My Learning Experiences at KUSOED

– Khem Raj Bhatta

Excellent counseling services, quick and responsive staff, and dedicated and cooperative faculties inspired me to join a research degree (M.Phil.) at Kathmandu University School of Education (KUSOED). A wonderful academic journey at the University has been very gratifying for me. I would like to share my learning experience in the following parameters.

The ICT-equipped classrooms at the University were interactive enough. The well-experienced, dedicated, and cooperative facilitators and the professors have always worked tirelessly to expand the student’s horizons of knowledge and understanding. I realized the real sense of rigorous research training in our M.Phil. classes. Rather than reading and writing for the examination, what I found at KUSOED was the culture of giving more priority to the individual as well as group presentations, which side by side developed reading and writing skills. The conducive academic environment at the university and its inspirational professors motivated me to explore different areas of ELE (English Language Education).

There were three classes in a week for the MPhil Academic routine. Each class was of three hours including a short refreshing tea break. Mostly we had to involve in topic-wise individual as well as group presentations. It was great to be a commentator for a colleague’s/ friend’s presentation in the sense that being a commentator provides an opportunity to get insights on other topics in detail.

When I reflect now, I realize that enormous series of presentations within a course absolutely developed our presentation skills and in-depth understanding of the topic/content. Moreover, guest lectures from distinguished scholars from home and abroad also enriched our knowledge and experiences. The classroom teaching and learning, as far as I can recount now was more practical rather than traditional and exam-oriented.

KUSOED has equipped me with several academic and personal qualities. Through rigorous lectures from the course facilitators and classroom discussions, I got deep insights and an understanding of research methodology, especially qualitative research methods. As a result, I feel confident in conducting small-scale qualitative research.

Steinar Kvale’s book Interviews: An Introduction to qualitative Research (1996) helped me not only take formal interviews for research, it also has been helpful for interacting with people in day-to-day life. This is a great asset for me. The regular classes that I took at KUSOED enabled me to write on various topics related to English Language Education. Apart from the theoretical knowledge on subject matters, I also got insights on conducting seminars and writing and presenting papers.

To sum up, my learning experience as an M.Phil. scholar at KUSOED has been very rewarding and productive to make my future academic life more prosperous. I am always grateful to the KUSOED family.

[Mr. Bhatta recently completed MPhil from KU School of Education]

COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Impact on Working Women

– Dr. Rajani Shakya

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused catastrophe all over the world. It has flipped over lives of several millions of people. It has badly affected economies, and brought our hectic daily lives to a standstill. COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health issue but an unanticipated shock to our societies. Although we are yet to experience its full impact and aftermath, this worldwide threat has already created large uncertainties among all of us.

The Government of Nepal imposed strict lockdown on March 24. Before this pandemic, we were all pretty much occupied in our regular academic activities and many more. But for the last several months, we have been staying at home around the clock with families. It’s a life time experience which none of us have ever made. With the fast-paced life we had hardly got enough time previously to spend with our families. This period has given us the deprived family time generously and brought family members closer.

Practice of working from home has advanced during the pandemic. This is a good practice, especially for women who find difficulty getting out of home for work due to various family obligations. One can get improved work-life balance and can take proper care of kids. This shift to working from home gives women much flexibility to their work. Continuing such practice in universities is not appropriate every time but wherever possible depending upon nature of work, if it could be practiced, it could make life much easier for women staffs. And if you work sincerely, come out with desired results, then it doesn’t matter whether you work from office or home.

This lockdown in an overnight has made every working woman a full-time mother, cook, cleaner, caregiver and many more as family demands. House-helps are also unavailable during this time due to travel restrictions. It has now been more than six months but we, working women, are still struggling to establish a balance in the shared responsibilities. We are heavily juggling professional duties and domestic tasks. Earlier, we used to reach home at around 6:00 pm from office, then we entered the kitchen for the next job awaiting us. We could focus and plan very clearly what to do next at each of these workstations. Suddenly the boundaries that demarcate workplace from home are lost. In these days we are multitasking; we are in the kitchen and also in a meeting; sometimes helping kids with their homework and also checking students’ assignments at the same time. Home schooling has been added to our daily chores list at home. There is no leisure time to think and plan what to do next.

