SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Adventurous academician

BHASKERAN THOMAS

Best known for remoulding the educational structure in Tamil Nadu, Dr. H.S.S. Lawrence who died recently, was a strong-willed, teacher.



Who’d have visualised a long car drive from Kabul to Kanyakumari and a return journey by the same mode of transportation spanning a distance of 8,873 km? But that’s what Harris Samuel Sahayam Lawrence — Tamil Nadu’s innovative academic stalwart who ushered in the “Plus Two” curriculum three-and-a-half decades ago — did. His initials “HSS” became synonymous with his brainchild, Higher Secondary School, now a household name in the academic arena.

Dr. Lawrence, who passed away on April 21, 2009, had an extremely calm exterior with a perennial winsome smile. Perhaps, it was this wonderful trait that helped Dr. Lawrence mastermind the developing of an academic curriculum that not only enhanced the state’s educational standards but also helped contribute some high-bred professionals to countries like the U.S., the U.K., Australia and West Asia. Dr. Lawrence was a persuasive, yet strong-willed teacher who succeeded in remoulding the educational structure in Tamil Nadu.

Anecdotes

Dr. Lawrence had interesting anecdotes about how the Plus Two was incorporated in the educational system. According to him, the National Education Commission (1964-65) had recommended a 10+2+3 pattern of education for the country. “Only in 1975 was it decided to implement it in Tamil Nadu,” he reminisced. Undoubtedly, in his capacity as the Director of School Education, Dr. Lawrence was able to make it a reality in his home state.

Just before he was designated as DSE with a special responsibility to modify the academic structure, Dr. Lawrence had two important international assignments that changed his perspective on academic change and modification. First was the invitation by the British Council in 1966 to visit Britain in order to study aspects of teacher training, school inspectorate, teaching methods, audio visual and vocational guidance.

The biggest gain, according to Dr. Lawrence, was he imbibed professional excellence in educational administration, teacher education and supervision of schools. The quality of cleanliness overwhelmed him; more so the motto of a school in Scotland’s Dundee: “This is our school, make me proud of it, make it proud of me.” The academic stalwart was captivated by the importance given to pre-service and in-service teaching to teachers. “There was no talk of strikes or demand for enhanced salaries but, above all these, was to develop the personality of children,” he mused.

His next major experience in a foreign land came under the auspices of the UNESCO in May 1969. The assignment was in Kabul, Afghanistan, which had then not heard of terrorism or the Taliban. Dr. Lawrence’s job was concerned with teacher training at the Academy for Teacher Educators at Charikar, 64 km from Kabul. He shared his views on educational administration, methods of teaching and principles of education.

Afghan sojourn

In 1972, he was called upon to serve in Kabul at the Kabul Training College and the Academy for Teacher Educators. Besides he had to travel to smaller places around Kabul, which gave him opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty of Afghanistan. A humorous incident that he often recalled was the unannounced arrival of his beloved wife Maise Padma Lawrence in Kabul on June 15, 1969. He was living in a UN hostel, as no residential accommodation was available. Maise made her way to the residence of UN Resident Representative, Shabaz. The Representative urged Dr. Lawrence to come to his house. A bewildered Dr. Lawrence was further shaken when the hostel staff teased him that he was going to lose his job. When he reached Mr. Shabaz’s house, he was delightfully surprised to see his wife.

Another episode was when he locked up his Mercedes Benz with the car and house keys inside. His house owner came to his rescue with a carpenter who broke open the garage door leading to the residential premises. Dr. Lawrence rushed to the hotel and got his spare keys and opened its door.

The focus of Dr. Lawrence’s professional career was undoubtedly education. He never hesitated to give credit to his father, Sam Harris, a history graduate who taught this subject at a school. The recipient of numerous awards during his student and professional careers, he introduced the system of presenting school toppers with medals, which served as a great impetus to the student community. Only a national award like the Padma Shree or Padma Bushan eluded him.

The author was the former Media Adviser at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai and is presently Associate Editor of a cricket monthly STRAIGHT BAT



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