Talking to – Prof. B. K. Chandrashekar, former minister for primary education, Karnataka

Professor B.K Chandrashekar
Prof. B. K. Chandrashekar, is a former minister for primary education and minister for IT, Karnataka. He insists on teaching English compulsorily to all the children in rural India so as to help them overcome inferiority complex and allowing one and all to have power of expression.  In this conversation he talks about his school days, college days, teachers and politics etc. 


School Days:
My school days were nomadic! My father worked as an engineer in Public Works Department so he was transferred every now and then. We always went along with him so I studied in different schools all my life. Primarily my school days included high school that is 8th, 9th and 10th. I studied in Kannada medium throughout my school life. We were stationed mostly in small places and only once or twice to bigger places like Mysore.

In primary schools I went to several schools where there were no benches or tables. We were asked to bring small mats from home to sit on! We sat on the floor and wrote inside the classroom.

In 8th standard I went to my mother’s home town in Chamarajanagar located on Tamil Nadu border. I was there for one year. My grandparents lived in a mud house. I don’t remember any problem in that period infact I enjoyed my time immensely. I used to play in the temple, a well-known temple a big court yard in Chamarajnagar. Later, I was called back as my father got posted at a place that had school.

As far as I can think now it was Hassan. It was a government school with basic infrastructure like classroom and benches to sit.

College Days:
I joined National Institute of Engineering, Mysore. I was considered more for the extra-curricular activities in the college. I spoke reasonably well in debates and received many trophies. I also played badminton. My father and elder brother were engineers.

Eventually, I went to Maharaja College to do BA other than Engineering. It was a great place! Sociology, Political Science, English were three subjects in BA. I was attentive towards studies but in addition always observed what was happening in the world!

I remember, there was a man called Mr. Chandrashekar. He used to teach us history. He was a good teacher. Once he was talking about Pope and told, “Pope is also referred to Papa.” I said something that irritated him. Then he asked me to stand up, and explain why Pope is called as Papa?” I could not talk as I did not know anything about it all. Yet he did not hold anything against me and continued to teach nicely. Later after couple of lessons I knew that Pope was a big man and plays significant role in life of Christians.

Our head master, Mr. Laxmi Narasimhaiah was a tall man, had one eye and disliked English completely. He also happened to be my father’s classmate. He was a remarkable teacher too. He insisted that every one of us brought a small pocket book. In the book he made us write and learn one new word every day. All of us did it and it helped us quite a lot.

Other teachers who made an impact were Mr. Iyengar, taught us Biology; Mr. T. Ramaswamaiah, mathematics teacher and Mr. Venkataramaiah, taught us Physics. They all were excellent in their respective subjects.

In college, the teacher who had immense influence on me was Professor C. D. Narasimhaiah. He was fondly called as CDN. He was principal of Maharaja College. People were scared of him but respected him as well as he was a good man. He taught us English.

In college I became quite interested in public affairs.  One Mr. T.V.Srinivasarao, lawyer by profession worked as Lohia socialist and another person Mr. Vedanthamhad, a corporate in Mysore influenced me a lot. Seeing them, I told myself that I should get into public affairs!

Besides, while doing BA I kept in close contact with people involved in public activities. I was very active and it was my privilege that in the very first year of BA I met people like Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, and Mr. Shantaveri Gopala Gowda, from Shimoga. I also used to be in touch with Mr. Jogi Siddaiah, belonged to Dalit community was a corporator, later became the Mayor of Mysore Municipality, when I left Mysore to go to England. These people used to come home, a middle class Brahmin household. We all used to sit in the so called dining room and my Mother a remarkable lady served food to the Dalit, along with me and these two other friends. Also used to join us was Mr. Nanaiah, very close friend. All of us were served by my Mother, 50 years ago! This had a big influence on my education and drove me to be part of politics.

I had extreme interest in political science, linked up with what is happening around in the society and local government. I was elected as secretary of sociology association in Maharaja College. I was the student, who never bothered about first class score or ranks, I don’t need it! I did not get that to my mind, I enjoyed myself so much, in social and intellectual environment in Maharaja College, and nothing else mattered.