Indubitably, making balance between family responsibility and professional responsibility is very essential. Most of us may be lucky enough to get family support so that continuing work from home is possible. Still there are interruptions now and then, especially if you have small kids at home, and it may be hard getting the same result as being physically present there at the workplace. As it sounds easy, it is not simple to be a work-from-home mom. Though work-from-home concept gives women flexibility of the timing of work but many of us may find it even harder. In our male-dominated society, taking care of kids, other family members and home is considered a responsibility primarily of women. Over here many of us still live in larger joint families, so we also do have responsibility to take care of elderly family members. All these impose additional obligations on women, even when both women and their spouses are working from home during the lockdown. We can find many women who have reduced their duty hours or even left their jobs simply because they have to accomplish all their household chores, and look after their children. We could still find a deep rooted patriarchy in our society.

Even in modern families there are gender disparity to some extent. From the very beginning women are considered as a  homemakers and mothers and men as primary wage earners.  This mentality hasn’t changed much even today. We still find lack of support system for women. In many occasions their occupancy in domestic tasks may conflict with career demands which lead to women delaying their up-gradation in higher positions. We can find increasing number of working women now a days. But advancement of women in higher authority positions or decision making position has not kept pace with this rise in number. In our workplace most of us are competing with men who have to do far less at home. It’s not that there are exceptions, but in majority of households, it’s the women who find difficulty managing time for their professional growth. In academia also a dip in productivity of women has been reported across the globe. In this pandemic it’s reported that the number of publications from male authors is growing faster than the number of female authors. So, it’s the problem not only of this country. It seems that globally women are lagging behind to some extent during this period.

Having said this we also can seem lots of female health care professionals; doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other doing outstanding work during this difficulty time as a frontline responders. They have left their family back at home, stayed whole day and night at hospitals for caring sick patients. Their sacrifices are extremely appreciable and remarkable. In the amidst of the coronavirus pandemic we have seen that nations led by women have been more successful at containing this disease.

There are lots of obstacles in the way up for women in our society. Getting higher education, coming out of home for career, achieving success one has dreamt is still not so easy for women in our region. But one she gets an opportunity she can show that she is no less than the male counterpart. Being incredibly resilient and task-focused a woman can make significant impact and lead to success of any institution or even a country.

[Dr. Shakya is Associate Professor and Head at the Department of Pharmacy]



The Prices and Rewards of Being Early

– Anuroop Manandhar

I still remember the time, fall of 2003, when all the first-year students were gathered in the ground in front of KU Library and given a moral boosting talk to kick-start the undergraduate program.  This happened a long time ago, yet in my mind it somehow does not seem so distant.

When Dr. Hem Raj Kafle asked me to write a piece on the ‘prices and rewards of being early’, with reflections of the experiences I had as a first batch biotech graduate, it took me back to those days. Amidst those memories, I became nostalgic thinking of my first year English Communication Skills classes taught by Dr. Kafle. It was one of the best 4 credits (2 credits in 1st and 2nd semester) courses of the undergraduate program where I was taught to relay stories and I am forever grateful for that.

I along with 47 others graduated from Kathmandu University (KU) in the fall of 2007 with the degree of B. Tech in Biotechnology. This was the first-ever batch of Biotech graduates, not just from KU, but the entire nation. When I recall those times, I believe all 48 of us had similar experiences. There was the excitement of being a graduate, but also there was fear of uncertainty and the lack of clear vision and direction.

Biotechnology is a very broad term used to describe any study where one uses some sort of technology (e.g. genetic manipulation) on biological objects (microbes, plants, animals) to get a product. It can be applied in various fields including medicine, food-tech, agriculture and dairy industries. After graduation, the first major obstacle was that this subject itself required introduction in Nepal. Not many were aware of the subject and, to my dismay, there are still very few places in Nepal that offer opportunity to work in this field.

