My Biology Teacher

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Subhash Mathur was born and brought up in small towns in Rajasthan. During his school and college education at Jaipur, he was keenly involved in sports, journalism and public speaking. His civil services career has given him a platform for spreading his ideas about modernising tax administration to benefit the common man. Post retirement he is devoting his energies, along with his wife Tilak, to public and humane causes.

When I was in school in 60s , 9th standard was a fairly senior class in the pecking order. We did not have Three Year Degree in place as yet and hence after ninth we had to climb just two more steps to finish schooling. In 9th standard we were required to make our subject choices – PCM or Humanities. No commerce or economics those days. The impression given to the students was that commerce was a below dignity course for a school as prestigious as Xaviers. The School was then known as St. Xaviers School – simple and [unpretentious]. So choosing commerce stream was not a choice. Similarly, Xaviers did not offer Economics as a subject of choice. Why it was not on offer list remains inexplicable. Be that as it may be we had to choose between Science meaning Physics Chemistry and Maths or Humanities meaning History and Geography. But those opting for Humanities had to a study a non exam third subject. Biology. Everyone considered this third no exam subject as a nuisance, school as well students. It made no sense to anyone but ‘Rules were Rules’ and they had to be followed. We generally believed that the school at that point of time had no teacher on its faculty qualified to teach Biology with any seriousness. So the school selected the easiest way to fill this breach. They looked around the faculty and selected the teacher who had the lightest academic load. Eventually the burden fell on an Outdoor faculty member to teach a classroom subject. Mr A.A. Sayed was the chosen one. Mr Sayed was basically a Scouts Master. Many students had joined this movement. He organised many activities concerning Scouts in our school as well all over Rajasthan and India. More often than not he was away from school fully involved in organizing Scout Jamborees and all that. So when the task of teaching Biology fell on his broad shoulders he rose to the occasion. As academics was thrust upon him as an indoor responsibility he decided that no matter he would still do that [ teach] Biology outdoors. The classes for Biology started around October as the school management took time to decide on a text book suitable for students of ninth standard. By the time the book reached our Book Store and into the hands of the students it was already October. In those days the Winter conditions set in early. So in October the heat from the Sun had mellowed down considerably. Thus our Biology teacher Mr Sayed decided that he will hold the Biology class NOT indoors but on the lawns out in the open near the cricket field. As this clever move did not meet any resistance from the school management we began our Biology learning in bright sunshine in an open environment. Learning about human body, functioning of it’s various organs was the main focus. That smattering of knowledge still comes useful even today. But that’s not the end of the story. Mr Sayed chose a unique style to teach Biology. He shifted the burden of teaching from himself to students.He decreed that each student would read two long paragraphs from the chapter. So each student read out two paragraphs,irrespective of anyone understanding waht was read out. IT was expected that the class had understood. And that became the staple method of teaching and learning. The idea was simple; as one read the chapter that student learnt the text. The other students learnt while the text was being read out by the fellow student. Thus in the process everyone learnt Biology without the teacher having to teach and explain. Of course it was a very odd method but everyone was aware that a tough exam did not await the students! It did not require rocket science to learn that the Human heart has four chambers. What’s there to teach? Just pick the info and remember it. Of course it’s never that simple but the unique approach met the purpose nicely for everyone around. Besides increasing our awareness of functioning of human body it also improved our vocal abilities. It was great fun using this methodology but the results were well, you guessed it. Nothing much was learnt from these classes but the burden of teaching academics was cleverly discharged by the reluctant Teacher. Of course none of us exactly shone in the in house exam at the end of the year but as we were all declared successful and thus fulfilling the condition of clearing the third non exam paper. When the going gets tough the tough get going. That was Mr A. A. Sayed and his foray into academics. What a show! What a way to go!