Meet Padma Shri HC Verma, who struggled to pass in school, teaches India Physics today
A teacher must first fall in love with the subject he or she teaches before expecting the students to do the same. The schools are not the place to just score marks. They are the place to empower mind and improve capabilities. The target of education cannot be and should not be to clear board exams or IIT/NEET entrance.
When noted educator and retired IIT-Kanpur professor HC Verma says this, he means it, for he has lived that way right since his childhood, when he was a below average student and struggled to pass exams, to this day, when his entire life is devoted to developing scientific temper among students in the language they understand and enjoy.
Not the kind to shift blame for the education slide, especially in his home state Bihar, Verma feels that the biggest thing lacking in schools these days is the target and vision.
“Why do we study? What for teachers teach? It is the drift from the target that is creating the problems. If the vision is not clear, we should not expect positive results. Marks cannot be the target, capabilities and empowerment certainly is. If one is empowered, marks will automatically come. The central theme is that child is an empty bowl. Students must be given situations where they think. We need to catch them young,” he said.
Verma, the recipient of this year’s Padma Shri Award for his distinguished contribution in the field of science and technology, said the reason why there were news reports of students committing suicide despite reaching IITs or even in coaching institutes while preparing for entrance exams was that they could not withstand the academic pressure despite scoring good marks in schools.
“Isn’t it the moral duty of teachers to groom students in a way that they don’t wilt under academic pressure? What is the need to be happy with marks if students commit suicide? Education should be such that teaches students not to give up and be ready to face all situations. The society also needs to focus on this. Blaming coaching institutions is not the solution. It is the schools and the teachers who will have to strive to stay relevant, which will automatically shrink the space for parallel system and this requires emotional attachment with the profession,” he said.
The recipient of Bihar’s highest award in the field of education, Maulana Abul KalamAzad Shiksha Puruskar, 2017, Verma said that shifting the blame by saying that the teachers or students are not of good quality would not serve the purpose. “This is running away from the problem. If a person can be motivated, he can do anything. We can create quality, provided we honestly try and this has to begin from schools,” he added.
Verma, who studied in Patna Science College and also taught there before moving to IIT, Kanpur, is known for his famous book ‘Concepts of Physics’, which is the prize possession with all IIT aspirants. Now, almost three decades later, he has come up with another one ‘Bhoutiki ki Samajh’ in Hindi.
“In the last 28 years, my understanding has also developed. So, I came up with a new book. This time it is in Hindi instead of a revised edition in English for wider reach. In science, language should not be a barrier. I am also working on the second part. We have also developed B.Sc-level online interactive courses free of cost, which students can use with just mobile. The response has been good, though from my State Bihar it has been not satisfactory despite my letters to VCs and principals to popularize this free opportunity among students,” he said.
At the IIT-K, he has been instrumental in making a group of faculty members and students together with local youths to run an NGO called “Shiksha Sopan”, which maintains direct daily contact with students and their families to not only give educational help, but also inculcate Indian values and culture. It also runs scholarship programs and Pratibha Poshan Yojana to identify talent in the interiors and give them opportunity at the residential summer camps.
In 2011, Verma initiated a new project National Anveshika Network of India (NANI), which has become a flagship programme of the Indian Association of Physics Teachers (IAPT). Verma has developed more than 1000 ‘low cost’ physics experiments which can be used by teachers in their classrooms. Informal open-ended experimental activities have also been developed where students are initiated in a direction and they conceive, assemble and perform experiments on their own.
He earns huge amount through royalty from his best-selling books, but he spends all on his passion – to groom next generation. “What will I do with the money? Have a few houses here and there. It is better to spend on developing labs and improving teaching,” said Verma, who enjoys living a simple life.
In Kanpur, he has developed ‘Sopan Ashram’, which are equipped with classrooms, laboratories and a lot more to generate interest among students by acquainting them with dimensions of science.
“We are developing it as a place of science tourism. Children from government schools come here,” he said, adding the next in line is a project in Bihar to improve quality of science teaching in schools by training teachers. He has already trained thousands of teachers in other states, including Jammu & Kashmir where he spent several months.
The Bihar project is being developed with the help of IIT, Patna. “It was planned two years ago, when I was honoured by the Biahr government, but it got delayed. Now, I have got information from Manoranjan Kar, principal supervisor at IIT, Patna, that it will take off in the next 15-20 days.
“It is a three-year project to train government school teachers on understanding of physics and teaching methodology. The government also has a big role to play, as coordination is important. The teachers will be grouped in batches and trained at camps in Patna for making science teaching meaningful and entertaining through low-cost experiments, which can be performed at home. If teachers get involved and strive for self-renewal, quality will certainly come,” he added.