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: http://neltachoutari.wordpress.com May 2010]



ईन्जिनियरिङ्गको अड्कल र साहित्यको कल्पना

– नवराज खतिवडा

ईन्जिनियरिङग विषय लिई चार वर्षे स्नातक तहको अध्ययन गर्ने प्रथम वर्षका विद्यार्थीलाई आन्तरिक परीक्षामा मैले सोधेको एक प्रश्न यस्तो थियो ।

“ तिम्रो टाउको जत्रो ढुंगाको तौल अन्दाजी कति होला ?“

विद्यार्थीहरुले यो प्रश्नको उत्तर विभिन्न किसिमले दिए । टाउको जत्रो ढुँगाको तौल १-२ किलोग्रामदेखि २५-३० किलोग्रामसम्म हुन सक्ने उनीहरुको अनुमान थियो । कसैले त त्यो उत्तर कसरी आयो भनेर हिसाब समेत गरेका थिए । त्यस मध्ये एकजना उत्तरदाताले प्रस्तुत गरेको तर्कले मेरो ध्यानाकर्षण गर्‍यो । त्यो तर्कमा गहनता मात्र थिएन, त्यहाँ अडकलसँग जोडिएको रोचक अन्तरवस्तु समेत थियो । त्यही तर्कलाई केन्द्रविन्दुमा राखेर यो लेखको रचना समेत भयो ।

“टाउको र भकुण्डोको आयतन लगभग बराबर हुन्छ । अन्तर्राष्‍ट्रिय मान्यताको भकुण्डोको व्यास २० सेन्टिमीटर जति हुन्छ । सुत्र प्रयोग गर्दा यत्रो गोलो वस्तुको आयतन ५ लिटर जति निस्कन्छ । एक लिटर पानीको तौल एक किलोग्राम हुने र पानीभन्दा ढुँगा दुई गुणा जति गह्रौँ हुने भएकोले टाउको जत्रो ढुँगाको तौल १० किलोग्रामको आसपासमा हुन्छ।“

यसरी खोजमूलक र सही उत्तर लेख्ने ती विद्यार्थीलाई मैले उत्कृष्ट अंक दिँए । उत्तर पुस्तिकामा “अति राम्रो” भनेर स्यावासी समेत लेखेँ । यो रोचक उत्तरको प्रसँग एक दुई जना समकक्षी साथीहरुलाई पनि सुनाएँ । उनीहरुले पनि “सिर्जनात्मक उत्तर” भन्ने प्रतिकृया दिए । ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग विषयको मूलाधार भनेको विज्ञान नै हो । चार वर्षे स्नातक तहको अध्ययनमा पहिलो दुई वर्ष त धेरै जसो भौतिक शास्त्र, रसायन शास्त्र र गणित कै पढाइ हुन्छ । यसकारण विद्यार्थीको उत्तर यथार्थको नजिक भएता पनि त्यस तर्कमा विज्ञानकै अँश अधिक हुनु अस्वभाविक थिएन । त्यही सेमेष्टरका विद्यार्थीको एक कक्षामा केही हप्ता अघि विज्ञान र ईन्जिनियरिङ्गको फरक बुझाउनका लागि मैले एउटा रित्तो कपको प्रयोग गरेको थिँए । मैले रित्तो कप उनीहरुलाई देखाएर सोधेको थिएँ ।

“यो कप भरि छ कि खाली ? ”

