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20140904

A man who left the commissioner’s chair to become a school teacher

He had a brilliant educational career. He got into the government service at a young age. He didn't stop with that. He wrote the prestigious Civil Services Examination, one of the toughest recruitment tests in the country and came out with flying colors. He was allotted the Indian Revenue Service (IRS). He started his career as an Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax and elevated as Deputy Commissioner, Additional Commissioner, and Commissioner of Income Tax. He was a good tax investigator, finance wizard, efficient administrator and an avid cricket lover. While he was successfully performing his role as the Appellate Commissioner at Ahmadabad region, he decided to call it a day and resigned from the Service. He flew back to Punkunnam, a village near Trichur in Kerala. The first priority was to look after his mother. The second priority was to do something worthwhile for the society. 

He started his career as a teacher by teaching a few students in the neighborhood who were weak in English language and couldn't afford to go for costly tuition. He converted a hall in his house exclusively for the students. They sat on the floor and listened to the teacher who taught them not only English and General Knowledge but also several learning strategies in a very interesting and innovative manner.  He charged nothing from the poor students and very nominal amount from those who can afford, that too just to make them aware of the value of the classes. He also started helping the students of the government schools (where most students from the economically backward sections of the community study) and became a trainer for teachers of the schools run by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in the district. 

Oh! I forgot to tell his name. He is Shri K P Karunakaran. 

He proved that anyone can become a teacher if they so desire to make a change in the new generation and in society. 

Do you want to know more about him, his ideas, his work and his philosophy? Read the following interview: 

Why did you leave the career as a high profile tax administrator and started teaching the students in your village? 

I believe that every career or profession is important and satisfying if you are sincere in that. At one point of time, after putting several years in government, I thought it worthwhile to spend my time in an area where I can be more productive and creative in society. 

I got into teaching because it can be the most rewarding experience. In fact, it is said, “a nation is built in the classrooms.”  Teaching the young ones, the next generation, is a nation building activity.

What is so unique about your style of teaching? How did children like that?

I teach children to think and attempt to sharpen their communication skills. Freed from the millstone of syllabus around my neck, I get a chance to improvise and innovate. Sometimes, I am surprised to see how children (adults too) think alike. How to make children think out of the box is my challenge. How to let their imagination run riot?  I devised a few exercises for that. I found it really worked in them. They were very enthusiastic. 

When children are so bored with the workload in the school, would there be sincere cooperation from the students when you try to impart the same, though in a different way? 

What schools do is monitoring the students. Monitoring is easy to do and it has negative connotations. The journey from monitoring to mentoring is a big challenge. Most of the schools don’t know how to   mentor the students. Teaching is all about  making students effective learners. 

My USP is this: I try to give students what they don’t get at school or at home. At home, teaching is an endless race to finish homework or prepare for the exams and often completing mindless projects. Where parents get time to groom their kids? And they too have deadlines to meet.

What is wrong with the attitudes and teaching style of most teachers and the approaches in many schools? 

There are excellent teachers. The students adore them. There are teachers who can make children eat out of the palm of their hands. Unfortunately, we have a large number of incompetent teachers. They are paid measly sums and the workload is very heavy. The bane of our educational system is that it is not able to attract the best talents to the schools. The problem is compounded by the fact that 90% of our teachers are women. Since they are burdened with familial duties, even the inspired don’t get as much time as they want to read and innovate. Ideation suffers!

Most teachers prefer to follow a set pattern rather mechanically irrespective of the purpose behind a particular syllabus/ subject. Don’t you think that very few teachers make students think creatively and intuitively? 

Most schools don’t have a well defined leadership development programme for the students. How many schools have a thinking class? The moment we open the text books, our thinking process is reduced into a frame work which inhibits free thinking. Can we take our children to the sublime level of boundary less thinking or thinking without boundaries? I have started conducting one day workshops for teachers. So far I have conducted six such workshops. The main thrust is to look at things anew.

