Posts Tagged ‘Toi’

How teachers can make teaching of Science interesting?

November 18, 2013

Science study is all about discovery; it cannot but be interesting. While unusual individuals like Rishis of yore or Isaac Newton or Srinivasa Ramanujan in recent times, can start exploring Science all by themselves, many of our generation are fortunate to be taught Science in schools. Luckier than the students who learn Science in the classroom are those of you who teach Science to the youngsters. Here are some tips to make Science teaching and learning interesting


1 Explore: As I mentioned earlier, it is all about discovery; learning by doing is as important as learning to listen to the teacher in the class or to repeat the experiments in the Laboratory. Do not structure it too much; let the students not try to match exactly the results the teachers expect, but let them “deviate”; in the process, they will explore and learn. Some of the greatest discoveries in Science happened due to such “deviations”. Who knows you may discover yet another Isaac Newton or Srinivasa Ramanujan right in your class!


2 Science has no boundaries: For the sake of convenience we divide Science into Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and so on, but Science is a continuum; do not limit to Physical Sciences alone; Social Sciences are equally important. Let the student discover what she / he is best at; help the student to explore further. It is particularly important in India, where we tend to put Physical Sciences (that need expensive equipment) at a higher pedestal than Social Sciences (that can be done at near zero cost).


3 Go out to discover: In traffic-infested cities in India, you have no option but to confine the students to the crowded classrooms. Those of you who are lucky enough to have space around, do encourage students to look at Nature – insects, animals, water, air, fire and more importantly stars; there is so much to explore. The buildings around you temples and cathedrals have so much to teach too. Do not underestimate them. Encourage the students to ask questions; there are NO stupid questions!


4 Internet and Gadgets are great: Nothing attracts today’s GenNext (Facebook, Twitter generation) better than Internet gadgets. There are amazing pieces of content – Courseware (OCW), Encyclopedia (Wikipedia), for example, or Apps like “Periodic Table” that are at once absorbing and immersive. Make use of them if your children can afford. There are some amazing games too that are worth looking at; not all games are violent games that keep children hooked for hours!


5 Go beyond gadgets: It is equally important for the children to explore Science in everyday life; ask them to discover patterns in “rangoli”, “pallu design” in Kanjeevaram silk sari, “ragas” in music or “moves” in a chess game. Ask them to look at traffic pattern in a busy intersection, disease occurrence pattern in your neighborhhod, or waiting time outside an elevator; they have so much to teach!


6 Do not underestimate the power of books: Books will continue to be an important part of Science learning. Amazing books by outstanding authors (in electronic or print form) will continue to engage and inspire. Look at recent options like Pratham Books (thanks to Rohini Nilekani) that are very affordable even for rural children.


These are just a few tips; a teachers network will let you find many more! Go explore and lets together create a generation of children interested, excited and inspired by Science. The second half of 21st Century in India will be far more interesting!

(Appeared in Times of India November 18, 2013)

Roots of sound pioneer Roy Dolby’s India link

September 15, 2013

Dr. Ray Dolby passed away on September 12, 2013 in USA at the age of 80; he is an unusual entrepreneur, who created a “niche” area and made amazing products by starting a company (Dolby Laboratories); ensured that the products continuously evolved and dramatically improved, over full five decades. In addition, he ran a profitable corporation successfully without getting too greedy or developing arrogance; and, along with his wife contributed liberally to philanthropy.

After his undergraduate education Dr. Roy Dolby moved to Stanford for his Masters Degree in 1957; he moved further to University of Cambridge for his PhD degree in Physics in 1961. He took an unusual step of working for United Nations for the next couple of years that took him to India for an assignment at New Delhi in UNESCO. As part of his assignment, he had to record several pieces of Indian music (both the classical and folklore); that assignment took him to several Ashrams in North India in UP and Punjab.

Those were the days of analogue audio recoding; both “spool” and “cassette” type. Dr. Dolby used to carry loads of audiotapes to do the recording. He got very frustrated when he found that concerts of amazing quality that he personally listened to, were terrible on the recorded tape, primarily due to “hissing” noise created by Sitar & Veena – two common Indian string instruments – and the ceiling fan noise (common in many concert halls in North Indian towns, particularly Ashrams). Many of us would have talked about the frustration to our friends or complained to the higher-ups, particularly if our assignments were with UN. The genius of Dr. Roy Dolby converted the challenge to an opportunity.

