THE PHYSICS SOCIETY
The Physics Society – Its Origin.
The Physics Society was founded by Prof. R. Ananthan, on the 31st of October, 1971. Prof. Ananthan was then a professor of Physics at the D. G. Vaishnav College, Chennai. It is worth mentioning that the initiative to start the Society came from his students.
The need to start The Physics Society
A question that arises quite naturally is the need for this kind of a Society. Aren’t there many colleges of repute in the city? Aren’t there many centers of research in the city? What new has the Society got to offer?
These questions surely require an honest response. But one must understand that an honest response may sometimes, more often than not, be a bitter pill to swallow. And this is one of the more often kind.
The Physics Society does not believe in mincing of words while expressing its views. A few of the observations and thoughts on the present-day education system in our country are presented below:
- It is a known fact that our Educational System is purely examination-oriented. There is nothing wrong in getting trained for an examination, but unfortunately, it turns out that our examination system has been established in such a way that students find it extremely easy to pass creditably, even without understanding concepts! This statement is bound to bring about different, mostly opposing, opinions. But the Society remains convinced, after much thought and after- thought that such an examination does not foster creativity in our students.
- In a highly memory-based examination system, learning, unfortunately, is not given the required priority. The primary focus is on obtaining the maximum securable marks, degrees and medals. Moreover, education has become a means of livelihood. As a result, students read because they ‘have to’ and not because they ‘want to’. The joy of learning is naturally lost!
- Such an unsound examination system has serious repercussions for the society, for it is this very same system that delivers our teachers. It is a known fact that quality teachers are rare finds, these days.
- Another important aspect is that it is only ‘coaching’ that is expected out of those few good teachers and not ‘teaching’. All that is required from a teacher is a way to train the students ‘successfully’ pass examinations with ‘flying colors’.
- For those who continue to insist that all is well with this system, a few questions await their answers.
- Every year, we produce lakhs of graduates and post-graduates and, at least a few thousand doctorates. Then why, in 58 years of independent India, have we not produced a Nobel Laureate? Almost every year we see an American or a German or a Japanese wins the Nobel Prize, but not a single Indian has made it so far. Well, we are a nation more bothered about winning an Oscar for a film rather than the Nobel. Not that it is wrong to bother about winning the Oscar, but is it not more important to be bothered about winning the Nobel Prize? One is reminded of a senior Cabinet Minister consoling a filmmaker for having lost out on the Oscar. What about our scientists? Well, scientists don’t get votes!
- Why is there a mad rush for professional courses, while there are very few takers for pure sciences and humanities? Why does there exist such hype over Engineering and Medical admissions, while not many seem to bother about arts and sciences. In fact, a few colleges have even stopped offering courses in the pure sciences. Is it that arts and sciences are, in any way, inferior?
- Why do talented youngsters not take up the teaching profession, if it is as ‘noble’ as it is claimed to be? One obvious reason is the discouraging pay scale that is dwarfed by those offered by software giants.
What we do at The Physics Society
Well, pointing fingers is easy, but who has the remedy? Offering a complete solution is not our aim! Perhaps, it is impossible to reveal some magic formula as a solution. However, Prof. Ananthan and members of The Physics Society, feel that it is high time we made an honest, serious and sincere attempt to rectify the deep-rooted maladies in our system. The efforts are a small, yet significant step towards a change for the better.
Some of the activities of the Society are:
- Weekly study-circle meetings
The Society conducts weekly discussion-meetings in Physics for students. The meetings have been going on for the past 35 years, without a break! This is an incredible achievement of The Physics Society. For the first 28 years, until 1999, the meetings were for College students. About 30 students from various colleges in the city used to take part in the discussions, under the guidance of Prof. Ananthan. He prefers to be called a ‘facilitator’ rather than a ‘teacher’. He believes firmly that ‘Education is a learning process and not a teaching process’. The meetings are highly informal and are not of the conventional classroom ‘teaching’ type. The members are encouraged to come out boldly, without any inhibition, with their doubts and queries that are discussed in great detail. Interruption is permitted at any point of time. No question is brushed aside as being ‘silly’ (which is what happens in many institutions). Comments such as ‘there is no time now’ or ‘well, that is not there in the syllabus’ or ‘Don’t waste my time by asking such elementary questions’ and the like, do not exist in the dictionary of the Society members. The Society is convinced that ‘There is no such thing as a dumb question’. The ultimate aim is doing an honest job. No member is ridiculed for his/her questions, for, ‘Ignorance is not a sin’, in Prof. Ananthan’s words. In fact, he often reminds members that there are three qualifications for one to be a member of The Physics Society. They are:
- One’s readiness to accept one’s ignorance
- Having an urge to learn
- Being regular in attending the meetings
The meetings go on for about 3 full hours. The discussions are of high intensity and many nuances of the subject are discussed. Prof. Ananthan guides the students through the discussions by giving arguments and counter arguments and offering valuable insights. It is important to note that members are not trained for any particular examination, and, that the discussions do not concern the completion of syllabus of any kind – even though it is true that these discussions will help in any examination, and beyond that too! Prof. Ananthan often quotes that the job of a good teacher is not just the covering the syllabus but to making students ‘rediscover’ the syllabus! The Physics Society is a place for true seekers of knowledge; for those who want to learn for the sake of learning and not for those who are merely interested in getting marks, degrees, medals etc. The Society is unique in this regard, and it brings immense pride in proclaiming so.
