Saturday, March 11, 2017


The educational literature is spewed with words such as "syllabus", "pedagogy", "curriculum". However, there is lack of clarity and sometimes misconceptions on what each means. For instance, pedagogy is loosely used to denote the instructional method in the classroom (chalk-and-talk, powerpoint slides, activity-based learning, etc.). Pedagogy is a much more comprehensive term. Below I quote Prof. Mohanan on what each of these terms means - in the hope that this will give clarity to those interested in education.

a) Syllabus: The GOALS — the outcomes of learning that our educational intervention aims at.

b) Pedagogy: The MEANS — the strategies we use to achieve the goals: this includes learning activities guided by the teacher, in and outside the classroom; textbooks and other learning materials; assessment; policies; and infrastructure.

c) Curriculum: The combination of (a) and (b). Every learning activity has both what
students end up learning (learning outcomes) and how the teacher, textbooks, and
assessment tasks guide them towards those outcomes (pedagogical strategies).

From the above, it is probably clear that pedagogy is composed of not just instructional method, but also the teaching-learning materials, assessment etc.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Education and Goals of Life

26 October, 2016

In a discussion among a closed group of like-minded people on education, Prof. T. R. Neelakantan, put forward two important questions:
1.      What is the role of education in achieving the ultimate goal in life?
2.      Should professional colleges & educational institutions today contribute ultimate goals?
What follows is my response to his questions. I am just documenting it so that I can revisit this for my own references and refining of ideas. 

Attributes of Educatedness and Ultimate Goal

As you have cited and may be aware, there have been several schools of thoughts exist on this question. The Aristotlean and the Budhist hold that the ultimate goal in life is happiness. Thirukural, as you have said, defines the purpose of life as Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha and if I were to understand correctly, it holds Dharma, Artha and Kama as means to Moksha.

Since I am much more familiar with the Budhist philosophy (primarily from the book “The Universe in a Single Atom” by Dalai Lama), let me try to articulate my understanding of the goal of education in light of the ultimate goal (happiness). Happiness, as espoused Budha is not the sensual pleasures but rather an elating and transcended happiness (and is called “sukha”). The Budhist philosophy holds that the path to this happiness is an investigative path adopted by the self. For instance, it encourages one to investigate the cause of suffering. However, before investigating the cause of suffering, one needs to define what is suffering. What is suffering to me might be different from what is suffering to another human. So, a person investigating on the cause of suffering needs to clearly define the boundaries and circumstances under which one would define an instance/feeling to be a suffering. This is not an easy task as you might observe. One needs the ability, not only to construct the definition of suffering, but also the ability to evaluate the definition.

Now consider the below arguments on the definition of liquid. The textbook definition liquid (secondary school text): Liquid is something that takes the shape of the container.  By this definition a heap of sand in a beaker is a liquid. We should now either accept that a heap of sand in a beaker is a liquid or change the definition of liquid (if we agree to the premises of rationality). I think most of us would now want to “refine” the definition. For instance, one may define liquid as something in which the intermolecular distances are farther apart than that in solid. Can we draw a cut-off in the intermolecular distance and say that beyond this value it is a liquid? If we cannot, we must abandon this refinement. One can, in principle, try and consider all such possibilities and counter examples to arrive at a definition of liquid and solid.

In the above arguments, the “meta-learning”, if I may call so, is the process of constructing and evaluating definitions involving identification of counter examples. Secondly, the above is an example of how we can use simple textbook material to teach students the principle of constructing, refining and evaluating definitions. To extend this meta learning to define suffering is beyond the scope and ability of anybody, but the self. However, by repeating the above process of constructing, refining and evaluating definitions (what is species, what is democracy etc.) we can inculcate in students the ability to construct, refine and evaluate definitions. In similar lines, I hold that abilities such as critical thinking (identifying the fallacies in a statement/process), identifying logical contradictions etc., are all the “meta principles” that we could teach students that will help them develop their own meaning and purpose in life.

Slight deviation:
Aside from this, I would like to share with you that the Budhist philosophy and the scientific methodology share some commonalities (again, garnered from the above-said book). One that I would like to state is that both of them have higher precedence for observation followed by experience, reasoning and authority. That is, authority takes the least precedence of all forms learning. Based on discussions with Dr. Ramanathan on the Upanishad/Vedhic methodologies,  I understand that there are significant overlaps.