“Cutting out hissing noise” became his Mission; by “amplifying low level high frequency sounds during recording, and cutting them out during playback time”, “Dolby Laboratories” managed to produce much better sound in audiocassettes; “Dolby” became synonymous with “high quality audio”. The October 2005 Issue of “Electronic Design” has a full article devoted to this. Dr. Dolby completed his UN Assignment in India and went back to Cambridge and with an initial savings of $ 25,000 started the company UK in 1965 (the company moved to USA in 1976); the rest, as they say is history.

Dolby Laboratories started with their first product Dolby 301 with “Type A Dolby Noise Reduction”. Over the years the company created products for stereo & surround sound, embraced the “digital world” and pioneered high quality sound for “movies” (including Star Trek); and, recently addressed the need for high quality sound in mobile handsets and smartphones. By following an unusual business model of directly making professional grade audio equipment, and only licensing its technology for consumer equipment and by capitalizing its intellectual property through dozens of patents (Dr. Dolby alone had more than 50 patents) yet charging very low royalty, Dolby Sound touches more than 7.2 billion consumers today! Dolby Sound is used by more than 17,00 films! With more than 1,500 employees Dolby Systems has won several Emmy, Grammy and Oscar awards.

An inspiring engineer, deep technology, amazing products and an admirable corporation – thy name is Dolby; it is nice to see its India roots!

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. He had discovered the “Indian connections” several years back, when he had a chance meet with Dr. Dolby in an Airport Lounge! These are his personal views. He can be reached at

(Appeared in Times of India, September 15, 2013)

Cutoff marks – Do they cutoff the opportunities too?

June 29, 2013

Come June every year, it is ”admissions time” and one starts hearing “cutoff marks” used by different Institutions. It could be Delhi with so many constituent colleges or Bangalore with so many autonomous colleges, but the story is same. Students are frustrated with artificially high cutoffs like 99.999, if not 100%; parents are aghast with the insensitivity of Institutions; and, the general public gets a feeling ”it must all be a farce”. Why is it so only in India?


It is not unique to India, but nowhere else it is this acute. The reasons are varied though.


First and foremost, as a country we have not been successful in creating large enough number of high-quality Institutions in the past 65 years. The regulations in India punish the honest ones and reward the dishonest ones! Naturally, much larger numbers of students seek admission into far less number of seats. China has done an amazing job of creating a large number of first rate Institutions with large capacity in the past two decades, and, we should learn from them.


Second, is the lack of transparency. Most Institutions do not publish as a standard practice, the actual percentage of students who finally joined the college. What you get to see is the first set of announcements; since the same students apply to dozens of colleges, the actual position is known only after several weeks! No one bothers to share that information transparently. It is due to this reason that the applicant to student ration in IIT’s is higher than MIT or Stanford! It is worthwhile emulating USA that has SAT (after High School) and GRE (after Undergraduate degree) as Common Admission Test for admission to all colleges across the country.


Third, is the lack of coordination among Institutions; students in India have the option of studying anywhere, but they have to apply for every Institution or a group of Institutions) independently, often at great cost and effort. A small country like UK has an online system UCAS, that processes millions of applicants from around the globe, to thousands of courses spread across hundreds of Institutions. With its IT prowess, Indian companies are able to build such systems for overseas clients, but not for any clients in India! One hopes that in the near future systems like UCAS in UK that addresses the entire life cycle of the admission processes – information, guidance, counseling, actual application, tacking, final admission and publishing tons of useful reports for guiding students, parents, education administrators and policy planners.


Fourth, is the societal issue; parents not going through a rational process, but using all forms of pressures to get admission for their wards into Institutions, and admission decisions of even well-run Institutions not respected by the Civil Society. In the process, even courts are brought into the picture. Courts should interfere, if there is anything illegal about admissions, but in India courts sometime are forced to decide, even if a question is out of syllabus or whether an IIT has been very harsh with a set of students in their evaluation! Plus the artificial barriers created in the name of equity to rural / urban, poor /rich, advantaged / disadvantaged that creates more division than inclusion!Good institutes and their administration with excellent governance must be trusted by the Society at large; with less legal and social pressures colleges too will play a more natural and transparent game that will benefit everyone in the long run!


(Appeared in Times of India, June 29, 2013)