October 24, 2008

Towards achieving excellence in Teaching and Learning: Book Review

Posted in Book Reviews at 7:16 am by kailash

Towards achieving excellence in Teaching and Learning, by Dr. B.R. Sant.   


Gone are the days when people used to relax at least for a few hours everyday. Gone are the days when people used to await and enjoy the success of fellow beings. Today people are more busy, self-centered and uncomfortable with the success of fellow beings. One positive aspect of this life style is to strive for excellence though to excel fellow beings in wealth, status and power. In his foreword to a book entitled “TOWARDS ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING and LEARNING– Some Thoughts”, Swami Jnananda (President, Ramakrishnamath, Hyderabad) has rightly observed that ‘since people have no time, they are eager to learn as many skills as possible in the shortest time’. Dr. Bharat Ramakrishna Sant, an eminent teacher, scientist and administrator has authored the book.
The book illustrates how well-written books could provide the keys to well-kept, but hidden treasures of knowledge. Here the knowledge pertains to excellence in the context of modern times, and is a manifestation of the authors vast experience, deep insight, significant knowledge, outstanding achievements and admirable perception.
Ancient Indian tradition propagated knowledge through a teacher-student chain (guru-sishya parampara). In his book, Dr. Sant, an ardent believer in good traditions, has chosen the same chain for achieving excellence, and hence the title. He is meticulous to say that “he” in his book has been used merely for convenience and so covers equally all women and men, girls and boys.
The book begins with certain valid assumptions like- “a teacher teaches people, not things”, “the destiny of a nation is designed in its classrooms”, “education is one among the virtually innumerable tools to achieve excellence”, “excellence breeds excellence” etc. In his prologue, Dr. Sant mentioned the 8 attributes of management excellence. He admits that values are more often diffused by softer means like stories, myths, legends and metaphors, and cautions that excellence is a high cost item as its price involves time, energy, attention and focus. He points out the importance of intellectual capital parameter to emphasize the need to develop certain basic human traits as part of personal development in young people to succeed in life; however, they need to strive for excellence in terms of the kind of excellence that is within their reach. While insisting that excellence is a journey and not the destination, he has suggested five core tools; these were discussed in detail later.
Section I deals with the need for excellence with regard to teaching and learning in the modern context. The Teacher has been visualized as a multidimensional personality rolled into one; he should be aware that teaching is the best way of learning. A learner should have a goal with the awareness that learning does not stop after attaining a certificate, diploma or degree. Learning styles and strategies are discussed, followed by the art of teaching with the warning that “anything worth learning takes time to learn, and time to teach”.
Section II deals with the basic tools for achieving excellence through self-esteem, enthusiasm, humility, positive attitude and communication skills. The chapter on self-esteem brings out many interesting aspects including the experience bank, which is built through generations. Thus values/character-building starts generations ago and even before the person in question is born. We all have a responsibility to create and maintain a high self-esteem environment to guide youngsters struggling in low self-esteem zone. The chapter on enthusiasm emphasises that enthusiasm makes ordinary people extraordinary. The author’s humility is to be appreciated if the chapter on humility appears as an elaboration of Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “to be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness”. As one can alter his life by altering his attitude, the chapter on positive attitude infuses positive attitude in the minds of readers with very useful, but practical suggestions and tips on careful choice of words and actions. The chapter on communication skills enlightens on how communication converts knowledge into effective action via effective speaking, skilful listening, better and faster reading and avid writing. While brushing aside public speaking as conversation but to a larger audience, the author has pointed out the importance of body language and has provided many useful tips to overcome public fright. Before delivering a talk, one may write the speech for content and prepare for organising and practicing. The beginning of a speech is important as evidenced by the universal example of “brothers and sisters of America”, by Swami Vivekananda at Chicago. Coming to skilful listening, the author considers listening as the beginning of wisdom. He visualizes our brain, as a tape recorder with an almost infinite capacity to record and replay, and feels that we have to use this ability discretely and wisely. He advises not to jump to conclusions in the midst of a speech and suggests preferring message and not the speaker for reaction. For better and faster reading, he conceives the reader as a one-man audience, and reading to mind as what exercise to body is. Eyes are to be considered as merely an extension of the brain. He believes that books will confound all predictions and survive the electronic age. The main purpose of reading is to comprehend and understand; not merely decoding of written symbols. For avid writing, he differentiates pre-education writing, used to impress on the possessed knowledge, from post-education writing that can make a difference between profit and loss, acceptance and rejection, growth and decline, or success and failure. The author has provided valuable tips to writing letters and reports with impressive examples. In the epilogue, the author has summarised the contents of the book.
The book covers personalities ranging from Socrates to Sanya Mirza and excerpts from many religions. All the chapters begin with an appropriate quotation, e.g., the one on the art of teaching begins with “a mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled”. In the discussions too, the quotes were as appropriate. The ideas in the book are original but also supplemented with suitable and valuable references.
Throughout the book, the author comes out with relevant personal anecdotes to suit the topics admirably. This may seem to be personal glorification for people with negative attitude, which I am sure will disappear soon after completing reading the book as the book is written with the expertise of a coaching center. As one who had the good fortune of Dr. Sant’s association for over two decades, I knew of his many other innumerable personal experiences that could have aptly entered this book. Reading the book, I now realise that association with him itself is education. The book is a revelation for those who are associated with him and a valuable guide for all others.
An experience while reading and a lasting impression after reading – that is how I summarise this book.
That I ventured a detailed remark on a book written by a person whom I adore – is a tribute to the effectiveness of this wonderful book.

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