आश्चर्य भयो ! उनीहरुको मत बाझियो । आधा जतिले त्यसमा हावा भएकाले “भरी” भनेका थिए । “खाली” भन्नेहरुले कपको काम तरल पदार्थ बोक्ने भएकाले हावाले भरिनुको कुनै अर्थ नभएको भन्ने जवाफ दिएका थिए । वैज्ञानिक हिसाबमा हावाले भरिनुको अर्थ भएता पनि व्यवहारिक हिसावमा थिएन । यसकारण उही तथ्यलाई विज्ञान र ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग वा अर्थशास्त्रले फरक फरक तरिकाले परिभाषित गर्न सक्छन भनेर विद्यार्थीलाई बुझाउन कपको उदाहरण सफल भएको थियो । आफ्नो अघि आईलागेको प्राविधिक समस्यालाई चिर्ने कार्यको प्रस्थान विन्दु हुन्छ- त्यस समस्याको आकार अनुमान । आकार अनुमान गर्नको लागि समस्यासँग जोडिएको भौतिक स्वरुपको मापन गर्नु पर्ने हुन्छ । उदाहरणको लागि पहाडको उचाइ, नदीको वहाव या कुनै पाईपको मोटाइ नै अन्दाज गर्ने कुरालाई लिन सकिन्छ । यसकारण एउटा ईन्जिनियरले फित्ताले ननापी वा तराजुमा नजोखी वा कुनै हिसाब नगरिकन वस्तुको आकार या तौल अनुमान गर्न सक्नुपर्छ । विद्यार्थी जीवनमा जसले यो काम निमेषभरमा नै गर्न सक्ने दक्षता हासिल गर्छ त्यसको “अन्दाज कौशलता” विशिष्ट हुन सक्छ । यही चुरोको सेरोफेरोमा मेरो मनमा एक गहन प्रश्न उब्जियो । भकुण्डोको आयतनसँग तुलना गरी पानीको घनत्वको तथ्यलाई प्रयोग गरी ढुँगोको तौल अन्दाज गर्ने तरिका वैज्ञानिक त अवश्य भयो तर के यो व्यावहारिक पनि भयो त ?  म चिन्तनको दायरालाई फराकिलो पार्न थाल्छु । विद्यार्थीहरुले समस्या समाधानका अरु तरिकाको पनि कल्पना गरेका थिए । केहीले आफ्नो शरिरको वजनको आधारमा टाउकोको तौल अनुमान गरेका थिए । केहीले ईँटा, फर्सी या तरबुजाको तौलसँग तुलना गरी ढुँगाको तौल अन्दाज गरेका थिए ।

दिइएको परिस्थितिमा वा समस्या सिर्जिएको स्थानको वरिपरि साधन र श्रोतको उपलब्धता सिमित हुनसक्छ । कतिपय अवस्थामा हातमा फित्ता वा साथमा क्यालकुलेटर समेत नहुन सक्छ । फेरि अरुले सामान्य दिमागमात्र प्रयोग गरी दिन सक्ने समाधानमा आफूले स्केल या क्यालकुलेटर खोज्दा हाँस्यपात्र पनि बन्न सकिन्छ । यस्तो बेला तन्काउन मिल्ने वा थप्दै जान सकिने वा एउटा धारको सट्टामा अर्को फेर्न सकिने भनेको चिन्तन वा कल्पना नै हो । समस्या सानै भएपनि त्यसलाई चिर्न ज्ञानको अथाह भण्डार प्रयोग गर्न सकिन्छ । विभिन्न तरिकाले सोच्न सकिन्छ । यसकारण कुनै समस्यालाई पर्गेल्नका लागि कत्रो फैलावाट भएको वा कति गहन कल्पना शक्ति खर्च गर्ने भन्ने सवाल महत्वपूर्ण हुन आउँछ ।

ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग विधामा त कल्पना शक्तिको नै विशिष्ट स्थान छ । सामान्य अन्दाज गर्ने देखि लिएर वृहत संरचना समेतको नक्शा वा नमूना कल्पनाशक्तिले नै बन्छ । जसरी वास्तविक अनुहार क्यामेराले खिचेको तस्विरमा हुबहु बनेर निस्कन्छ, त्यसरी नै कागजमा कोरिएको नक्शा निर्माण पश्चात वास्तविक संरचनामा परिणत  हुन्छ । यसकारण केको आधारमा कल्पना गर्ने ? कुन विधि अपनाउने ? उत्तर कसरी पस्कने ? अर्थात् विद्यार्थीको कल्पना वा पूर्वानुमान गर्ने क्षमता कसरी अभिवृद्धि गर्ने ? स्वभाविक प्रश्नहरु उब्जिएका छन् ।

महाकवि लक्ष्मीप्रसाद देवकोटाले कल्पना शीर्षकको निबन्धमा लेखेका छन् – ……उस (कल्पना) लाई वस्तुको उपस्थितिको जरुरतै छैन, स्मृतिपटमा परेको छाया जगाएर ऊ अनुपस्थित वस्तुहरुको सूक्ष्म स्वरुप सत्यप्रदर्शन गर्दछ । ………..हामी कल्पनाद्वारा आँखा चिम्ली चिम्ली वाह्य संसारका वस्तु र तिनका सम्बन्धहरु भेट्टाउन सक्छौँ  ।………..