Bonding with Parents:
I really don’t think we got much time from our parents but we had lot of affection at home! My mother was confined to home. It was a very large family but there was equal love and affection for all the boys and girls at home.

Humble Background:
In those days my father did Bachelor of Engineering. It was not easy at all as we came from a poor background! Brahmin by birth but things were far-fetched for us.

Present Education Scenario:
Today middle class families are obsessed with education unlike our time when we didn’t think much about it, neither the parents nor children. We just went along! Besides, in terms of schooling as we see it now, there was nothing at all that was particularly targeted towards making the kids very special.

Later when I was minister for primary education in Karnataka, I observed two problems in the classroom teaching precisely in schools in rural areas. Students face a serious problem to grasps the lesson in Science, Mathematics and English language. 30 students in the classroom were children of local barber, agricultural laborer, local grocery owners, small shops, revenue police and constable etc. Some of them belonged to schedule class and tribe. Their background created an obvious constraint of unawareness!

Teachers taught them a lesson of history but they didn’t have any remote idea of the same. It was a complete new thing that they heard for the first time. They were either the first generation or second generation learner in their families. They didn’t have any clues as what is the history! Now the teacher comes and delivers one lecturer as she/he cannot take 5-10 different lectures on the same lesson catering to students’ requirements considering their personal background. So there was an imperative need to bring in technology into the classroom.

Second problem is visualization! Once I attended the Chemistry class of 7th standard. The teacher was explaining about the environment and what kind of chemical reaction might take place. He spoke something about CO2 and then fungus occurrence due to chemical reaction. None of the kids was able to understand anything! Reason being teaching methodology was not correct. We have to take the responsibility of teaching method instead of blaming the students.

To solve the problem, I saw a small pond in the school campus. I took all the students and teachers near the pond. It was a big pond. I asked them all, “How was the water in the pond before the rainfall three months ago?” It was so articulate. Students started responding, some told it was clean while others told it was clear. My next question to them was, “After the rains what happened?” They discussed amongst themselves and told it was slightly dull reddish, mud colour, lot of dust has settled down, bits of fungus and greenish fungus. Then I whispered to the teacher, “Students now know what is fungus? So proceed with explaining chemical reaction. Take them inside and add your stuff. I won’t come in, you can talk to them.” This implies unless graphics are used and showed to the students it is next to impossible to make them learn!

As a policy maker, minister, I called Dr. C.N.R Rao and asked for his time to discuss the identified problems. He was convinced and connected me with Mr. Baligar, retired education chief secretary, the DDP, the director of the primary and the higher education, the whole team. I took them along to Jawaharlal Nehru Centre in Jakkur and discussed the problems. He too was delighted and told to do it free of cost. That time CDs were just being introduced hence entire concepts in Science and Mathematics was explained with audio-visual effect.

Rs. 20-25 thousand was the expenditure incurred to develop these multimedia teaching tools. I told the commissioner not to release the CDs in any cities or towns instead send it all to the schools in rural areas. Also instructed to ensure the school has required system to play the CD. Students as well as teachers were excited. I got the feedback that after using CDs the understanding level of students towards the science concepts increased by 50% higher in just 5-6 months.

Medium of Teaching:
When I was at Oxford, there were smart boards and projectors but in India even without these teaching aids we always perform better. Being a Hindi speaking country we have done a great job in English as country at large. Yet I maintained medium of teaching should be left with parents and students.

Medium of teaching was a big debate! All the ultra linguistic writers were upset. I arranged a cabinet meet with distinguished teachers and experts in education. I ensured they represented different parts of the State. It was best of best members in the discussion panel. It was stated that from 1st – 3rd standard, familiarize students with spoken English, keeping in consideration the rural schools. No text books in English for these classes. It implied 5 -8.5 years old students would have text book for all other subjects except English. No annual examination in English! It prevented the students from fear of failing in the subject. The reason being if a child fails in any one of those subjects he has to repeat the same standard. 74% of the people are still in the group where there are no text book and exam in English. So students had the conversational comfort with English language.

A remarkable thing I did during my tenure was to know the opinions of parents, teachers, students and School Development and Management Committee (DMC) on preferred medium of education through a survey. In addition we did another detailed study in the rural areas on the frequently and commonly English words used in the day to day conversation. It was a great job!

The study revealed on an average most of the people used something like 97 or 98 English words. These people were illiterate parents of the students studying in the school. They frequently used words like police, hotel, doctor, station, coffee, injection, inspector, school, minister, officers and so on.

Then as in next step, the students were given 15-20 words from the 97 frequently used English words list. They were asked to construct small sentence using the given words. Every single child took the exercise. Sentences were made however grammatically these were not always correct. That didn’t matter! They linked words together that was important.

The entire initiative was taken well by then Chief Minister S.M. Krishna but I did face lot of disapproval by many! I am convinced that from 1st-4th standard the best medium of instruction is the mother tongue. It need not be only Kannada but it can be Tamil, Urdu, Telugu or anything. However at the same time it is important to teach English language to the students’ right from class 1st. The advantage of teaching this language to the children of 4 years old and above is that they become familiar and find their conversational comfort with English which is mandatory for their future. Later the students can start learning all other subjects in English instead of their respective mother languages.

English must be taught in schools
I told the cabinet, for past thousands of years many were not allowed to learn Sanskrit. The language was confined to Brahmin or the upper class. Not fair at all! Earlier it was Sanskrit and now it is English. It should be stopped. Majority of rural folks can’t raise this concern! Besides, the inferiority complex of not knowing English or their kids not exposed to English will disappear.

There is huge gap between urban and rural children. It is essential to develop self consciousness between these kids. Rural kids feel inferior while urban kids feel superior. This needs to be stopped. English is a language to communicate that is practiced globally hence must be learnt by every child. It gives freedom of expression.

Message to Youth:
I secured a state rank in English subject inspite of studying all my life in Kannada medium. Besides I never put in any additional effort to get good marks in the subject. What I did different was to develop the conversational comfort with the language. All students must make a note of this key to successfully learn any language.

When learning a new language, effort must be taken to understand what the other person is saying. Second, pick one or two words and make new sentence with the same. I learnt English by reading Deccan Herald right from first page to the last including all cricket reports. Next I used to hear cricket commentary on the radio regularly as there was no TV then. I also used to attend the skit classes conducted in English, heard the dialogues excitedly and observe the dialogue delivery. Lastly I got associated with scholars and brilliant teachers outside my educational institutes. I strongly recommend students to read a little bit beyond the text books! By practicing these thumb rules anyone can pick up any language fairly well!

Even today I am not particularly familiar with English grammar and I am not ashamed to confess it in public! Students from rural background must not consider grammar as the constraint or terror; they must try to understand every bit of it. Then language can be learnt!

Youth in politics:
I generally suggest youth to be part of politics. These days a politician may not exactly be a role model for the society. Even if not a role model atleast someone can work for a while for the society. Great advantage of being a politician like MP or MLA is that they are close to the people. They are elected by the people therefore they are totally democratic. Youth joining politics must make a stringent decision to not become corrupt, they can update themselves before making the policies, talk to people, involve others in the work and prepare well before taking any actions. Stay on with values and do the great work. You shine, India outshines!

As told to Kartik Isvarmurti, Managing Editor, India School News.

Profile – 

Prof. B. K. Chandrashekar, a former Professor at IIM, Bangalore was the Chairman of the Legislative Council, Karnataka and also member of the Legislative Council. He was the Minister for Primary Education and Minister for IT, Karnataka. He has been in academics for over 27 years, including 19 years at IIMB.

Prof. Chandrashekar has made significant contributions in the areas of decentralisation and public law. He was closely associated with the formulation of the Karnataka Zilla Parishads and Mandal Panchayats Act, 1983 and the study on the working of the Panchayat Institutions in Karnataka.

He did his M Phil from Oxford University and LL.M. Industrial Law from Leeds University. His areas of interest include business law, consumer protection and intellectual property rights.