Learning – The Other Way

Once I happened to meet somebody with whom I was having a conversation on Mathematics. He was telling me his story as to how haunting the subject was for him during his school and college days. He would top in every other subject but Maths…would take his percentage down. Somehow, with the help of his friends (before and during the exams) he used to pass in Maths. When he was in his twelfth standard, he confessed to his father that he won’t be able to clear the exam without having tuition. So his father arranged a Tuition Master for him. This Sir had a stammering problem due to which he didn’t get a good job in schools and made his living by taking private tuitions. Before he started going for the tuition, he had scored 4/200. But after four months coaching, he scored 168/200 in his final exams. Of all the people in the world, he (the student) had received the greatest shock. After he thanked his Sir he asked, “Sir, how come I got so many marks in Maths? I never used to understand this subject no matter how hard my professors & I tried. How did I understand from you?” His Sir replied (stammering), “My boy…the pause taken due to my stammering, gave you time to Think!”

Today, what usually happens in schools & colleges is Teaching; and not Learning. The teachers teach, write something on the blackboard and the students copy them down and study. As a result, they just become photocopying machines, with no Actual Knowledge happening inside them. Maths is one subject, which just cannot be learnt like that. And if someone tries teaching this way, he may succeed in teaching a very few and creating nightmares for the remaining students. Maths cannot be taught. It has to be discovered within us. It’s like music. Every student who learns Classical music, has to discover the correct musical notes within him.

Look at the world around. Don’t we see Maths everywhere? Who taught the birds speed, time & distance? Who taught the honey bee to make every cell in a hive in the shape of a hexagon? Who taught the spider to create a web in a particular model? Innumerable are the examples in the case of animals and birds to prove this fact. In case of humans also, it’s not different. Let us take a common example that we have seen many a times. Imagine a fielder on a cricket pitch. When he runs towards the boundary line to catch a ball flying through the air, all he does is keeping his focus on the ball. But unknowingly, he calculates the speed of the wind, the way in which his palms should come together to catch the ball, how fast should he run, what is the shape of the arc that he has to take to catch the ball, at which spot is the ball going to land, etc. How does this happen?

Our brain has an inbuilt capacity to do Mathematical calculations even without our knowledge. Since it is done so fast, we don’t realize such a happening. Maths is in our blood. We just have to bring it out. And this can be done when we get time to think. Children can do a lot better if they are given time to think. This is what our Maths teacher, Sir P.P.Raman, taught us. He used to give us a particular problem in geometry and go out of the class for a break. By the time he comes back to the class, most of us would have got the solution to the problem, and that too not just one but different solutions. This was how he taught some great things in life – Any problem can be solved in different ways. The clue to the solution lies in the problem itself. Keep meditating and the solution will appear.

I tried experimenting this in my classes of Vedic Mathematics for secondary school students. I stopped teaching the usual way. I started writing down problems and the answer without showing how I derived it. Then all I had to do was, challenge the children to find out the method. Within no time, they started finding out the methods, without being taught. The joy that I saw in their eyes was something that cannot be explained. They started feeling as if they have become Scientists or Mathematicians doing their own discoveries. They never forget these methods of calculating because – it is ‘their discovery’. Not just that, after a few days, some children (who were just average in Maths) came up with new methods of doing some particular calculations which I didn’t know.

This was the beginning of a whole set of students crying out as Maths as their favourite subject. How much confidence they must have gained in themselves after deriving such methods? What a change will it bring in their lives? The effort taken was just a shift in the way of teaching.

Let’s try something different. Let’s give them time & opportunity to Think. And the children will come up with better ideas. Let LEARNING happen, the OTHER WAY!

IMPOSSIBLE is just a word!

One day my brother, Veeraj, got a call from his friend ‘K’ saying that his mother has been diagnosed brain tumor of size 7.4 x 4.3 x 5.5 cms. He said it needs to be operated at the earliest and that the surgery & hospitalization would cost somewhere between 3 – 5 lakhs. Knowing that K’s financial & social background was very weak, we were left with the only option of raising funds from personal sources. Our main challenge was to raise 1.5 lakhs in 24 hours for the surgery.

Immediately we all started calling up our contacts. It was then Veeraj thought of calling his friend Richa Kerjriwal, whom he had met in a CHYK (Chinmaya Yuva Kendra) camp. Richa was a sweet, caring seventeen-year old studying in the 12th grade. As Veeraj told her about the situation, she asked him to send her a copy of the medical report, hospital estimate sheet & request letter (for raising funds) by K’s family. It was then 12:45pm and she had to rush for college by 1:30pm. She suggested Veeraj to send it by fax. But most of the shops were closed for lunch. However, she managed to find out a shop and my father faxed it before 1:30pm. She assured that she’ll try her level best.

That afternoon passed. I had to go somewhere and I returned home at 6:30 pm. As I entered, Veeraj asked me, “Bro, I got a call from Richa”. “Ok..”, I said. He asked, “Do you have any idea how much she has collected”? When he saw my blank face he paused for a moment and said, “Forty Thousand. She collected Thirty Thousand from her college mates & teachers, and Ten Thousand from her relatives”. I was stunned. I saw the same reaction on Veeraj’s face.

I spoke to Richa after some time and this is what she said,”Bhaiyya (Elder brother), when Veeraj called me I told him that I will raise some money. I first approached my college authorities to see if I could get something from the college Charity Fund or Students’ Fund. But they told me that it could be used only if the beneficiary is a relative of the students of the college. I then talked to my friends who helped me with a sum of Rs.3500/-. I thought for a second, ‘What a small help would this be? Is this all that I could do?’ So I gave an application to the Vice Principal to allow me to request money from my college mates of 11th & 12th standard. His initial reply was to put it up on the notice board. Somehow I managed to convince him that it wouldn’t be of any use and that I have to go to the students if I need to raise money. I went to each and every classroom and introduced myself and explained the purpose of my visit. And I raised this money from my college mates. Some gave just coins, even 50 paise coins (In fact I paid Rs.60 as auto fare just in coins…I had so many of them). Some donated Rs.2, some Rs.5 and some even gave between Rs.100 – Rs.200 according to their capacity. I never said “No” even for the lowest donor. Another friend of mine had got a cash prize of Rs.6000/- from our coaching class today. When I asked him, without even thinking for a second, he gave me Rs.5000/-. I told him that this is a huge amount. You may give me Rs.1000, that’s fine. He replied that it was a donation. And one is not supposed to say “No” to donations. I happily accepted the money. My teachers also helped me with their contributions. Some assured me to give me a cheque tomorrow. My Principal helped me with the lead of an NGO who can even take care of the whole expenses. When I came home, my parents were shocked to see this money as they had no clue what was going on. My dad was impressed with the work and he also helped me with his contribution of Rs.5000/-. My dad has told me that he could also help me with an NGO who could take care of the expenses. My twelve-year old brother felt so proud about me that he gave his contribution of Rs.10/- (all that he had) to add to this”

When I saw that her list was going endless, I asked her to stop and said, “I don’t know how to thank you for the great work you have done. And that too for a total stranger. In fact you have done more than what we elders could do.”

That night, when I lay on my bed, I was wondering….

If a seventeen year old girl can have the ATTITUDE of loving and helping somebody whom she doesn’t even know,

If a teenager can have a WILL to do something for a NOBLE cause and not for her own selfish interest,

If a youngster can keep going without limiting herself with a specified target and only aim for the MAXIMUM,

… then to what extent our country can rise with a few teenagers like Richa who think – “IMPOSSIBLE is just a word!”

Richa