No wonder, there was a lot of confusion and anxiety among my batch mates. Nonetheless, like every river that finds its way, the students opted for higher degree programs to pave their paths for future. Within two years, 90 percent of my batch mates joined masters/ PhD programs abroad, many funded by scholarships.  As a result, I see many of my friends working in big pharma companies or academic labs trying to find answers to nature’s complex problems.  That undergraduate degree in KU did open up a lot of doors for personal rewards and it would not have been the case if KU had not started a biotechnology degree.

But what about those who do not wish to study abroad, or cannot afford to do so? The lack of employment opportunities in Nepal has been difficult both personally and professionally. Such situation compels graduates to find their destiny in foreign lands. And since each year many graduates leave the country, the growth of biotech sector in Nepal has been slow. Unfortunately, the story repeats; the experience is similar for every new batch.

I have listened to the former Vice Chancellor of KU, Dr. Suresh Raj Sharma, speaking in different forums why the University started biotechnology degree. In his own words, “Nepal had missed many technological revolutions in the past, hence for the nation to remain ready for biotechnology revolution, it needs qualified biotech scientists.” This was definitely a visionary step, many colleges and universities since have started their biotech programs in the country. It also makes good business sense to take risk of starting new programs as it can attract more students. He as the leader did succeed in that.

I am one of those very few biotech graduates who are currently working in Nepal. I run an agro-biotech company called ‘Ficus Biotech,’ which produces healthy saplings from plant tissue culture technology. I have co-founded this company with other biotechnology graduates, one being my undergraduate batch-mate. We provide products and services that were not previously available in Nepal. There are some other companies/research institutes run by KU biotech graduates. In a way, starting a biotechnology program at KU has contributed in some or the other ways to the development of the nation, and in many ways in the development of the researchers/entrepreneurs like us.

However, for the development of any industry, we need a favorable eco-system.  It is important that companies are run by qualified individuals. Competent individuals are essential at each node of the value chain. Products development must be research-based, which is only possible if companies are run by individuals with aptitude and background in research.  Unfortunately, many of the product and service providers in Nepal today do not have knowledge, nor do they have interest in gaining any. For them it is more about the numbers in balance sheet. It is because of the lack of competent individuals that the technology is not developing and when such products are needed, they are imported in high price. The current pandemic has shown how shallow the talent pool of biomedical scientists is in the country, at least in places where they could make some difference.

The fact is, the first batch of students do face a lot of challenges as the future direction is always murky. It becomes difficult to understand the repercussions of the decisions we take and the career path trajectory it leads to. Nonetheless, there are rewards in the form of bringing innovations to your work, to present yourself as an entrepreneur, to bring the change that others only dream of – the reward of creating avenues for those uncertain young fellows who are looking for some light in their paths ahead.

What It Means to Be an Assistant Professor

– Roshee Lamichhane

Among several seemingly innocuous and off-beat questions and a few unexpected ones that were shot at me in my one-hour interview for the position of Assistant Professor last year in July 2019, there was one that really made me reflect: “What made you join the University?”

Well, for me, as someone who had prematurely left behind the corporate corridors, this question was important for at least one reason: to understand myself better. Lesser it may be, but the three years of corporate tenure at Chaudhary Group and earlier in Hyderabad, and exposure before switching over to academia in the budding years of my career were replete with wide and varied opportunities.

When I left a corporate job to pursue a noble career like teaching, there was certainly a reason behind it. Simply, I took a pause and reflected as to why I should in the first place make that decision and move. I was never afraid of experimenting something new. I know life gets boring when I decide to stay within the limits of what I already know. I wanted to be hopeful, optimistic even under pressure. Subsequently, I stayed firm and rooted to my decision till date. Today, I am able to be at peace with myself.

Despite the fact that jobs in the corporate sector are highly demanding in nature, prospects- and growth-wise, it has more potential than teaching in a school, like many would perceive. When I had taken such a decision to join teaching by leaving the corporate world, I had definitely some vision of myself and also the new profession. When I got into the teaching profession, during the initial days, I was confident that my immediate future would definitely get better. Today, I am getting a good work-life balance in teaching. When I was satisfied with the way the things started unfolding in academics, then teaching needed me more than the corporate world. It is an indisputable fact that one draws more satisfaction where one feels needed. Mine was a good selection—choosing a noble profession. Greed for the corporate sector would have distracted me from pursuing my M. Phil and going on to complete my Doctorate.

