His magnificent beard and matching hair give away his profession. The only unexpected element is the vibrant teal kurta he is clad in, which negates the cliched perspective of associating sombre colours with the intellectual.
He has served as a scientist at the space department for two decades and has also worked as a deputy director at directorate general of security at cabinet secretariat in the Indian capital of New Delhi. Educationalist, science communicator, psychotherapist, life skill/ soft skill trainer, public speaker, spiritual director and writer, Dr TP Sasikumar is a walking encyclopaedia who can discourse on any given topic under the sun.
Being such a multifaceted personality, where does his heart really lie? “My passion is teaching, says Dr Sasikumar, who comes across as soft-spoken. However, soon enough, the vigour and energy burst forth as the conversation progresses and he enters his zone of interest.
“Dearth in the quality of good teachers,” says Dr Sasikumar, is the conspicuous change that has come about in the structure of education over the years. “The education system has nothing to do with teaching in the classrooms. What we lack is teachers who know the methodology to teach.” An admirable teacher is one who can teach how to learn, says the scholar. “Students are taught the various subjects in the classroom, but are we teaching them how to learn? A skilled teacher should not teach one how to drive on a particular route, but how to drive. That is when the student learns to find his own path to drive.”
Elaborating upon the challenges facing the educational field, Dr Sasikumar says that there is a lack of teachers who have professional experience in what they teach. “How many teachers in engineering colleges are actually engineers? The same stands true for the numerous institutes providing coaching for the Indian administrative services.”
Dr Sasikumar conducts regular workshops for children at his home in the Indian state of Kerala, where children from all over India as well as abroad come and stay with him during vacations. Last year, he had almost 200 children from across the GCC countries who came and stayed with him.
“Most of the children are competent,” says Dr Sasikumar. “But if you ask even the best of the students what they want to become, they will say interior decorators, fashion designers, etc., because they can earn well in those fields. They don’t want to become administrative officers or teachers. In doing so, they are going against their own nature and potential.”
Among the problems plaguing the learning techniques of students today, Dr Sasikumar says that “serious reading” is not practiced any more. “When a child reads, she/he is reading without understanding and visualising. If you don’t visualise, the learning becomes useless. Therefore, they must be able to visualise, interpret, judge, compare and comprehend.”
Dr Sasikumar’s solution to this problem is to bring about the change at the root of the learning process. “While there is emphasis on learning by heart, I tell my students to learn through their heart, that is, to understand and learn. So, I keep propagating that one’s learning and teaching has to be affective and effective.”
He recounts an anecdote from 2010 where he went to a school and the teachers of the eighth grade told him that their students were the worst ever and would not pass grade 10. He took them under his wings and taught them for 100 days during the summer vacation. Six years later, they are now employed with renowned companies in the top cities of India.
Dr Sasikumar says that language is not a barrier for learning. He narrates another incident where he took a group of eighth grade students from Kerala to the Indian coastal state of Goa, which attracts people from several nationalities. “I gave the students an assignment that they have to find a foreigner, interview them, understand their background, history, etc., and write it down. Three days of this exercise made them good communicators in English. So, if you decide to do something, I am sure you can do it. The ways, means and methods are there; or you create them. I create my own methods based on my requirements.”
Having taught more than 500,000 teachers and 800,000 students, Dr Sasikumar emphasises on the quest for knowledge. “One must have the curiosity and zeal to learn,” he signs off.