I sometimes wonder whether the rules of teaching and learning have changed. For instance children seem to be fast losing interest in self study. We have students in undergrad classes who ask for a book to help them draw diagrams whereas our teachers would insist on observing the specimen and draw diagram freehand. I was myself the most unsuited candidate to take up Botany as my main subject. Till my 11th boards I’d leave blank spaces for diagrams that would seldom get filled up. Those were days when one had to opt between Biology and Mathematics and I chose the former ‘cos I wanted to try for a seat in a medical college. At the end of my Pre-university course I was so disillusioned and disappointed with Biology that I refused to even apply for a course in medicine much to my grandfather’s disappointment. Again I made a wrong choice and opted to study Botany as my Major. In the first year each practical class was a nightmare with teachers rejecting every diagram I drew and finding fault with every slide preparation. We would spend at least 2 hours each evening ‘neat lining’ our diagrams and stop once by the chapel and then turn towards the Rock fort temple to seek divine intervention before leaving for college for our record work to be signed by our teachers without much ado. The effort paid off and today my B. Sc. Record is good enough to be shown to any one for reference. I try the same with my students and with the exception of a few most wish to be given prepared notes and diagrams and if I insist, manage to remain seated in the class till the bell rang and turn in their record with neatly copied diagrams from the book which at times are very different to those actually observed. I need to be grateful to them for not boycotting my class or walking out in the midst of one.
‘Now these are students’, I tell myself. ‘They will have to learn when their turn to teach comes’. But I was surprised when a teacher had a different take in the matter.
The Ranchi University Youth Festival was nearing its conclusion and the President of the student’s union was asked to address the gathering. The young man had earlier spoken on 3 occasions in 2 days. I felt that he was a good orator and whatever he said made sense. I felt that the students’ choice had been good and here was a young man who would perhaps take genuine interest in problems facing the student community and perhaps aim at solving them. On each of these occasions he spoke in chaste Hindi and to the point. But not so this time. He opted to speak in English, perhaps goaded by friends, and it was evident that he was not in command of the language. In his enthusiasm he ended up saying the exact opposite of what he wanted to say at times. For instance instead of saying “Students lack basic facilities in some colleges” he said “students lack basic problems in some colleges”. I lamented that he could have stuck to Hindi instead of switching over to a language that he was not familiar with. A teacher from another college who was seated by my side was quick to defend him.
“Why don’t you appreciate that he is at least trying?” she said. “How will he learn if he did not try?”
“This is the concluding session of the youth festival” I said “and he is addressing the students as their president. Can he afford to be misunderstood?”
“Please remember that English is not his mother tongue and it is natural to make mistakes when one tries something new.”
I did not pursue the conversation but I was certainly confused. Students who ought to try to understand their subject and prepare their own notes resort to guess papers and student’s guides and they choose to learn a new language not by participating in debates and discussions at their college level but by addressing a gathering at the University level at the expense of being misunderstood. I was genuinely concerned over his lack of fluency and my colleague was openly appreciative of his efforts. Which of us were right?