Fortunately, in the initial stage itself, I could decide early and clearly as to why I should join academics in general, and get associated with a University in particular. For ‘young and talented individuals,’ I heard everywhere, there couldn’t be a better pedestal and seat of teaching and learning than Kathmandu University, which is undoubtedly one of the most reputed and prestigious Universities in Nepal. So, I decided to join the ‘young and talented’.

Of course, I never lost much time before deciding to join KU SOM as a Lecturer five years ago. Moreover, I had total clarity that I needed to complete my M Phil before taking the steady path to pursue my PhD. I am pretty confident now that being in the tenured role should ensure a smooth and steady path to Professorship as well. In hindsight, I feel exulted for having made the right decision and taken the right path in the most productive years of my life and early stages of my budding career.

Joining and working as a Lecturer in a contract role was not an easy ride, but proved to be a roller coaster in my case. At the lowest rung in the academic hierarchy, there is much to learn and so much more to offer to the University despite one’s limited knowledge and exposure. Most of the expectations from my role initially were service-related such as taking minutes of meeting, or doing the administrative part of organizing events, or working as an emcee (because you are the youngest in the team, and most often a female is expected to don on this role!)

Putting on several caps and assuming several roles that get assigned, almost on an impromptu basis, has a huge plus. It does build the individual’s confidence. On the flip side, superiors/bosses continue to place demands to perform the very same perennially just because you proved yourself to be efficient by living up to their expectations. As the saying goes, “there is always a premium on efficiency”. The individual concerned ends up paying a huge opportunity cost. Initial phases of an academician’s career always come with a rider: be prepared to sacrifice a major portion of your prime and productive time while assuming the twin roles of teaching and research along with the service component of the job.

Despite having been promoted to the post of Assistant Professor in the ladder, I am required to manage the service role as an academician but with greater focus primarily on research and teaching. Doing meaningful research, writing cases rooted into and having a bearing on local contexts, writing on various media, speaking on various platforms within one’s domain should have precedence over other regular activities. Engaging in sponsored research and scouting for consulting projects should be another priority. After all, to mature as a well-rounded academic professional, engaging oneself simultaneously with multiple tasks becomes a necessary thing. More importantly, progressing to the next stage in the ladder becomes facile if you make doing PhD only your ultimate priority and pursuit.

Having successfully faced the challenge of joining a solemn profession and becoming a life-long academician, I am totally aware that my role now as Assistant Professor has widened. That would definitely entail undertaking meaningful initiatives such as partnership and cooperation with various Universities across the world. As a Placement Cell coordinator, managing internships and final placements to the MBA and BBA graduates is equally paramount. Among several other parameters that define the overall image of a B-School, the importance of the placement records need not be exaggerated. The next item in my professional agenda, now, would be to widen the reach and network of my Placement Cell and our alumni network across seven other Schools that come under KU thereby facilitating the potential graduates and prospective recruits in obtaining the job of their choice officially through formal channels. Besides my role as Faculty Associate at Enterprise and Management Development Program (EMDP), I aim and aspire to bring in more nationally recognized consulting projects thereby becoming a steady revenue earner for the University as well.

What I feel and believe is, when a human being matures as a teacher, new experiences bring him/her new sensitivities and flexibility. Teaching profession is for all those who are eager to make a difference and cause a positive impact on learners in particular and society in general! It is for people who were inspired by their own teachers earlier in their education and want to remember them for an entire lifetime, long after school is over. Hence, my earnest request to graduating management students, especially the young females, is to seriously consider and take up teaching as a career option.

To end with a power quote by John Dewey: “Education is a lifetime process with no true beginning or ending.  Education consists of experience, environment, socialization and communication. Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

[The author is associated with School of Management, Kathmandu University.]

Ruminating Posthumous Me

–  Dr. Niraj Poudyal

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to experience the moments right before and after death! I think I would definitely feel emotional pain at the least just before death knocks the door unless the death accomplishes what it wants in a blink of an eye without prior notice and expectations or if I go unconscious long before I die.

