In my twenty five years of interaction with teenagers in my college,I’ve come across several students who have impressed me not with their brilliance but by the simplicity of their nature and their will to improve. Here I must mention that we do not get the best students. The University administration sees to it that the best ones as well as the second best group leave the state and seek admission elsewhere even though their families can barely afford to finance them. These children fare quite well wherever they take admission and in whatever course they choose to study. The reasons for this brain drain are many but the chief among them is the inordinate delay in conducting exams and publishing results as well as the outmoded syllabus that is being followed. Corrective measures are now being taken and this may perhaps restrain the exodus of the student population in future. Those who remain have all odds going against them and yet some do very well despite the hurdles they encounter.
One girl who stands out in my memory is Jennifer Wadia. She took up Botany as her Honours subject by sheer default. She had opted for Maths as her optional and Biology as her extra subject in her Intermediate course and wanted to major in Statistics. Though Biology was an extra subject she was quite sincere in her work. Those were days when the Intermediate council had just begun to use computers for tabulation work. As luck would have it due to some faulty entry the girl got 07 in one and 70 in the other Maths paper whereas she was expecting above 90 in both papers. It would have been better had she failed her exams but when the marks in the two papers were averaged she managed to pass though she got less than the 45% required to be given Honours in Maths or Stats. Her marks in Biology were good enough and she landed in our department to major in Botany!
Her loss was our gain for she easily stands out as our best student. She had to overcome her initial disappointment. She did it so naturally with a maturity that belied her age. She would never leave us alone till she understood the chapter. She motivated her entire class to study and due to her effort we had a whole bunch of sincere students. In practical classes she’d insist on tabulating an erratic result and mark it out for the examiner to see. Marking it out, she’d write in her neat handwriting, ‘experimental error, to be omitted.’ I’d tease her about it saying that she was inviting trouble by attracting the examiner’s attention.
‘‘After all why don’t you omit it yourself.’’ I’d ask.
‘‘Ma’’am’ she’d reply ‘‘aren’t we supposed to learn from our mistakes?’’
She would continue to argue that the examiner would understand that being a student she was liable to make mistakes. Today she is married and teaches Biology in a High School in Ahmedabad. She is touch with us and I have no doubt that she’d be a fine teacher.
Another student was Sumita a Bengali girl who was from a vernacular medium. Her sincerity was evident but unfortunately her hand writing was awful and her diagrams pathetic. One day I made a casual remark that if I were the examiner checking her answer sheet I’d feel like giving 4/10 even for a good answer.
“Presentation makes a lot of difference’’ I said “and a well labelled diagram is worth three pages of theory.”
“ What should I do about it ma’am” she asked.
I replied half in jest-
“ Get a cursive writing book and practise each day. Draw a figure from your text book while you watch TV.”
After saying this I forgot about it so one can imagine my shock when after the Puja vacations the girl came and showed me pages and pages of neatly practised handwriting and diagrams! To top it she asked me with utmost sincerity-
“Ma’am will you now give me 7/10 for a good answer?”
Her query brought tears to my eyes. I really had no answer to give. Like the kids mentioned in an earlier post my students continue to defeat me year after year. She went on to get a first division and did her M.Sc too. I don’t have to tell you that she also remains in touch with us.