यसरी साहित्यको कल्पना र ईन्जिनियरिङ्गको अडकलबाजीमा समानता पाइन्छ । महाकविले लेखे जस्तै आफ्नो अघि अनुपस्थित वस्तुहरुको लम्बाइ, चौडाइ, उचाइ वा गोलाइको अनुमान गर्ने सिलसिलामा सर्वप्रथम मष्तिष्कले त्यो वस्तुको छायाँको परिकल्पना गर्दछ । समस्या त्यसबेला सिर्जना हुन्छ जव मष्तिष्कले वस्तुको छायाँको कल्पना गर्न सक्दैन । किनभने त्यहाँ तिखो दृष्टि नहुन सक्छ । या कल्पना गर्नेले कुनै आधारशिला नै फेला पार्दैन । बोधो दृष्टिकोणले निशाना लाग्दैन । सही अडकल आउँदैन । त्यसकारण बोधो दृष्टिलाई तिक्ष्ण बनाउने अर्थात् आफ्नो अडकलवाजी लाई सत्यताको नजिक पुर्‍यउने कौशलता सिर्जना गर्नु विशेषगरी ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग पढ्ने विद्यार्थीका लागि अपरिहार्य हुन आँउछ ।

केही समय अघि मेरा एक मित्रको कारमा हामी धुलिखेलबाट काठमाण्डौँतिर गइरहेका थियौ । केही समय अघि देखि परेको घनघोर पानी अझै थामिएको थिएन । हामी अकस्मात रोकियौँ । हाम्रो अघि लगभग १०० मिटर जति सडकमा फैलिएको पानीको दह थियो । ठूला गाडी त पाङ्ग्रा अग्लो भएको कारणले पानी मिचेर पास भएका थिए । तर हामीले आँट गरेनौँ । मैले वायाँतिर एक लेनको सडकलाई आफ्नो बाटो बनाएर उर्ली उर्ली बगेको पानीलाई नियालेँ । लगभग घुँडा-घुँडा आउने पानी थियो । मैले सडकको चौडाइ, पानीको औसत गहिराइ र भेलको गति अन्दाज गरी जल प्रवाहको परिमाण अनुमान गरेँ । यस विषयमा मेरा मित्रको पनि विचार जान्ने ईच्छा भयो र वहाँलाई सोधेँ ।

“ यो पानीको वहाव कति होला ? “

वहाँले वडो सामान्य र सहज हिसावमा उत्तर दिनु भयो ।

“मेरो विचारमा १.५ देखि ३ घनमिटर प्रति सेकेण्डको वीचमा हुनुपर्छ ।”

म दङ्गदास परेँ । यसका दुई कारण थिए । पहिलो: मेरो अनुमान वहाँको उत्तरसँग ठ्याक्कै मिलेको थियो । दोस्रो: वहाँको सपाट उत्तरमा जुन ओज र आत्मविश्वास थियो त्यो स्मरणीय र अतुलनीय थियो । वहाँले त्यो उत्तर दिँदा कत्तिवेर पनि नअलमलिईकन दिनु भएको थियो । मैले अर्थशास्त्रमा नोबेल पुरस्कार जित्ने अध्येता डेनियल कानेम्यानले लेखेको “थिङ्कीङ्ग फास्ट एण्ड स्लो” भन्ने पुस्तकको प्रसँग सम्झिएँ । पुस्तकमा उनले कुनै आकस्मिक परिस्थितिमा हामी कसरी विचार गर्दछौ भन्ने कुराको विश्लेषण गरेका छन् । डेनियलले परिस्थिति र सोच्ने व्यक्तिको क्षमता अनुरुप दुईवटा सोच-प्रणालीले काम गर्ने उल्लेख गरेका छन् । प्रणाली-१ ले कुनै पनि प्रश्नको सपाट जवाफ निमेषभरमा नै दिन सक्छ । तर कठिन सवाल (जस्तै: १७ × २४) को सही जवाफ दिनका लागि प्रणाली-२ को जरुरी पर्दछ । मलाई भलपानीको वहावलाई आँकलन गर्न केही वेर लागेको थियो तर मेरा मित्रले शायद प्रणाली-१ प्रयोग गरेर सपाट उत्तर दिएका थिए । मष्तिष्कले प्रणाली-२ को प्रयोग विशेष अवस्थामा मात्र गर्दछ । यसको निचोड निस्कियो — मित्रको बगेको पानीसँग सम्बन्धित अनुभव यथेष्ट छ ।