I fear death for life is too tempting. But what about the exact moment of death and after the death? No one has been able to give a convincing answer yet. I think the finding of near-death experience (NDE) studies just makes us think about the definition and meaning of death itself. The NDE experience is not evidence of life after death; rather it’s the evidence of our ignorance on the meaning of life, death and the border that separates the two.

Even if I feel something at the moment of death, I won’t be able to come back and tell my story. If, somehow, I come back alive, then the experience I had would not be of death but of something else. I would never be able to write my experience of whatever pain or pleasure I might endure at the moment of death.

Having empirical nihilist position, I believe in death as an end of me, my conscious existence and whatever constitutes me being alive. My body will disintegrate into strands of atomic and subatomic particles and quantum pockets of wave functions. My death will constitute a tiny spec of the ultimate demise of this universe, ironically known as heat death, into cold zero density stretch of space. My purposeless existence will cease to exist purposelessly.

Reincarnation is the last thing one would want if the goal is to feel death. If reincarnation is true in any sense, Judeo-Christian or Hindu-Buddhist, we will lose the opportunity to experience death. Reincarnating into a non-life would be contradictory to its own definition. If we are going to reincarnate into another life, some form of us must stay alive until we reincarnate. If everything is dead, then there would be nothing to ensure continuation of our lives. Ironically, if something of us is not dead fully, we are not dead at all. Alas!! We were supposed to experience death that does not exist in the universe that allows reincarnation ! This path does not lead to proper experience of death, I think.

I wonder if I can guess how it feels after death if I contrast it with feeling of life, reverse image of death. I define life as a set of limits. In a sense, existence itself is a set of limitations on non-existence. Without limits, nothing would exist. Even nothing needs limitations to exist. Life, as it exists, prohibits from happening everything. Most of the things that we might want to happen will not happen because of this limitation. Pain itself is the immediate result of this limitation. Had we possessed to cross the boundaries of these limitations, I wonder if pain would make any sense. In this sense, life is a pain or suffering, as Budhha puts it. Moments of pleasure are just some random and rare spikes in the sea of suffering. Being the reverse image of life, death may feel like sea of pleasure with rare painful cavities. No heaven can match this after death experience. At the end of the day, we all strive for days full of fun with tiny bits of suffering and life not only full of joy but also with tiny bits of painful moments so that we can shed our tears down.

People have dream life. This is my dream death.

Life is not a dream and nor is death. I know there won’t be anyone to feel my death with any accuracy whatsoever. The neurons of my brain that can feel the dark cold universe will break apart and turn into lifeless electrons, protons and neutrons. The meaning of pain and pleasure will cease to apply after my death. I will feel exactly like what I might have felt before I was even fertilized. The end of things will feel exactly like there was no beginning. People are scared of death. But no one is scared not to be borne into this world. Entropy is the only thing that makes them different in physical sense. But for me, it’s the same.

Of course, I suffer now thinking about my untimely death. I am worried for my kids and my loved ones. In my absence they will suffer. And this is painful for me. I suffer too. But this is a suffering for living me. This is not the feeling of death. This is a feeling of living a life and imagining a difficult future of my loved ones without me. They will see me dying, or maybe not. They might know my death, or maybe not. But I will not feel my own death. I will not know my own death. I will not live to see and judge my death.

[Dr. Poudyal is Assistant Professor at School of Arts]

English and Scientific Research: Some Reflections

 – Deepak Subedi

When I was asked to contribute an article on the importance of English language for scientific research, I felt I got an opportunity to express my gratitude to the language which gave me an enormous access to good books written by scholars around the world. Without the knowledge of English, I would have to rely on books written only in our native language, which would have certainly narrowed my thinking. My simple understanding is that our ability to think is proportional to the number of good books we read. Also, it is generally accepted that knowledge is for the brain as is food for the body, and that a person with knowledge of different languages has greater vision and wider horizon.

I was motivated to learn English by my revered father since my childhood. Although my father himself never had formal education, he had gained some practice of spoken English during his service in Indian army. He had a strong desire to educate his children in English medium. I think this might have been due to the influence of British officers in India. He used to tell me fascinating stories about the additional benefits he used to receive in the army unlike his colleagues by virtue of his knowledge of English, although limited. Even with this limitation, he was supposed to be superior to others, and was assigned some official tasks during the war time which avoided the risk of being deployed to the front.

In spite of a moderate income,  my father always stressed on educating children in good schools. Although our family was based on a village, my father settled in the town only to provide us good education with additional tuition in English.  So far as I remember, he was the first person in our town to arrange tuition in English from the primary level. It was during this time that I met my most favorite teacher of English, Balkrishna Shrama, who inspired me to learn. He was a noble teacher with amazing skills of delivering spellbinding lectures. With his guidance, I experienced the joy of learning new words in English and writing them nicely in four-lined papers.  Since then, I started learning English spontaneously.

I realized the real importance of knowing English when I joined I. Sc. in Amrit Science Campus in 1989. All our subjects were taught in English. Had I been poor in English, I would have certainly been discouraged from studying science.  The knowledge of English helped me in learning the major subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. I had a huge advantage over my classmates with a weaker background of English. Meanwhile, some of our teachers had just returned from US with terribly twisted tongue, and many of our friends who were from remote areas of Nepal got frustrated with the US-style pronunciation. Students who had their schooling in English medium had no difficulty in grasping the lectures in the major subjects.

Well, these were some of my recollections about my background in the English language. Let me discuss a little about the importance of the use of English in the field of science.

In 1931 Vladimir N. Ipatieff, a Russian-American chemist, had begun to take lessons in English at the age of sixty-four. He was already a well-known scientist but had to learn English in that age in order to continue his research in the USA. He probably was under the influence of the “publish or perish” dictum so common in the field of research. But his story simply highlights the necessity of knowing a language of wide international readership in order to popularize researches in science.

Michael Faraday said that any researcher has to follow three major steps: “work, analyze and publish.” All the three parts are equally important. However, the importance of the language appears in the third part — publishing. The real output of any scientific research is measured by its impact, hence the level of international journals is determined by their impact factor. How many people cited our papers is more important than how many papers we wrote. To make our papers accessible to a large number of readers, we have to publish our results in a language understood by a large population.  Thus one has to publish his/her findings in English.

Most of the world’s leading scientific journals are published in English. It has been reported that researchers from non-English speaking countries have to spend a significant portion of their time in getting their reports and research papers translated/written in English. This obviously steals their precious time from laboratory work. For example, in Japan English is becoming the language of basic science resulting in the gradual disappearance of  publications in Japanese. RIKEN, one of Japan’s most comprehensive groups of research facilities, has claimed that its scientists published about 2000 original reports in English in 2005, but only 174 in Japanese. One report shows that editing companies in Japan charge researchers $ 500 to $ 800 per manuscript. Language training can cost $2000 for a ten-week course. These costs are additional burdens and slow down scientific activities in laboratory.

In fact, this should not have been the period for spending so much time for writing the paper alone. Had their schooling been in English, as that of ours, the researchers could have devoted more time for their experiments than exercising for language. In this respect, we should feel fortunate; we learned basic sciences in English medium at school and the university. In several international conferences and seminars, I have observed the difficulty faced by scientists from the countries which are quite developed in science and technology but are non-native English users. In spite of their good research results, they are sometimes nervous during presentations due to the difficulty in expressing their ideas clearly in English.  On the other hand, researchers who studied their courses in English are more confident in presentations even if the merit of their research work is not of high standard.

Another case where proficiency in English plays a vital role is in the preparation of research grants proposals. Even a promising project proposal may be rejected because of the lack of logical reasoning. It may be argued why a researcher should worry about English when one can easily consult with professional editors to prepare a proposal. But the fact is that professional editors may not know the technical ideas of the project, and that sometimes this joint venture may lead to negative results. Considering the growing need of disseminating research results to a wider population, many Asian and European countries, which used to teach science courses in their own native languages, are gradually adopting English as the language of science.

Summing up, today no discipline can function in isolation. Since a large number of interdisciplinary subjects like environmental science, biotechnology, biomedical engineering, engineering physics etc. are emerging, people of different areas of expertise have to work together. Professionals from different disciplines find English quite comfortable to communicate among themselves. Also, professionals in the discipline of English language must also constantly update themselves because the world is changing rapidly due to the advancement in science and technology.  For the survival in this competitive and rapidly advancing world, everyone has to be able to grasp the new challenges and opportunities. Due to the latest advancement in information technology, specially with the introduction of internet services and cellular phones, the world has become like a village. Whoever gets the latest information at the earliest will come ahead and those who miss will certainly lag behind. In which language this communication is being made in a broad scale? Of course, English.

[Courtesy: May 2010]



On Intellectual Disuse

– Hem Raj Kafle

Some of our undergraduates show remarkable philosophical leaning when they are allowed to discuss life. The discussion sometimes involves such meaningful questions, directed to the teacher: “When do you think an academic will go out of use? Can a person remain spirited forever? Isn’t there the possibility of one’s sudden disappearance because more vibrant persons come to displace/replace?”

These questions must make a high-spirited person hold his breath for some time to envision his own future, with a feeling of slight pinch to his current usability. He should rather start with this thesis: “When I degenerate, I will disappear. To exist I should know the tricks of scooping butter with a crooked finger.” Well, it is tricky to try to find the number of such thinkers.  My assumption is that there are many under our noses. To mention some universal symptoms of atrophying is my purpose here.

I think the first striking symptom is the reluctance to being receptive. This is when a person begins to set limits to learning and teaching, which is to say, he develops a sustained sense of fullness and saturation to the extent of intolerance towards productive criticism, and displeasure for the emergence of competent young successors.  The second symptom is the fear of failure and bitterness. One’s intellectual erosion begins with the urge to avoid challenges when one has accumulated absurd experiences so much into believing that the world conspires against good people and life itself is deceptive.  But one who fears challenges will hardly teach others the remedies against hardships. And one who always falls probably fails to tell others how to rise permanently.

Perhaps the most remarkable symptom of erosion comes with the feeling of surrender when there still is a chance to confront for a good cause. I believe each learned person should develop the quality of leadership with minimum sense of positive dominance over ignorance. Someone has rightly said, “When my father stopped shouting at me, he lost his world” meaning that a powerful, competent hand is always welcome in guiding a productive individual.  Let alone sharing personal experiences, when a more matured generation begins to fear or lose control over less matured generation even in necessary cases, the channels for transmitting established socio-cultural values will gradually disappear. Each generation should develop as much the power of dominance and guidance as the readiness for reception and expansion of knowledge and values.

The old practically do not avoid being sociable and sharing experiences, but if they do, they will only contribute to backwardness or possible stagnation.  One who has lived an individualistic life, cut off from empathetic relatives during life’s most receiving phase, would finally regret saying, “I wish I could relive my elders’ lives in a new context. If only I had ever asked them how hard it was to live their times.”

People once venerated might go out of use when they literally begin to show signs of disappearance from the mainstream. Appearance is not the matter of age but of intellectual energy. Neither does it have anything to do with the matter of physical presence but of leaving a legacy.  Those who resign from the desire to become heritage allow others to lose sight of them. Visibility remains so long as others see you in terms of social presence and achievements.

An intellectual invites his own disappearance when he only revels in the past achievements but does not add any at present while competitors have already achieved newer heights. Successful people are usually narcissistic to the extent of gradual exclusion from the majority.  But they can save themselves from disappearing by transferring their achievements to upcoming generation of competitors. If human beings had the rigidity of keeping all their skills and subsequent achievements to themselves, and if they had inability to learn these from others, all of us would still be living primitively.

The power to command respect is an important quality to check early atrophying.  The respect should come with being able to become a convergence point for the majority in matters of leadership and knowledge. I believe a leader or a knowledgeable person has to be useful in the local level. Some competent people are out of use for their craze for telescopic usability, which means the ambition for a higher level, probably international, exposure without sufficient commitment to their lived surroundings.