Do you think we need to have a radical reorganization of the present system of schooling? Otherwise, can we think of promoting home schooling in a large scale? 

We cannot do without schooling. Home schooling is good only for improving one’s knowledge. A school goes much beyond that. A good school develops cognitive abilities of students. Besides, it gives invaluable inputs to them in social skills and develops their emotional intelligence. The rudiments of leadership skills and team building spirit are learned in schools. Sathya Nadella revealed, in an interview, that he got his earliest leadership lessons from the captain of his school cricket team. So schools are here to stay. How to infuse more life into them is the question. Teaching is all about  making students effective learners.

It is a fact that people are born with different abilities. The social and economic environment in the early life also influences the children. Therefore, there could be students with different abilities and skills in a class. But the nature of teaching, the syllabus, the examination and the evaluation are the same for every student irrespective of the ability of the students. Don’t you think this is unfair? 

What I dislike most about our teachers is that they don’t understand children with Learning Disabilities. It is very sad not even 1% of our teachers are exposed to remedial measures that are available.( This is not an exaggeration. It is an understatement!) The school managements are also equally at fault. Of course, some parents don’t accept the fact that their children have learning difficulties. What disturbs me so much is the cruelty meted out to these children by the ‘apostles’ of our educational system. Mind you, around 10 % of our students have LD in one form or the   other. Their cries are not heard. Their self-image gets a beating all the time. They go around bruised and battered by their parents, peers and teachers. “Tare Zameen Pur”, the Amir Khan film did make an impact. Now it is forgotten!

Is there any problem in the way the teachers are trained? 

The syllabus for the teacher training courses in many developing countries are outdated. For example, the syllabus of the B.Ed and M. Ed courses in India are out dated. There is a bit of psychology and other latest topics in the syllabus of some universities. But the sad fact is that there are no qualified or competent hands to do justice to these topics. There is practically no proper long term in-service training once they are in the teaching profession. 

You worked with many students who are having learning difficulties. What inspired you to focus on them? How was your experience?

I had a student (Dinesh name changed) studying in 8th standard. He spoke excellent English, a rarity in this part of Kerala. But Dinesh misspelled many words. Initially, I thought it was a prank. Only later, I came to know that he was dyslexic. This was my first brush with dyslexia. I took Dinesh to a special educator. I also trained under him. This motivated me to do MSc Psychology. Dinesh is doing engineering in Tamil Nadu. He won prizes in elocution. He still keeps in touch with me. I am very grateful to the Almighty for giving me an opportunity to have made some impact ton someone.

What touched me most was an interaction with a child with global learning difficulties. Surprisingly, he was reasonably good at maths. When I told him that he was good at maths, he gave me a beaming smile. On an impulse I asked him,” Who have praised you?” The reply shook me to the core. The boy, studying in the sixth class, answered, “This is the first time somebody is praising me.” Praise doesn't cost anything! I am yet to find a child who is not interested in learning.


Can you share with the readers, any simple technique you followed to make your class interesting? 

There are many exercises depending upon the subject and level of the students. I can share one simple exercise I successfully experimented. 

                                                           John Has a Box
This is an exercise to observe how children form associated ideas. It is also an exercise to observe how we all think alike.  An example of conditioned thinking. Also, a realization of limits in our thinking.
 The teacher will give the following instructions to the students.
“John has a box. Now you are to form ideas connecting John and the box. You can write as many ideas as you can. It can be anything. Which is possible or not possible? Funny ideas also can be written. Write freely whatever thoughts come to your mind. There is no right or wrong answer. Simply try to link John and box.”
Note Carefully
 The teacher should not  give  any hints or any clues. No further elaboration. They should not put thoughts into the children. It is for the children to make connections. Don’t give any examples--- you know, you can write about how John uses the box, who gave the box to John, the shape or size of the box, etc. Just leave the children alone. Let them make the connections. 
Just go round and see what children are writing.  Don’t make any comments. Be totally non-committal. Soon children will run out of ideas. 
So after ten minutes, tell them to close their eyes for a minute or two and to visualize John and the box. Tell them to clearly see John and box. Tell them they are going to experience the power of visualization. Ask them to open their eyes and continue writing for another 5-10 minutes. Invariably, they will get fresh ideas.
Now the teachers can collect the answers and discuss what they wrote. It is important that the teachers don’t make fun of any ideas. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer. 
Ask the children to write a story.
If this cannot be done in one period, the story writing can be taken in some other period. It is important not to rush the children.
Suggestion.  For better appreciation of this test the teachers can themselves do the exercise first before giving it to the children. They can observe their thought patterns.
After noting down their ideas, the teachers can write a story about ‘John has a box’. They should not take more than 15 minutes to write the story .
Only after doing the exercise the teachers should read the comments in the next page.

