Talking to – G. Madhavan Nair – Former ISRO Chairman
G. Madhavan Nair (born October 31, 1943) is the former Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation and Secretary to the Department of Space, Government of India since September 2003 and was also the Chairman, Space Commission. He was also the Chairman of Governing Body of the Antrix Corporation, Bangalore. Madhavan Nair was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour, on January 26, 2009.
Excerpts of a brief conversation with him about his school days and the current education system in India.
My School days
My education started in a complete rural place of Kankyakumari district. The infrastructure of the school was a basic shed with thatched roof but we had great teachers and the head master was keen on giving us good education which made a lot of difference in my primary school years. I finished my high school in Trivendrum. Medium of instruction was Malayalam. Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics were taught by Mr. Nagappa Nair and Ms. Shanta Kumari and they gave me a feel of what science is all about and the challenges in the scientific world. Perhaps I can say that was where the scientific channel got instilled in me. I was greatly influenced by Mr. Rama Kurup, the Head Master, who took personal interest and guided me.
We had a close student, teacher relationship which involved parents too. As a family, we used to discuss about various issues and depending on the strengths and weaknesses, the teacher used to intervene and give us the right direction but now it has become like a stereo type production, almost like a commercial product, the students are being brought out from the schools; they are all put into standard mill, whether they are above average or below average they have to follow the same syllabi, more like it’s a memory test by spoon feeding. That is the reason why the students does not get an opportunity to learn the necessities of society and the human life itself.
When you commercialize education, casualty becomes quality, the quality of education in technology area in schools and colleges become poor.
For young ISRO aspirants
Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology – IIST at Thiruvananthapuram offers the course. Admission is through entrance exam. Advantage of IIST is, you get free education and at the end of the course the student is offered a job at ISRO with an agreement of five years of service in the organization. Parallelly if you have a good degree in Engineering or the Master degree in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, they can take the competitive exam and then directly enter into this stream. Basic eligibility is, unless you are strong in the fundamentals and thorough with the subject you will not be able to pass this hurdle.
On retaining the bright students in India
Actually speaking, the difference between best and the next best will be a fraction of percentage, They miss IIT or NIT by few marks only. So there is nothing like best student getting away. We don’t have scarcity for brainy children in our country. People who are left behind here are more than adequate to meet the national need.
On medium of instruction in schools
Certainly there is advantage learning in mother tongue but India is such a diverged country with more than 28 languages, and if you want to have entire wisdom of the world, the literature, science, technology etc translated into those languages, it would be very difficult. From that point of view, mastery of English will help in getting into advanced piece of research and so on. Language and communication are part of the personality development. Concentrate on one language and develop the full potential of comprehension and communication in children and later you give them the option to study which ever language they want.
ISRO’s Programs for India’s development
There are islands of excellence in space technology, defense, agriculture etc. but the basic science like fundamental research, the application of science and the technology development in the country took back seat all these days. In the last 5-10 years slowly the big programs by the government to revive the old science and technology area has picked up. The high quality medical services are made available to the rural areas through the satellite media and again the high quality class rooms are taken to the remote parts using the satellite technology. So these are some of the applications which were found impact on the daily life for the people in the country.
Advice to educators
The current method of putting everybody to standard syllabi should come to an end. The talent in the children has to be spotted at an early stage itself and the teacher should encourage them. Concentrate on the development of basic skills of children that is comprehension, communication, observation and analytics. Then they will grow as good leaders in whatever field they choose on.
As told to India School News
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Nair is a leading technologist in the field of rocket systems and has made significant contribution to the development of multi-stage satellite launch vehicles, achieving self-reliance in independent access to space using indigenous technologies. Nair and his team have advanced their work in the face of several challenges in the regime of technology denials by adopting several innovations and novel techniques to realise world class launch vehicle systems. India today has a pride of place amongst the space-faring nations in launch vehicle technology. Specifically, as Project Director, he led the development of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) which has since become the workhorse for launching mainly Indian remote sensing satellites.