Sunday, 16 June 2013


A quote from a link in nanopolitan
" students put in more effort, but the effort was not effective at producing test scores given their lack of knowledge of how to translate effort into output," Fryer said."
This was a study to see if motivational messages improved student performance.

This is what I have observed in my students too. I can make them see that they need to improve performance, but it is very difficult for them to find out actually how to do that. One can give advice   ad nauseam, but it doesn't work. How each person does something has to come from inside him, it cannot be taught.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

eTechno schools in Hyderabad

The Andhra Pradesh government had notified that  schools can no longer have fancy suffixes to their names. Schools in AP have names like XX Concept school, YY  e-Techno school (whatever that means). They  also carry names like Olympiad academies or IIT schools -many variations on similar lines. Parents pay the high fees such nomenclature attracts.
 But it seems the schools decided not to follow  the govt ruling.
 When I first came to Hyderabad, there were schools named St ABC Grammar High School.
The British had set up Grammar schools, which were supposed to focus on teaching classical languages and language skills in general-- well grammar I suppose. Hyderabad has one known as the St George's Grammar school which was started in the late 19th century. Hence tiny schools set up in small tenements started  calling themselves St ABC Grammar High School.
Then came the great IIT dream. So schools sprung up with the letters IIT tagged somewhere.
When everyone started using this tag, some of the enterprising people started looking for other tags. Then came a spate of "techno" schools and "e-techno" schools.
Then some people felt these schools do not focus on concepts in science, but only make the children mug up stuff. So next we got "concept" schools. These still do not teach fundamentals, but by adding the suffix, all problems are solved. So now we have Concept schools.
There was some talk that schools must nurture talent. Schools change their names from XX techno to  XX Talent schools.
I believe the next great thing is IAS coaching. We must start  preparing the children from the pre primary to get them to pass the IAS. The Constitution of India must be memorised by the 3rd std and then we can go to Economics and current events in the 4th std ......only we must make them memorise current events for 2024-25 which is when they will be writing the exam.

Monday, 10 June 2013


The BSNL tech support person has a very good answer to all my problems. If anything goes wrong with my connection, I must change my modem. "I just bought it two years ago"
"madam, nowadays all these gadgets are use and throw-- two years is a long time".
Somehow my problem got solved on its own or maybe by some magic.
Next time,  after a couple more years, we had a re run.
The new modem had to be from this particular shop he knows. Others don't work...again magic!
I defied the pronouncement of the guru and bought a D LINK from another shop.
Sometimes my modem stops working , I just have to switch it off and on again---lo behold! it works. Same ritual for the TV set top box.
I have this old laptop that has to be switched on- wait for a second, switch off- wait for a couple of minutes- switch on. THEN it comes on - never at the first go. The whole ritual has to be followed every single time.
I am beginning to believe gadgets are the new religon and their rituals need to be followed for the
well-being of human kind.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Driving in Hyderabad is very good for my self esteem. People who have never before set eyes on me think I am an excellent driver. They have great confidence in my abilities. Maybe my appearance  says "she's an excellent driver and has perfect control over her car".
How else do you explain the daily occurrence of incidents like this.............
today a young man overtook me from the right, swerved to his left about three feet from my car and turned into a side road...
or when a man suddenly decided to cross the road when I was a few feet away, confident that I would apply my brakes and not hit him......
or the numerous times when bikes decide to overtake me from the left
or the few times when they do overtake me from the right...... just when, with hand outstretched and signal blinking, I turn into a lane on the right.
I must have that look of an extremely capable driver!!

Monday, 3 June 2013


To continue from my previous post, I think people who advocate that college teachers must be involved in research, do not know what  an average college student looks like, nor are they familiar with an average college teacher.
An average college student is not greatly interested in the subjects being taught. He just needs a degree and is willing to learn enough to pass his exams with good marks. He is not sure what any of the theories he learns actually mean. His verbal skills are not developed enough for him to take part in or even just  follow complex arguments. He does not read anything except the prescribed textbook.

A successful student learns by reading lecture notes or textbooks many times so that the words "valence bond theory" automatically produce a set of  six "points" in his mind that he can write down in the exam.  If he recalls only four, he will go back to his books and see that he gets the missing two. THIS is the successful student who scores good marks in his BSc exams.
The not-so successful student reads the exam "guides" two days before the exam and manages a creditable 40% mark and completes his BSc.
The remaining students attend few classes and recognise the subject being taught only by the face of the lecturer-- Dr LS teaches General Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry therefore this must be either the Gen Chemistry class or the Inorg Chem class.  A few are unable to make even these deductions and vaguely think "this must be Chemistry''.
A  few students who are skilled and interested and hard working, do come to our college.  For these few, we sometimes have discussions.....may be one-on-one or in small groups to encourage them.  Some of them do summer projects; some give talks on subjects of their choice. We organise external lectures where eminent scientists come and talk to them on a regular basis. We have a science club for discussions. (Years ago, I was totally impressed with a student talk on HIV, where I learnt a lot) 
But the whole system cannot be tailored for these few. The system has to cater to the be taught routinely, prepared for exams and given lecture notes.  The skilled students will hopefully get interested by the extra-curricular activities and progress to a career in science.
By the way, this has happened many times and we have alumni doing very well in science.

I think this model where some people focus on teaching and others focus on research, is a good mix. Every class can then have research-based talks once or twice a week, to get a glimpse of what research goes on in different departments.  The not-so-interested students can  go to the cafeteria thus making everyone happy.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

research and teaching undergrads

I heard from one of the professors connected with the MHRD that for institutions of higher education, the thought now is to have some faculty involved in research and others focusing on teaching.
I am told this is done in institutions like VIT and SRM.

I think the skill set required to teach undergrads and even some PG students is very different from those required for research. Very often, the two skill-sets are not present in one individual. 
People like Glasstone, Atkins and the duo Morrison & Boyd, have written textbooks that transcend generations. They must have been good teachers since they valued good teaching. But as Atkins has said  this is paid for by giving up research activities.

The argument that undergrad teaching must be backed by good research may be relevant in some (very few) educational institutions where extraordinary young people join the undergrad courses.
But most undergrads I have come across need to learn the basics of their subject first before serious research can become comprehensible. In their schools, they have  been trained in passing a Chemistry exam rather than taught chemistry. It is in colleges that they can learn the fundamentals of the subject, if at all. THIS should be the aim of undergrad teaching.

This emphasis on research in IHE has made college teachers start research projects. The experiments are done with no regard to  reproducibility, control, analysis of data etc.  The teachers pay for the chemicals,  spectra, tests etc, themselves. Hence they cannot afford to repeat experiments to check reproducibility. Even if they are funded, they are not very concerned about such things. They pay some amount (usually Rs 2000-5000) and get their 'research'  published in dubious journals.
This unfortunate fallout is enough argument to de-link research  from undergrad teaching in colleges.

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 ...