टाउको वरावरको ढुँगाको तौल आँकलन गर्दा मष्तिष्कले आयतन मात्र मिल्ने भकुण्डो स्मरण गर्छ कि तौल र आयतन दुवै मिल्ने फर्सी या तरबुजा स्मरण गर्छ त ? यो कुरा समस्यालाई मष्तिष्कले कसरी आफूले जानेको प्रसँग या अनुभुतिसँग तुलना गर्दछ भन्ने कुरामा भर पर्दछ । अर्कोतर्फ फुटबल खेलको अनुभव अधिक भएको तर फर्सी कहिले पनि नतौलेको व्यक्ति भए उस्को ध्यान फुटबलतिर जानु  स्वभाविक नै हो । अर्थात् देवकोटाले उल्लेख गरे जस्तो प्रश्न ‘मष्तिष्कले कल्पना गर्ने छायाँको स्वरुप र आकार कस्तो हुन्छ भन्ने” हो ।  यसकारण ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग विधामा कुनै समस्यालाई सपाट र सही उत्तर दिनका लागि त्यो समस्यासँग मिल्ने पृष्ठभूमि या प्रसंग निमेषभरमा नै जोड्न सक्नु पर्छ । डेनियलको विश्लेषण अनुसार कहिलेकाहीँ मष्तिष्कले गलत वा अप्रासंगिक उत्तर पनि दिनसक्छ । यसका मुख्यतया तीन कारण हुन्छन् । पहिलो: पृष्ठभूमि या आधारभूत दायरालाई महत्व नदिई प्रश्नलाई अति हलुका तवरमा लिनु । दोस्रो: उत्तर प्राप्त गर्न अल्छि गर्नु । र तेश्रो उत्तरलाई पन्छाउनु या प्रश्न नै गलत छ भन्नेतिर मन लैजानु । विद्यार्थीहरुले उत्तर लेख्न नसक्नु वा गलत उत्तर दिनुको मूल कारक यिनै हुन् । तर सही अन्दाज या पूर्वानुमान गर्नका लागि उपलब्ध विकल्पहरुलाई कुनै नजिरसँग या आधारसँग तुलना गर्न जरुरी छ । आफ्नो अन्तस्करणमा उत्पन्न भएको अड्कललाई पाए सम्मका तथ्यहरुले प्रमाणित गर्नु पनि जरुरी हुन आउँछ ।

दक्ष ईन्जिनियर बन्नका लागि पहिलो शर्त हुन्छ- कुनै परिमाणको व्यावहारिक वा अर्थपूर्ण अन्दाज गर्न सक्नु । विद्यार्थीहरुको पूर्वानुमान गर्ने क्षमता अभिवृद्धि गर्दा सिर्जना भएका यी प्रसंगहरुले हाम्रो शिक्षा प्रणालीमा कस्ता कस्ता अनुमान गर्ने तौर तरिका सिकाउने गरिएको छ र त्यसको व्यवहारिक उपयोग कस्तो रहेको छ भन्ने विषयहरुको उठान गरेका छन् । आशा गरौँ यस विषयमा विद्वत वर्गको थप ध्यानाकर्षण हुनेछ ।

[साभार: http://nawarajkhatiwada.blogspot.com/]

Dancing in the Rice Paddies

Ananda Kafle

Like in the past, this year too, National Paddy Day was celebrated on June 29. Party leaders, government officials, journalists, celebrities and common people went to rural farms, smeared mud on their clothes, brandished spades, held aloft bunches of paddy seedlings and smiled widely for the camera. Moreover, some of them even played music, danced and had a sort of a party. Rice transplantation photographs received much space in newspapers and on television. Some of these celebrators are trying to mimic traditional rice planting practices. In reality, things have changed. The interest of people towards rice cultivation itself has decreased. Shortages of fertilisers and good quality seeds, lack of irrigation facilities, the labour intensive nature of rice farming and meager productivity are some factors that have discouraged peasants from continuing this occupation. Shortage of labour is another hurdle. Nepal’s villages are being evacuated of youths. Instead of being engaged in low-paying seasonal employment, many have chosen to move abroad. Their dependents in the country are either physically unable to work in the fields or prefer to live on remittance rather than do tedious peasantry. Until a few decades ago, the domestic production of rice used to be sufficient for the country’s food needs. Now, a large portion of the demand is being fulfilled by imported grain. Flat lands in the Tarai, regarded as the grain basket of the country, frequently turn barren due to inadequate rain and other adversities. Lack of awareness on the proper use of chemical fertilisers has led to degraded productivity of the soil, which has further increased the need for chemical supplements. Invading insects and weeds have developed resistance due to excessive use of insecticides, and this has made the crops more vulnerable to diseases. Waters from big rivers like the Koshi are drained directly to India across farmlands in the bordering Tarai. Unfair treaties prevent Nepali farmers from irrigating their fields with this water. In some districts, several hectares of cultivable fields have been submerged and made unfit for farming due to embankments and riverbed structures constructed by the southern neighbour. Despite many big rivers flowing through irrigable landscapes in the Tarai, peasants are compelled to wait for the rains to plough their fields. Marking National Paddy Day is not enough to encourage farmers to produce more rice. If the government was concerned about the issue in a real sense, the issues stated above need attention. Farmers should be given greater respect so that more youths are motivated to join them. Otherwise, such celebrations will not bring any change other than providing elites with an opportunity to show off their farming hobby.

