The mind of a leader

Batting for youth APJ Abdul Kalam photo: V.V. KRISHNAN

Batting for youth APJ Abdul Kalam photo: V.V. KRISHNAN  

Interview The country's future is in the hands of teachers, former President APJ Abdul Kalam tells ZIYA US SALAM

D arkness has descended at the residence of former President APJ Abdul Kalam. A local short circuit has left all of us in darkness. Facing an emergency light, Kalam sits in his study, his silver eyebrows gleaming, his face retaining its familiar spark.

As he winds up a chat with his publishers, Rajpal, the lights are back.

He opens up to talk about his latest book, Spirit of India, which encapsulates the soul of the country's youth with a selection of questions, many of them irreverent, that Kalam had to field in his interaction with youngsters over the past decade or so.

“I have interacted with 9.5 million youth of this country,” says the former President, whose latest book is being translated into four languages — Marathi, Gujarati, Assamese and Hindi. His Indomitable Spirit went into 11 translations.

Love for writing

Spirit of India is his 30th book. For a person who travels a lot to meet students, how does he manage to write so much? “Writing is my love. If you love something, you find a lot of time,” he says. “I write for two hours a day, usually starting at midnight; at times I start at 11.”

Much of the research for his latest book came via his interaction with millions of youngsters aged below 17. So, what did he notice in his talks with students?

“They are very open to discussion, very free with their opinions. One of the very important characteristics of a student is to question. A teacher should have a creative mind and encourage questions. At times, I find that teachers are in a hurry to finish the syllabus. But, there should always be discussion.”

He feels it is important for a teacher to read in order to teach.

“A teacher should not go by notes in the classroom. To teach for an hour, a teacher should prepare for three hours.”

The man who distributed newspapers in Rameswaram during World War-II — back then, as he writes in the book, as a little boy he used to get up at four in the morning, go for his tuitions, perform his Namaaz, learn the Quran Sharif, then go to the railway station to collect the newspapers — feels strongly that the future of the country is in the hands of its teachers. “Teachers are the driving force of change. We need creative classrooms. Every subject is important — we cannot have only scientists. We need to make teaching interesting.”

He provides an example in the book. On page 72, while answering a question from a student in Aligarh, he writes: “Science has revealed that the human body is made up of millions and millions of atoms….For example, I am made up of 5.8x10 {+2} {+7} atoms.”

Then, he makes a call for an Indian Science Service on the lines of the Indian Administrative Service. “Scientists should be a cadre, as the IAS.”

“But, before higher studies, we have to think of primary education. We need more reforms there. There are many good recommendations in the Prof. Yashpal Committee report. Classrooms should not be structured. . Seven million students do Class XII; only three million go for higher studies. We need to address the skills of the drop-outs.”

Universal education

Total literacy, he feels, can be attained with the Right to Education Act, which is “going to change the education profile of the youth because it is free and compulsory”.

He, however, cautions: “To achieve universal education, it is essential that PURA (Providing the Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) is in throughout the country.” That is certainly the way ahead. But, how do you explain the disparity in English language skills between the urban and rural populace? “I studied in a regional language, too, as a young boy.

Everything is fine till one comes to Class X. Then, we need special classes for such students. A student who goes up to Class XII spends roughly 25,000 hours in the classroom. It gives one plenty of time for attaining knowledge, and to gauge one's learning capacity.”

One of the very important characteristics of a student is to question. And, a teacher should have a creative mind

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