How Education Should Be? (Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam)

With the recent strengthening of the Indo-US defence relationship on June 7, 2016, we remember a great man who always wanted and believed that India can be a leader in the field of technology. The man we are talking about is none other than Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the 11th President of India or the ‘the People’s President’ as he is fondly known. Apart from being one of India’s most influential aerospace scientist, he was also a very passionate educator. He always wanted to be remembered as a teacher. Even after he became the President of India, he grabbed every opportunity to teach students, especially children, wherever he went.

“If the people remember me as a good teacher, that will be the biggest honour for me.”

He was a firm believer of the fact that learning does not only happen within the spaces designed by an educational institution (like school classrooms, cultural centres, etc.). Throughout his life, he learnt from all his social experiences and face-to-face interactions with people. In his autobiography, The Wings of Fire, he talks about the different life lessons he learnt from his mother, his father, his childhood friends, his school’s teachers, his college’s professors, his colleagues and his seniors at work. He never believed that education has any borders or boundaries. A belief which has seldom found its place in our society, with many people still defining learning as something which is transmitted from the teacher to the individual, finding physical expression in the seating assignments in the school classroom, and the position of the teacher at the front of them.

He also believed in the power of the combination of theoretical learning and hands-on work. He never undermined any one of the two important elements, which is often the case nowadays, with the conservatives favouring the theoretical aspect and the self-declared highly intellectual people favouring the practical aspect. Both aspects are very important and it is silly to undermine one of them, favouring the other! He beautifully described the power of the combination by saying “When a principle learnt in the classroom is borne out by practical experience, it creates a strange sense of excitement – akin to unexpectedly running into an old friend among a crowd of strangers.” He believed that the hazy concepts that you learn in school or college are retained very sharply in your mind as you work on them. By working hands-on for a long time, you get an intuitive feel for the work you do, which makes you a much better professional.


He also firmly believed in the words of Khalil Gibran, who said: “Bread baked without love is a bitter bread that feeds but half a man’s hunger”. In his autobiography, he says that those who can’t work with their hearts achieve a hollow, half-hearted success that breeds bitterness all around. In his words, “If you are a writer who would secretly prefer to be a lawyer or a doctor, your written words will feed but half the hunger of your readers; if you are a teacher who would rather be a businessman, your instructions will meet but half the need for knowledge of your students; if you are a scientist who hates science, your performance will satisfy but half the needs of your mission. The personal unhappiness and failure to achieve results that come from being a round peg in a square hole are not, by any means, new.” That’s why, to learn any particular skill or subject, it is very important that you are interested in that skill or subject. Otherwise, it will become very difficult for you to properly learn about it, to be inquisitive about it, and to practice its different applications.

A teacher till the very end, his legacy will live on forever. Let us make an honest effort to make sure that each one of us bakes our bread with love. We would love to hear your thoughts and the metaphorical bread that you want to bake. Thanks. 🙂

[Originally published on June 8, 2016]

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