27/May/2008 : –
I was always fortunate and blessed to have one or two great teachers during every phase of my educational period between 1936 – 1957. Evolution of the oath has resulted from what I have experienced and what I have felt and grown through my teachers. The first oath talks about the teacher loving teaching and teaching being the soul of the teacher. What is the significance of this? Here I would like to give the example of the teacher who really loved teaching.
Teacher loves teaching
It was the year 1936; I recall my initiation of education at the age of 5 years in Rameswaram Panchayat elementary school. I had a Teacher Muthu Iyer who took special interest on me mainly because I performed very well in a class exercise. He was impressed and next day he came to my house to tell my father that I was a very good student. My parents were happy and got my favourite sweet from my mother. Another important event while I was in first class, which I cannot forget. One day I did not turn up to my school. Teacher Muthu Iyer noticed my absence and same evening he came to my father to ask what the problem was and why did I not go to school and whether he can do anything to help me. On that day, I was having fever. Another important thing, which he noticed was my hand writing, was very poor. He gave a three page writing exercise and told my father that he should ensure that I do the exercise everyday regularly. By these actions of my teacher Muthu Iyer, my father told me in later years that teacher Muthu Iyer is not only a good teacher to me in teaching but he influenced and shaped me with good habits and he was a noble friend to my family. Even today I realize how my teacher loved teaching and took personal interest to bring up his pupils. Now let me talk about another teacher who taught me in my fifth class.
Teacher encourages questions from Students
I was studying in 5th class at the age of 10 who gave a vision for my life. I had a teacher, Shri Siva Subramania Iyer. He was one of the very good teachers in our school. All of us loved to attend his class and hear him. One day he was teaching about bird’s flight. He drew a diagram of a bird on the blackboard depicting the wings, tail and the body structure with the head. He explained how the birds create the lift and fly. He also explained to us how they change direction while flying. Nearly 25 minutes he gave the lecture with various information such as lift, drag and how the birds fly in a formation of 10, 20 or 30 etc. At the end of the class, he wanted to know whether we understood how the birds fly. I said I did not understand how the birds fly. When I said this, he asked the other students whether they understood or not. Many students said that they did not understand. Our teacher was a real teacher and very good teacher. He did not get upset by our response.
In view of this, my teacher said that he would take all of us to the sea shore. That evening the whole class was in the sea shore. We enjoyed the roaring sea waves knocking at the rocks in the pleasant evening. Birds were flying with sweet chirping voice. He showed the sea birds in formation in 10 to 20 numbers, we have seen the marvelous formation of birds with a purpose and we were all amazed. And we were simply looking at the formation. The teacher showed the birds and asked us to see when the birds fly, what it looked like. We saw the wings being flapped. He explained how the birds flapped the wings to generate the lift. He asked us to look at the tail portion with the combination of flapping wing and twisting tail. We noticed closely and found that the birds in that condition flew in the direction they wanted. Then he asked us a question, where the engine is and how it is powered. Bird is powered by its own life and the motivation what it wants. All these aspects were explained to us within 15 minutes. We all understood the whole bird dynamics with practical example. How nice it was? Our teacher was a great teacher; he could give as a theoretical lesson coupled with live practical example. This is real teaching. I am sure, many of the teachers in schools and colleges will follow this example.
For me, it was not merely an understanding of how a bird flies. The bird’s flight entered into me and created a feeling on the seashore of Rameswaram. From that day evening, I thought that my future study has to be with reference to something to do with flight. At that time, I did not realize that I have to go towards flight science. I am telling this because my teacher’s teaching and the event that I witnessed inspired me to lead to the goal in life. Then one evening after the classes, I asked the teacher, “Sir, please tell me, how to progress further something to do with flight”. He patiently explained to me that I should complete 8th class, and then go to high school, and then I should go to college that may lead to education of flight. If I do all these things I might do something connected with flight sciences. This advice and the bird flying exercise given by my teacher really gave me a goal and a mission for my life. When I went to college, I took Physics. When I went to engineering in Madras Institute of Technology, I took Aeronautical Engineering.
Thus my life was transformed as a rocket engineer, aerospace engineer and technologist. That one incident of my teacher encouraging me to ask questions, showing the visual examples proved to be a turning point in my life which eventually shaped my profession. Shri Sivasubramania Iyer was an example for shaping not just students but igniting the youth both average and extraordinary by allowing them to ask questions and answering them till they fully understood.