Ask them how they visualized John? What is his age?
You will be surprised many children would have considered John as someone below 20 years. Most of them would have thought John as a boy.  No one would visualize John as a grandfather and the box as a family heirloom!  Again John is not a teacher or a father, or a fifty year old man! Why? We are all conditioned to think in a similar way! 
It would be a good learning exercise to all to see how the children visualized the box.
How many ideas were common?
The story part.
 I am giving below an unedited version of a story written by a sixth standard student. The student is referring to John as a 103 year old man after I had discussion with them. No child in my class thought John an old man. The story was written in about twenty minutes.
 John Has A Box.
John is 103 years old great grandfather. He and his big family went to a tour. He lost his way and reached in a cave. He saw a small lantern with light. It was blinking slightly. When he bent his body to take the box, his spectacles fell down. He thought that he will first take the lantern and then only spectacles. He is a retired police officer. So he has some cunny ideas, even he lost his way. He took the lantern and started to search his specs. While searching he saw a blue box. He opened it and saw copper, silver, golden jewelleries. The box was made of wood. In house there were so many boxes like this. But this is a special box. It was talking. It was a magic and mysterious box. The cave was haunted. It was dark. Both of them talked to each other. John spoke about his family. The box spoke about the haunted cave. John was afraid when he heard about the haunted cave. It was night now. They slept and woke up in next day. When John woke up he is now in his house. You didn’t understand what happened? This all were his dream.


Can you suggest a few books for teachers and parents who deal with children who are slow learners? 

Following are some of the several books in this area. (Click the links to know more)

The Gift of Dyslexia—Ronald D. Davis
Teaching through the Heart- Action plan for better teaching  Meera Ravi (a psychologist at Bangalore)
What Did You Ask at School Today? A Handbook of child learning  Kamala V Mukunda  ( She runs a school at Bangalore- Centre For Learning)
To Sir, With Love   E.R Braithwaite  A most inspiring novel on teaching 


Those who would like to contact Mr K P Karuanakaran  may mail him at karunakp_123 [@rediffmail.com]

5 comments:

  1. Karunakaran is simple person, forthright, clear in his perception, highly loyal to the ideas which he believes in.. and he simply live by those whether he is a taxman or teacher..He is too close to my heart, one of my best friends and one who made a lot of difference in my life.. With a history of close friendship of thirtysix years, I may be partial.. But he is a great human being.. PRINCIPLED..is the one adjective which will describe him.

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  2. Comment from Ashok Shahapur in Facebook:

    "To leave a well paid respectable job and venture into the vocation you love it takes 4Gs ' GRACE GUMPTION GRITS AND GUTS' Shri Karunakaran sir has it all. Very few people do this. To enhance creative thinking in children, please suggest to to read books by Edward de Bono."

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  3. We need more such dedicated persons in our country.

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  4. A fitting tribute to an honest govt. servant and a teacher with vision. As my boss early in my career at Trivandrum, he was always been my inspiration. I always get amused recollecting his ramrod straight spine while working sitting at the edge of the seat. Last year, I was honoured to work at two BVB schools at Thrissur as guided byhim. ........ I feel happy reading this, very...

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