(Earlier published in The Kathmandu Post, 9 July  2014)

Being a Teacher

– Hem Raj Kafle

Some school children might wonder, “How do teachers know so many things? Why are they smarter than many other people? Why do people generally not speak ill about them?” The answer in growing up. They know that teachers have spent certain years learning, and imparting that learning. They have learnt from more qualified persons and qualitative sources. They command respect for being responsible, and thus people do not generally speak ill about them.

The opportunity to teach is reward. The realization of being rewarded starts with the belief of being in good company of students and colleagues who signify the piety of creating, transmitting, expanding and sustaining the mission of culturing the society as whole. The teacher is torchbearer, who always helps fellow beings to explore their lives’ directions and to widen their intellectual horizon.

There are productive challenges in being teacher. First, you can’t afford the lazy. A simple rule in teaching is you have to know more than what you can tell in classroom. For this you must continuously know. A competent teacher makes every teaching a new teaching, and every day a different day. And a teacher must be more dynamic and knowledgeable than students. Students adore teachers who are intelligent and active, in the same extent as teachers would love to teach intelligent and active students. Such expectation of reciprocation and mutual respect forms the first necessary classroom infrastructure. Second, you can’t be dishonest. Dishonesty does not go with real teaching. Dishonest persons, in fact, are unfit in every profession that involves welfare and service to people in large number and multiple generations. Even if honesty may not pay at once in teaching, it certainly gives the satisfaction of being a part of a virtuous growth of knowledge and wisdom, which expand as they transfer, and transfer as they expand.

In teaching there is always a chance to know people and be known. Knowing people helps you increase the number of friends. Adding the number of acquaintances is a good source of knowledge, and partly, of emotional security. And this does not happen just once, but over the years. The piety of the profession itself suffices to keep you honest and invulnerable to corruption. Teachers are expected to act as role models both in knowledge and conduct. They are ethically conditioned to continuously update and polish themselves. This keeps them good, and goodness is not without returns, let alone the joy of seeing successes and growths.

Teaching may not ensure material prosperity. Sometimes, think of switching the profession for rapid social or financial uplift. But everyday necessities and the desire for quick fame not suffice make you disapprove the grandeur of teaching. The fact that teachers are until humans stop learning make your presence indispensible and your profession respectable.

 [Published in Educational Frontier]

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Five Books That ‘Changed’ My Life

– Hem Raj Kafle

‘Change’ is not my word in the title above, but I agree to use it. Do books change our lives? Someone said it is the reader who has the potential to change; the book only triggers that potential. And one who does not have that potential does not respond to the trigger. I agree to this, too.

But I am not here to present a thorough appreciation of ‘five classics’. Not that I avoid reading classics, but I am willing to write about those books that have told me their actual worth.  Each of the five books came to me almost ‘out of nowhere’ and left a lasting message. Not that any of them should ever satisfy your intellectual need if you someday decide to read.  I write here simply because I have deemed them contributory to my own growth as a teacher. An English teacher.

I was delighted when NELTA  Choutari Team asked me to write on five books that ‘changed’ my life. I decided to speak up: I have already read a book with the same title and loved it so much. It is The Book That Changed My Life (2006) by Roxanne J Coady and Joy Johannessen. A book about books, and about how books change one’s life – I had loved this idea long ago. The Book indeed was a reward, such as Coady herself would like to regard as a gift “from heaven”.

01. The Book That Changed My Life

I bought it in the summer of 2008 at Books and Books, Coral Gables, Florida, only as a memento of my US visit. And, because it was a casual pick, my interest in it turned into epiphany as I read through the short essays inside. This was an opportunity to peek into seventy one writers’ celebration of “the books that matter most to them.” These seventy one people gave credit to certain books and their writers as their life’s important change agents. So, the writers’ appreciation of their favourites helped confirm that none of my previous and recent cravings for ‘good books’ were without meaning.  Anyone, even you, will subscribe to Coady’s prefatory justification for publishing this book, so will I.

Reading is a way to live more lives, to experience more worlds, to meet people we care about and want to know more about, to understand others and develop a compassion for what they confront and endure. It is a way to learn how to knit or build a house or solve an equation, a way to be moved to laughter and wonder and to learn how to live.

One book that has made great sense to me as a teacher of English is The Elements of Style, the tiny work of William Strunk Jr. and E. B White. You may wonder why such commonplace as ‘elements of style’ would strike anyone who boasts of degrees in English and years of teaching in a reputed University’s central department. But I realized, after having gone through the authors’ terse admonitions against verbosity and carelessness, that degrees and years of teaching do not make one a writer and a teacher of effective communication. The actual prerequisite of being a writer is not only the mastery in grammar and vocabulary, but craftsmanship in stylistic and rhetorical choices.

02. Elements of Style

The Elements offers an extremely concise treatment on style. I have nurtured the following assertion more than anything in life and, of course, for writing in Nepali as well:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Strunk and White made me aware of the beauty of brevity in writing. Then Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark, a writing instructor at Poynter Institute, Florida, helped polish this awareness. The “50 essential strategies,” more as rich illustrations of good and bad samples from various established sources than commonplace imperatives, have best corresponded with my zeal for learning rhetorical styles.  Clark taught me writing as an artful yet serious activity and knowledge of grammar a means to shape the artistry of expression.

Assuming the role of a highly active, playful teacher along the “strategies,” Clark encourages every aspiring and established writer to become an entertainer, a performer. He likes to take writing for carpentry, and then has this to say: “You can borrow a writing tool at any time. And here’s a secret: Unlike hammers, chisels, and rakes, writing tools never have to be returned. They can be cleaned, sharpened, and passed on.”

03. Writing Tools

Clark’s metaphors of gold coins, ladder of abstraction, internal cliffhangers, X-ray reading etc. will surely tickle one’s sense of sufficiency as a writer and editor. Initially, he makes you skeptic about every sentence you write yourself and read from others. As you move on, because Clark will not allow you to drop midway, you become a better writer, better reader, better editor. Clark follows you directly into your profession. He is with me – in lectures, in instructions, in formal presentations – and now as I write these lines.

I got Wayne Booth’s famous book The Rhetoric of Rhetoric at a time I was trying to get clear knack on rhetoric in scholarly, philosophical and practical terms.  Booth proved a rescuer, and a guide to the fact that rhetoric is a vastly developed academic discipline way beyond its everyday currency as a signifier of a cheap lie or a political bombast.

Booth observes rhetoric’s relevance as much in persuasive communication and study of such communication as in the resolution of conflicts, teaching of science and general upbringing of people. Of special value to me has been his idea of “rhetorology” defined as a “deepest form of listening rhetoric: the systematic probing for ‘common ground’”, which in other words involves a practice of paying attention to opponent views during a conflict situation.

04. The Rhetoric of Rheotric

Booth emphasizes that rhetoric is simply the way we think and communicate in the process of creating a better life, and eliminating slippery situations. So, I believe, after Booth, that “the quality of our lives, moment by moment, depends on the quality of our rhetoric.” Isn’t it then even more appropriate to say that the kind of political system and social structure we see/experience “depends on the rhetoric of our leaders and our responses to them”?  Booth is equally true in his belief that “our children’s future depends on how they are taught rhetoric.” That is, by us.

Literature, Science and a New Humanities by Jonathan Gottschall is one of my recent readings. It has made much sense in my decision to work across humanities and other disciplines in Kathmandu University. It has reshaped my understanding of the common tension of where humanities needed proper overhaul.

Gottschall makes readers aware of three main fault lines of the current humanities scholarship. The first includes the excessive use of jargons and “theories of human nature that are defunct.” The second is a methodological problem involving the impossibility of getting tangible evidences unlike in science because the “theory-generated hypotheses” in humanities are not “closer to truth.” The third problem involves attitudinal dilemmas where the dismissal of the “possibility of generating reliable knowledge” is critical among humanities scholars.

Reading Gottschall coincides with two very important contexts of my academic life. The first involves a larger concern of the humanities ‘fraternity’, to which I belong. This is the concern for the visible decline of interest and intake in certain traditional university programmes like geography, history, political science, psychology and philosophy. That some people still desired to study English literature or journalism is nothing of a solace to a career-ambitious young man in that it is gradually subjected to preparing ‘service’ writers or higher-secondary teachers. Personally, working in an institution heavily focused to profession-specific academic programmes in science and engineering, I have always felt the need of reconfiguring my disciplinary orientation to more goal- or job-centric terrains. The second context has to do with the recent shift in my disciplinary priorities. I moved from where I liked to work (social sciences) to where I loved to belong and contribute (humanities and sciences). The move has also added a challenge of helping to interface the mutually complementary facets of communication, teaching, management, entrepreneurship, and economics in the promotion of engineering and science education.

05. Literature, Science and a New Humanities

I feel now that Gottschall’s book endorses my decision to work across these terrains. It lends adequate confidence in the goal “to establish a  new  humanities  on  surer  foundations.” The foundations would then take more conciliatory yet “diverse and sophisticated methodological toolkit, and the pursuit of disinterested inquiry.” I have subscribed to Gottschall’s “call to move closer to the sciences in theory, method, and ethos.” I have accepted this mandatory, though difficult, challenge to “participate more fully in revealing the ultimate subject of the humanities: humans.” To this my life is directed with tenacity. To reiterate, I have set conciliatory, empathetic performance in scholarship to be the main motto of my further scholarly priorities.

Finally, books do not respond to the extent of leading to change unless you approach them with love and passion. Love for books comes with birth.  This love becomes passion when books become a part of your upbringing. Books shape our thoughts which shape our actions. Thoughtful actions are change agents. A book’s contribution to change lies here. With this belief I seek to read good books, more and more.

Lost Tradition of Mining

– Ananda Kafle

Nepal’s wealth of water, forest and mineral resources has been a popular local slogan. The issues of their proper exploitation remain notable instruments for election campaigns of some prominent political parties. Politicians have in their minds that if these resources are exploited extensively, the economy of the country can be rapidly developed.  Without talking much about the practical feasibility of utilizing these resources in economical and technical grounds, many are fond of exaggerating their potentials.

During the last centuries, whole quantity of iron and copper used in Nepal were from indigenous production. The metals produced here by traditional smelting were exported to Tibet. The Department of Mineralogy data reveal that there are at least 85 localities within the country that have been identified as iron deposits. At least 107 contain copper and 49 contain zinc minerals. Besides, other minerals comprise those of tungsten, gold, nickel, tin, calcium, aluminum, magnesium, cobalt, etc.

If not all, definitely, some of these minerals can be processed for metals that are in high demand. Copper and iron can be extracted using simpler techniques. Copper has low reactivity with other substances and hence, can be separated from rest of the materials in the mineral, more readily. Iron predominantly exists in the form of its oxide ore, which is easier to process as compared to other complicated forms. Their higher abundance in the country and high utility also point towards potentiality of these metals to be manufactured.

In the past, when no any sophisticated technology was available, our country remained a renowned place for metallurgy. Now, when the world is already richer in technologies, there seems no any practical effort being made here. Following the entry of better refined metals into the country, the conventional metallurgy that used to flourish here began to decline. Instead of making it better, we have stopped doing what we used to.

It looks like we are needed to begin from zilch on exploiting mineral deposits. Nepal government has existing laws and regulations regarding mining. Till now it has distributed hundreds of mining licenses for a variety of minerals including coal, iron, copper, gold, zinc, etc. No one knows, for so long, what is being done of those licenses. Providing licenses alone does not account for the sole responsibility on the government’s part. If it recognizes minerals as the major resources for economic growth, it should be able to present its direct involvement in the sector as an initiative.

Forest, which is remarked as a major national resource is likely to be extinct before the general public can experience any advantage from it. The politics behind hydropower projects has left water resources mainly as a job place for the cadres of political parties. The mineral resources, whose ‘unjust conduct by limited groups (?)’ is widely being lamented, will similarly be a piece of fiction if proper initiations are not made.

(Published in The Kathmandu Post May 23,2013)


Secret of Prosperity

– Ananda Kafle

Department of Natural Sciences (Chemistry)

The later decades of the 20th century are marked as the period of a rapid growth of technologies. Beside information and communication technologies, significant developments have been achieved in a multitude of areas including agriculture, power generation, alternative energies, industrial productivity, etc. For developed countries, scientific innovations and researches have for long, remained an inevitable tool for strengthening national economy. The foundations of the 21st century identity of India and China as rapidly growing world economies were laid with the governments’ acceptance of the importance of science and technology in development.

Realization of the value of science and technology by the Chinese regime following frequent blows from Europeans in the 19th century enabled the sector to regain its pace, that was lost four centuries before, when the monarchy withdrew its interest on the subject assuming it to be trivial. Until the 14th century, when the country had its well flourished scientific innovations, China used to make remarkable contribution in the Asian economy. Especially, the four Chinese inventions – papermaking, gun powder, printing and compass (known as the Four Great Inventions) are appreciated for the prominent role they played in the then China. With the efforts of modern Chinese reformists, the science and technology sector of China has been flourishing as an independent discipline.

The field of scientific research and development is increasingly gaining higher priorities in China. The average increase in the Gross Domestic Expenditure in Research and Development (GERD) since 2000 is by 22.8%. The highest fraction of the allotted budget now is being spent in experimental developments and attempts are being made to raise the investments in applied researches. Higher expenditures in researches and an enthusiastic involvement of the business enterprises in the sector are playing important role in increasing the GDP. The multilateral efforts have made China able to rely on its own technological innovations to some extent. The ongoing developments in indigenous technologies are manifested in the fields like agriculture, manufacture of electronics, production of synthetic goods etc. All things together, are establishing China as a leading economy.

The well flourished economy of the ancient Indian subcontinent was contributed by their innovations in the then relevant areas like shipping, mining, baking earthen artifacts etc. The prosperous Vedic community was enriched with discoveries on medication, astrology and mathematics. The technologies blooming here earlier had greatly increased the power of this community among human civilizations. Inability of the scientific community to keep the spirit of the novelty and discoveries eventually kicked the territory back from the technology scenario.

In the colonial period, the British emperors had brought along with them the power of science and intellect, which in combination with the tactful political strategies, they used to dominate and rule the Indian society. After independence India’s economic growth is greatly contributed by innovations in technologies, especially in automobile engineering, nuclear science and information technology.

Some powerful political leaders in Nepal take the abutting Indian states as development models for our own country.  The economic growth in different Indian states including those lagged behind in mainstream development are a consequence of the increasing investments that the government has been making in the field of scientific research and technology development, coupled with improved  governance. Even in the time of harsh economy it has been making a 1/5th increment in science budget every year. Indian agriculture is not limited in development of dams, irrigation facilities and proper supply of the farm essentials, rather, is getting increasingly assisted by most modern technologies. Besides, the industrial sector including automobiles, textiles, pharmaceuticals, software etc are vigorously growing. The nations that are in the race of becoming the prospective world powers have been using science and technology as the most efficient tool to accomplish their purposes.

While the two large neighbors are making a big hop in development and use of technologies, the situation of our own is the most disappointing. We are not simply lagging behind with regards to the scientific innovations, rather, have not even started walking. Our agriculture sector, which is claimed to make the highest contribution to the GDP, has still remained within debates of how to augment the farm yield from traditional methods. Instead of being grown through the application of modern technologies, many of the industries are getting closed. The possibilities of using native technologies in agriculture or industries are still like a far cry.

The scientific research sector has always remained staggered by the government’s indifference, corruption and uncertainty. The organizations like Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) etc. and the universities in the country, which are supposed to be the centers of research activities have almost become non- functional. Instead of carrying out their actual job, the officials are busy pleasing the political power centers for their own development. This sector has been polluted by the political and bureaucratic influences. Instead of the scientists, the bureaucrats are making themselves the real leaders. General complaints are that the largest fraction of the scanty amount of budget that is allocated for scientific researches is either embezzled or is spent for purposes like international visits of the officials. Most of the scientists, who are working on the grants from foreign agencies, spend their skills on planning how to manipulate expenditures so that a large amount of the grants goes to their own pockets.

If we are to move ahead in the race of development and increasing national prestige, all the rubbishes associated with the scientific communities must be removed and technological innovations promoted or else, we can’t be upgraded from the status of the mere consumers of foreign products and gadgets.

(The numerical data presented are based on the official information from the concerned governments and authorities.)

(Earlier published in Republica, 7 August 2013)

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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