Teacher puts the students ahead
Now I would like to discuss about my mathematics teacher Prof Thothatri Iyengar. As a young science student, I had an opportunity at St. Joseph’s College to witness a unique scene of divine looking personality walking through the college campus every morning, and teaching Mathematics to various degree courses. Students looked at the personality who was a symbol of our own culture, with awe and respect. When he walked, knowledge radiated all around. The great personality was, Prof Thothatri Iyengar, our teacher. At that time, ‘Calculus Srinivasan who was my mathematics teacher, used to talk about Prof Thothatri Iyengar with deep respect. They had an understanding to have an integrated class by Thothatri Iyengar for first year B.Sc. (Hons) and first year B.Sc. (Physics). Thus, I had the opportunity to attend his classes, particularly on modern algebra, statistics and complex variables. When we were in the B.Sc first year, Calculus Srinivasan used to select top ten students to the Mathematics Club of St. Joseph’s, whom were addressed by Prof Thothatri Iyengar. I still remember, in 1952, he gave a masterly lecture on ancient mathematicians and astronomers of India. In that lecture, he introduced four great mathematicians and astronomers of India, which is still ringing in my ears. They are Aryabhata, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Brahmagupta, Bhaskaracharya. Let me discuss one.
Prof. Thothatri Iyengar explained, based on his analysis, that Aryabhata was both an astronomer and mathematician, born in 476 AD in Kusuma-pura (now called Patna). He was known to represent a summary of all Maths at that point of time. Just when he was only 23 years old, he wrote his book ARYABHATIYAM in two parts. He covered important areas like arithmetic, algebra (first ever contributor), trigonometry and of course, astronomy. He gave formulae for the areas of a triangle and a circle and attempted to give the volumes of a sphere and a pyramid. He was the first to give value of pie. He discovered that the earth takes about 365 days to orbit around the sun. Prof. Thothatri Iyengar always puts the student to take a pride in India’s contribution in astronomy and mathematics and puts the students ahead. This great teacher combined his knowledge of science with his deep insight into many aspects of our civilizational heritage. Prof. Thothatri Iyengar was an example for continuously building capacities among students and putting the students well ahead in mathematical sciences. He also injected great thoughts in the minds of students and promoted nobility in thinking and action. Now I would like to discuss about the teacher who built the capacity of working together and evolution of integrated system design even during engineering student life.
Learning integrated system design
While I was studying aeronautical engineering in MIT, Chennai, (1954-57) during the third year of my course, I was assigned a project to design a low-level attack aircraft together with six other colleagues. I was given the responsibility of system design and system integration by integrating the team members. Also, I was responsible for aerodynamic and structural design of the project. The other five of my team took up the design of propulsion, control, guidance, avionics and instrumentation of the aircraft. My design teacher Prof. Srinivasan, the then Director of MIT, was our guide. He reviewed the project and declared my work to be gloomy and disappointing. He didn’t lend an ear to my difficulties in bringing together data base from multiple designers. I asked for a month’s time to complete the task, since I had to get the inputs from five of my colleagues without which I cannot complete the system design. Prof. Srinivasan told me “Look, young man, today is Friday afternoon. I give you three days time. If by Monday morning I don’t get the configuration design, your scholarship will be stopped.” I had a jolt in my life, as scholarship was my lifeline, without which I cannot continue with my studies. There was no other way out but to finish the task. My team felt the need for working together round the clock. We didn’t sleep that night, working on the drawing board skipping our dinner. On Saturday, I took just an hour’s break. On Sunday morning, I was near completion, when I felt someone’s presence in my laboratory. It was Prof. Srinivasan studying my progress. After looking at my work, he patted and hugged me affectionately. He had words of appreciation: “I knew I was putting you under stress and asking you to meet a difficult deadline. You have done great job in system design”.
Through this review mechanism Prof Srinivasan, really injected the necessity of understanding the value of time by each team member and brought out the best from the system design team. I realized that if something is at stake, the human minds get ignited and the working capacity gets enhanced manifold. That’s what exactly happened. This is one of the techniques of building talent. The message is that young in the organization, whatever be their specialization, be trained to systems approach and projects, which will prepare them for new products, innovation and undertaking higher organizational responsibilities. Teacher has to be a coach like Prof. Srinivasan.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam