All Of Us Should Be Teachers, Even If Just For One Day

Long ago (late 1970s) I was a student in the US doing Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. A very popular program on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) channel was Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A personal voyage. In the 13-part series, the astrophysicist and professor explored the cosmos, solar system and universe, and he did made the subject so accessible that it is reported that the series, first broadcast on PBS in 1980, has been watched by 500 million viewers in 60 different countries! Carl Sagan, of course, became a very popular TV personality but was generally looked down by mainstream scientists who thought that his fame was because of his penchant for-self-promotion. However today the general trend world over is for scientists to engage with the public and attempt to popularize science no matter how esoteric it is.

Those who have done great and wonderful things in life, or who have some sort of expertise, should make it their duty give regular lectures and talks in schools...

In one of the interviews that Carl Sagan gave after his Cosmos series, he said that his interest in cosmology and science was awakened by a lecture he attended when he was in high school. That interview always remained at the back of my mind and reinforced my belief that children can be inspired to do great things in life when they are in their schoolgoing age. A child's impressionable mind when exposed to great ideas can culminate in powerful outcomes further down the line.

In my own case, the desire to go to the US was kindled by a film that I saw in school when I was 12 or 13 years of age. The film was a documentary on New York's International Fair of 1939 and showed the wonders of America's industrial might.

I, therefore, feel that those who have done great and wonderful things in life, or if they have some sort of expertise, should make it their duty give regular lectures and talks in the schools of the cities where they live. By doing so they might inspire children and help in creating better citizens of tomorrow.

There are lots of schools that have a program of inviting distinguished persons to give lectures to the students. However, even if a school does not have such a program, we should step forward to offer our services, to share our knowledge, to spark young minds. It doesn't matter if we are not famous or the very best in our field—as long as we have a good grasp on great ideas or have knowledge to share, we can contribute to their growth.

One of the aspects of exposing children to a world of ideas is also to impart education about ethical behaviour. Children need to not just be instructed or cajoled but also inspired to follow ethical principles in their lives.

In Phaltan, a rural town in Maharashtra where I live, we started a school for children in the early 1990s. The school, called Kamla Nimbkar Bal Bhavan (KNB), has classes from kindergarten to 10 class. My younger daughter Madhura who passed her 10 standard in 2001 from this school, did her Master's in education from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), and now teaches in KNB and runs its "School in the Cloud".

She arranges occasional lectures in which I address her eighth and ninth standard students. In these classes, I talk about aspects of science that are not covered in their syllabus and explore with them the romance of research. We have also slowly introduced these kids to TED talks (via the school's internet), followed by discussions on them.

In a small rural town in a Marathi medium school, these children's exposure to TED talks opens up a whole different world for them and their horizons broaden. I feel that some of them may be inspired by these talks to do wonderful things later on in life.

Madhura provides great example of what a teacher should be. She is very passionate not only about the subjects she teaches but also about her students. Even when her students have graduated and left school she keeps in touch with them and they turn to her to share their experiences and ask advice. Unless we have more teachers like Madhura, we cannot expect students to have passion and desire for learning.

It is not necessary that all the students are inspired by such talks and exposure, but even if one of them is then he or she later on in life may do great things. We on our part would have given back to society and helped India.

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