Should professional education help the purposes in life or not?

I would say, that the term professional education connotates providing/passing on domain knowledge so as to create a “trained” workforce. This is what, in my perspective, the Nation has adopted - whether by force/influence or not, I do not know. If WE define the goal of professional education to just create a trained workforce, obviously, we don’t have to worry about equipping children  to find their own meaning of life.

But I beg to differ and make an earnest request that we don’t restrict ourselves only to create a trained workforce. Let us aim to create educated individuals who can find their own meaning in life and reach whatever they define as their goal in life. The education that we provide should impart the children with the necessary skills and abilities for the purpose defined above.

What are our activities?

The four activities that you have stated are indeed the basic ones. However, I believe there is more. For instance, I may regard contributing to the welfare of other people as one of my activities. Likewise, each may have their own set of activities. How does one decide that X will be one of his/her activities in life? How would (s)he go about achieving it? If I were to regard that contributing to the welfare of other people as one of my activities, I may achieve it through ‘n’ number of ways. How do I choose one over the other? This requires deep analysis supported by evidences and logical reasoning.  

In essence, I earnestly request that we be committed to not only passing on the knowledge to the next generation, but also to equipping the next generation to create their own meaning and purpose in life and providing them with the necessary skills and abilities

Prof. T. R. N’s email:
Part 1:
Does our education help in our activities? Let us analyze our activities first.
It looks to me that we basically do only four activities. All living beings do the following activities: (a) eating (not just by mouth - sense gratification); (b) sleeping; (c) procreating and (d) defending (health insurance - buildings - military).
We may sleep in a nice a/c room on a bed; cows may sleep in shed; dogs may sleep in streets; but activity is ‘sleeping’. Though there is difference in sophistication, activity is ‘sleeping’
Having the sixth sense, are we doing different activities? (What is sixth sense?) Please let me know any activity we do that is not ultimately connected to the above listed basic activities.
I think that ‘self learning, critical thinking, team work, problem solving etc’ are all the intermediate goals (or mile stones) but not ultimate goals. What will you do with ‘self learning, critical thinking, team work, problem solving, etc’? Will you not use them to do these four activities?
Part 2:
Through scriptures (example: திருக்குறள்), I have (you might have also) heard many times that the purposes of life are: Dharma (அறம்), Artha (பொருள்), Kama (இன்பம்) and Moksha (வீடு). The purpose of education must also fall in line with the purpose of life. Wikipedia says the following:
Dharma – includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviors that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous.
Artha – signifies the "means of life", activities and resources that enables one to be in a state one wants to be in. Artha incorporates wealth, career, activity to make a living, financial security and economic prosperity.
Kama – signifies desire, wish, passion, emotions, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, love, without violating dharma (moral responsibility), artha (material prosperity) and one's journey towards moksha (spiritual liberation).
Moksha – signifies emancipation, liberation or release - connotes freedom the cycle of birth and death, or self-knowledge, or self-realization. A few like Sri Nrusimha’s devotee Prahalad did not show interest in the materialistic first three.
Professional/College education should help for all these four purposes or not?

Friday, January 27, 2017


I just cataloged the places I have visited - These include places I visited in childhood and later - those that have remained in my memory either vividly and/or through photos.

The list can be found here

Friday, January 20, 2017


The last three days has seen what I have not seen but only heard of in my life time so far - the solidarity of the student community. The solidarity shown by the student community across the state - with no reported violence - is commendable.
As to the issue of Jallikattu, I find this show in Neeya Naana bringing out various facets very clearly a must exposition for all:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Looking Back

The year 2016 has been a year of eventfulness at the professional side.

After a hectic week between Dec 27 - 31, 2015 of organizing the DST-INSPIRE camp at SASTRA University, the year 2016 started with my presentation at the Indian Science Congress for the Young Scientist award in the New Biology Section. Although I didn't manage to get the award, it was a nice experience presenting my work to a completely unknown audience. Some of them came to me and said the work was interesting and the presentation was good. That was rewarding.

This was followed by an invitation from the School of ThinQ to join their core team. ThinQ is a group of educators committed to inculcating inquiry abilities in children. My association with ThinQ thus far had been as a participant of their course Inquiry and Integration in Education (IIE) which has had a tremendous influence on my views of education. The invitation to join the core team meant the learning is to continue and be honed in addition to contributing to the development of ThinQ in my own possible ways. Since then, as expected the learning has indeed continued and I have been contributing to ThinQ in small ways to the workshops that are conducted (specifically the chennai workshop in May) and the IIE-2016 online course and finally as a facilitator for one of the sessions in the 9-day face-to-face workshop of IIE held at Pune in December.

