every year to show them other possibilities. We invite these children from neighbouring schools and junior colleges.

The point is, how convinced am I that biosciences offer good career opportunities?
Yes, a few of my students are doing very well in research labs. Some in related management, biotech management etc. But what of the not so good ones?
But the same question can be asked in any field. After an MBBS, will you get a good job? Yes the good ones get into Fortis/AIIMS/CMC , but many end up as duty doctors in small time nursing homes.
So, just as there is no guarantee after an MBBS, so too after a BSc+ MSc.

I watch this TV show called Blue Bloods. It is about a family of New York Police Department officers. The show is fictional and makes all ...