By Anuva Kulkarni:
I recently came across an account of a lecture in a Chemistry class. The topic was isotopes, which are atoms of the same element but having slightly different atomic weights. Some are heavier, some are lighter, but they are essentially one element in the periodic table. This lecture however, was different. The teacher began by citing a criminal case about counterfeit money in the United States. There was lack of proof and it could not be determined whether the money had been printed in Texas or in California. What does this have to do with isotopes, one might wonder? The answer is, isotopes were the key to discovering the origin of the money.
The teacher explained that cotton is used in printing currency and the states of Texas and California have vast cotton cultivations. Naturally, cotton needs proper irrigation. Now, the water in Texas is different from the water in California, because it contains isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in differing proportions. When it rains in California, the clouds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean are stopped by the mountain ranges there. The heavier water molecules fall onto the earth and the lighter ones fall when the clouds travel further inland. As a result, the water in California contains heavier molecules than the water in Texas. By testing the cotton in the counterfeit notes for the types of isotopes, the place of origin of the money could be uncovered and the mystery could be solved.
How interesting would our classes be if our teachers told us about the practical application of the things we learn. We learn about chemistry: about isotopes, acids, and bases without knowing all the wonderful things we can do with them in real life. Ancient India was a temple of knowledge, with travellers arriving from different parts of the world to learn about Ayurveda, Astronomy, Mathematics and so much more. Universities like Nalanda flourished and gave our country riches which were more valuable than material wealth. They gave us knowledge and technical prowess. It is a pity to see that the education system today has become a cruel, exhausting mechanism that every child must go through, only to be typecast into one of the few careers considered respectable by society. The overwhelming pressure and stress of entrance exams, the cut-throat competition for better percentages and the fear of failure is sapping the teenagers’ ability to come up with fresh thoughts. Coaching classes have taken over, and the black hole has grown to absorb younger children too: the IIT JEE coaching today begins from the sixth standard itself! This is a classic case of a system gone rogue and there doesn’t seem to be an easy way out of it.
Recently, the announcement for a single All-India Medical exam triggered rows and conflicts and it has done nothing to alleviate the anxiety of the students. In reality, it has only aggravated it. Each Indian state makes its own demands and no consensus is reached, leaving the students and their parents in deeper doubt as to how they ought to prepare for an exam.
This isn’t how a country’s education system should function. Right from the school level, we must try to get children interested in learning rather than in how much they score on tests. More than children, this is an appeal to parents: let your child develop into a complete human being, someone who can think, play, laugh and learn and not someone whose happiness depends upon grades and grades alone. Education is the most important part of life, and we’ve got to make sure that it is done the right way. There are plenty of resources like Discovery Channel, History Channel, websites like www.howstuffworks.com and several books and CDs that you could use to find out interesting things along with school work. My sincere appeal to all teachers out there would be to inspire their students, like the chemistry teacher did and they will be grateful to you all their lives.