The association with ThinQ has also helped me conduct Critical Reading Workshops at SASTRA University for PhD scholars and UG/PG Engineering students. The workshops proved useful, particularly in helping students understand the fallibility of scientific knowledge.

In May, I co-coordinated the "Research Science Initiative - Thanjavur/Trichy chapter" by SASTRA University where about 25 students in their 11th standard were selected from schools in Thanjavur/Trichy to attend a 1-month long research internship  at various labs in SASTRA and were given exposure to various fields in the form of lecture and being an intern.

In July, SASTRA took our Science Arattai initiative beyond its walls to reach out to school children. The primary reason being that the schemes of the government, due to logistical issues, focus only on the "creamy" students. However, as we all know, marks are poor predictors of intellect. Therefore, to reach out to the students who don't qualify to many of the schemes of the government (for eg. INSPIRE camps), and introduce them to the latest developments in science and technology, Science Arattai initiative invites eminent scientists from across the country to address students at different schools in Thanjavur, Trichy and Kumbakonam as a monthly event. The initiative was inaugurated by Dr. Gopichandran, Director, Vigyan Prasar, GoI. Meeting Dr. Gopichandran was yet another transforming moment. The simplicity and commitment he displayed was a great inspiration. Several learning points from him!

November saw the conduct of the research methodology course at SASTRA which I was a part of. It was again a rewarding and satisfying experience in the small ways I could make some positive change.

December started with the 9-day intensive face-to-face workshop for the IIE participants - conducted at IISER Pune & ThinQ to which I was a senior participant and facilitated one of the sessions on mathematics. The workshop also helped me to get to know various dimensions by which people are trying to make differences in the education sector. Particularly, I became interested in the Arts and education programme by an NGO.

This was followed by the one-day Science Communication workshop by the Wellcome Trust-DBT India Alliance that I co-coordinated. The workshop focused on manuscript writing, grant writing, presentation skills etc in addition to highlighting the alternate careers in Science other than Academics (which was based on our request).

The following Saturday (24 Dec) was spent at the Alumni Congress held at PSG Tech. I had the opportunity to interact with the current students and had a chance to illustrate to them the premises--> conclusion nature of statements and Science in general.

The year concluded with the second INSPIRE camp at SASTRA of which I was a co-coordinator this time. The second version of the INSPIRE saw "big shots" of the country - a fellow of the academy who held three Padma awards and another who had one Padma award in addition to many other stalwarts in their fields. Some of the mentors to the camp were extremely simple given their position in science administration of the country - that was yet another learning/inspiration similar to that by Dr. Gopichandran.

In addition to all these activities, I have managed to publish 2 research articles in 2016 and mentored 2 UG students on their projects.

In the forthcoming year, I hope to continue contributing to some of the above initiatives and make positive differences in ways I can think of.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Palaeolithic site in TN

For long, I have been looking for evidences that assert ancient civilisation in Tamil nadu, and here it is: Attirampakkam near Chennai. It is a paleolithic site (around or before 10000 BC). Check below link for more details.
A Neolithic site is found in adichanallur near tirunelveli.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Chennai Rains

The last few weeks have been a miserable time for the people in the northern districts of Tamilnadu, including Chennai and Kadaloor. The heavy downpour has brought the daily activities to almost a nil. It was heartening to see the help extended by many people from various parts of the world, thanks to the social media. However, the local news channels seem to be doing a good job in self-praising their parties and trying to antagonize the people against the opposite parties. Particularly disturbing was the news item I saw today where the public (I presume!) went on to say that the municipal workers refused to come to their help because the water was more than waist-deep. I can only wonder how that public expects another human to risk his/her own life to help him/her just because (s)he is a government servant? I don't know the full and true picture that exists in Chennai or other flood-hit places, but I was stunned to hear the complaint displayed in a news channel. I wonder when our people will start respecting others and understand others. Just because one holds a position position doesn't mean that (s)he is bound to help the citizens risking their own lives. They can do only what is humanely possible. Let us stop expecting more from others and start giving what we can give.