Finally, I would exemplify three kinds of people who would rise in momentary limelight, but gradually fade away because of certain hamartia. The first type plants a tree, works hard till it grows and bears fruits, but finally, reveling on the fruits and gentle breeze atop, becomes too lazy to pluck weeds and shun insects. He rather expects someone to attend the tree merely for the sake of shade and wind-blown fruits.

Someone recently told me of a second type in an interesting metaphor about the relationship between legs and the chest. He said, “The legs move and hold the body, but the chest receives the medal.” I think, this hints at the Shakespearean sense of “bubble reputation” that someone in a leadership enjoys till the subordinates agree to work hard for him. When the legs choose not to move, perhaps because the chest cannot sustain the glory of the medals or aims to climb too high to notice the pains below, the “bubbles” begin to burst into oblivion. The chest will begin to pant in helplessness.

A third type presents a somehow oxymoronic appearance. He boasts of having got very wide eyes after having “borne a thousand blows of life,” but the vision is too clear ahead to miss seeing the filth under his feet. The filth ultimately travels to his kitchen, bedroom and worship. This happens repeatedly. He is busy cleaning the filth indoors, and ultimately becomes invisible.

Dealing with the Thinking

– Hem Raj Kafle

In teaching spontaneity has a greater power than planned outpourings though planning is fundamental to traditional theories of teaching. Spontaneity brings out original thoughts. It corresponds with the need of the circumstances, and creates the most suitable statements to the mood of the audience. No doubt, planning is useful. But it depends. Is what we deliver a set of PowerPoint slides prepared ages ago, and printed, photocopied and handed to the dear pupils in each session for their exam-time convenience? Or is it a formal lesson plan designed for a specific class situation, which the teacher updates every session, and which helps augment students’ learning through self-study, reflection, internalization and reconstruction?

I usually do not work with readymade handouts; I only reflect on and take notes of what I might say in the class, to compel myself to deliver the best from the internalized knowledge. My initial classes are filled with guidelines, not necessarily in the form of setting rules for students. I say that certain rules, like giving regular classes, making students regular and conducting tests are my works, but my being a leader automatically draws students towards them. I say I would not repeatedly remind them of the rules because I consider the students mature enough to understand the right ways; they should know that by making them work I am adding to my own stock of responsibilities.

I think the best thing I tell them is that a human being is a thinking and feeling creature and therefore has to save herself from being a machine. Life is less formula than feelings though formulas help shape a section of our professional future. Our lives are also guided largely by the works of others, or say, the thoughts of others. This sets for us the requirement to be associated with people who think and create ideas. Teachers seek this association in other teachers, and also with students. Students have teachers and their class fellows to fulfill this need.

I do not forget to explain the rationale of prescribing the contents of the courses. Every theme has a purpose, way beyond a compulsion to study and take exams. My first lecture explains why we teach a story in place of the other, how one text relates with the other and with the lives of the readers as well. Moreover, I make it a point to show what one gets to learn from certain writers and texts. I work in full adherence to V.S. Ramachandran’s warnings: “Did you enjoy doing what you did?” and “Did it really make an impact?” To me joy  is what I feel from being able to make students realize the value of learning. And the impact need not always be outward, directed to changing our surroundings. It is equally important to experience some kind of transformation in ourselves. Any academic, creative task we do in a university should have the quality of giving direction to at least a few people including ourselves.

My classes teach me to teach better.  I  like to treat every new student as a mysterious stock of knowledge, sentiments and challenges. If you take her as a mere creature, you will not see her beyond a semester. If you take her as a thinking and feeling being, stop for a while to meditate on the potentials she bears. This is why I love to share the fancy of being old and mature and useful so that the students might fancy identifying with this vision of being old and mature and useful. This is called making people think beyond rules and formulas. My contribution in this sense lies in instilling, and sometimes reviving, this humane sense out of the monotony and rush for driving towards dreams and fulfillments.

This is why the readymade slides and handouts work  only little with me. I do not either regret for not having any of them because I do not identify my success as a teacher with the sight of students breathlessly cramming slides and handouts few minutes before the examination bell. My satisfaction rather lies in those contented faces, which head smugly in and out of classrooms and exam halls  on all seasons. I have all reasons to be happy for this notoriety of discouraging mechanical learning.



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