K. Chandrasekharan Nair goes back to his days as a student and teacher of Government Dental College

Being the son of a dentist was not the reason why I chose this profession. I applied for both medicine and dentistry after my pre-degree and got admission for the latter. In fact, my father, Kuttan Pillai, belongs to that era when there was no formal course for medical practitioners. They worked as apprentices of senior doctors who had obtained their medical degrees from outside Kerala. He did his apprenticeship in dentistry at Chirayankeezhu, probably in the 1940s, at the end of which he became a certified dentist.

When the Government Dental College was started in 1959, the Kerala Dental Council introduced two kinds of registration. Those who completed formal education received ‘A class’ registration and people like my father, who had no formal degree, got ‘B class’ registration.

When I joined the college in 1967, after my pre-degree at S.N. College, Kollam [I belong to the first batch of pre-degree course] it really helped that my father was a dentist. It was quite clear that many in my class had little knowledge about dentistry. It was never an attractive course then, and, somewhere there was an unsaid discrimination between students who pursued medicine and dentistry.

It was then among the 13 government-run dental colleges in the country. Of the total 30 seats, 15 were for students from within the state and the rest for Central Government nominees. It was so because the dental college was started with Central Government aid.

My class had 23 students, which included three girls. We had a five-year course and our building was on the Medical College campus itself. Both colleges had the same principal and we had a separate director, V. Subramaniam.

There was ragging, but not to the same extent that which we read or hear about these days. There was no physical or mental harassment. Seniors from both Medical College and Dental College were involved in ragging, but it was all done in a friendly manner.

We had to do treatment in the third and fourth year, which was then limited to dental extractions and replacement of dentures. Later on, we were taught about fillings, restoration and cleaning. We were a close-knit group and the teachers knew each student by name. The best thing about my college life was the mentoring we had under our teachers. Years later when I became a teacher there, I tried to be like my teachers.

Our teachers never compromised on quality, a reason why they were very strict when it came to assessment. Only those who got 50 per cent marks were eligible to study the next year. In our batch, only nine students passed the first year examination and the rest lost six months of their study. I must mention the names of my teachers Dr. Jacob Hyson and Dr. George Paulose.

There was no pressure from parents if their children didn’t pass. But the scenario has changed for the worse now. Now, parents demand marks from teachers and the appalling thing is this group includes doctors as well. Having worked in colleges in the private sector, I have come across many such parents. They demand pass mark for their children in return for the hefty fees they pay.

One of them even said that his daughter is mentally ill and if I do not give her pass marks, her condition would worsen. At times I feel relieved that I have just one more year left to retire from service.

It was the University of Kerala that first introduced a curriculum for dentistry in India, in the early 90s. Though it is no longer followed, I am proud that I was part of that venture.

However, I feel disappointed in the present academic scenario, competency-based evaluation is nil now. When I was a student, we all had role models. But today, the sensitivity or sensibility of a student is not up to the mark where role models become successful. They are not dignified in facing failure.

We have 300 dental colleges across India of which 26 are in Kerala. The number is going up. We have a situation where seats are bought through agents who assure the parents that their wards would pass without much difficulty.

There is no objective screening done to test their ability. Since the student strength is very high – 100 in some colleges, it is almost impossible to give adequate clinical skill training to each of them. When we were students, between the third and fifth year of our studies, we had to fix complete dentures for 15 patients. At present, that is quite a tall order.

As told to Athira M.

(A column to commemorate the platinum jubilee of the University of Kerala. Eminent teachers and people from different walks of life talk about their student days in various colleges under the University)