Writing about the meetings is a Herculean task. The aforementioned points are best understood, when the meetings are witnessed. It is an experience that one must go through.
The weekly meetings for college students went on uninterrupted for about 26 years after which the numbers, quite unfortunately, went down drastically. The sole reason for this was the dwindling interest in pure sciences and, secondly, the lucrative careers which the mushrooming engineering colleges promised. This affected the quality of students opting for sciences and, quite naturally, the Society found none to serve. And so we turned our attention to school students. The idea was to ‘catch them young’.
These days, discussion meetings are conducted for students of classes 9 and 10 and they have been greatly successful, so much that many members have taken to pure physics or mathematics, rejecting professional courses. This is a heartening sign. Surely, this adds lustre to The Physics Society’s crest.
- The Physics Talent Test
As mentioned earlier, the Physics Society is totally unhappy with our examination system. It does not offer an arena for creative and original thought, and is merely a test to adjudge the memorizing ability of students. It fails to test the students’ understanding of concepts. Therefore, Prof. Ananthan has devised a ‘model’ test in the form of the ‘Physics Talent Test’ for students of classes 11 and 12. The test, conducted once a year, in the month of October or November, is totally concept based. It is important to note that most of the questions are Prof. Ananthan’s original questions. Our members evaluate the answer papers and about 30 of the best performers are called for an interview. The interview is highly unconventional. The students can interact freely with the professor and can even get some of their doubts clarified! Prof. Ananthan tells the students, ‘ This interview is conducted not to just rank you, but because I like to meet talented students like you and discuss the intricacies of the subject’. Senior members of the society, who form the panel of judges, evaluate the students. The students are ranked by combining their performances in the written test and interview. Books and honor certificates are awarded to the top rankers. Eminent professors, industrialists, educationalists and well-wishers are invited to the prize-distribution function. Books are also awarded to the schools that produce the top-rankers. The Prof. Ananthan Rolling Shield is awarded to the same school.
The Physics Talent Test has been conducted for the past 22 years. The Society had conducted The Talent Test in about 17 cities in the country spread over 10 States. About 2500 students used to take part. Presently, due to lack of manpower, the Society finds itself constrained in being able to conduct the Test only in Chennai. However, this year the Society conducted another test exclusive for students in selected schools in Kuwait.
The Society also awards a scholarship of Rs. 2500/-, payable as a lump sum, for two of the toppers in preference of their ranking, if they opt for Physics for their graduate studies. It is sad to note that very few students (only about half a dozen) have, so far claimed the scholarship. This only reflects the fact that talented youngsters are not taking to pure sciences. Of course, they cannot be blamed, for, such courses are not lucrative in any way!
Some of other activities of The Physics Society:
- The Physics Society has conducted a number of ‘Summer School’ Programs in Physics for school students wherein some of the topics in their school syllabus are covered in
- detail. Reputed professors like V. Balakrishnan and T. S. Natarajan from IIT Madras have guided the students participating in these discussions.
- The Physics Society had also conducted training programs for schoolteachers twice. But, for reasons, which may well be guessed, we were unable to continue the program. In spite of the poor response, we are planning to revive the concept in the form of a workshop for the teachers.
- Prof. Ananthan conducts guest lectures in many schools. He has conducted quiz programs in various colleges, including the IIT. He presently extends his guidance to the P.S.B.B. School, Chennai, as the Visiting Professor. The Society records its gratitude and appreciation to the P.S.B.B group of schools and its Dean Mrs.Y.G.Parthasarathy, for having been very supportive of the initiatives of the Physics Society. In fact, the School premises have been the centers for the Physics Talent Test written examination. The same can be said of The National Public School, Chennai.
- Mr. Ravi Shankar, Secretary of the Society, who has been a regular member of the Physics Society for the past 15 years, conducts an Enrichment Program for the students of classes 10, 11 and 12 at the P.S.B.B. He has been interacting actively with students in schools and colleges within and outside of Chennai. He has plans to go to more schools and discuss concepts in physics with the students and teachers. He has conducted a number of workshops for teachers. An orientation programme for school teachers is next on his agenda. Mr. Ravi Shankar is presently working in The American International School, Chennai as the High School Math and Physics teacher.
Future plans of the Physics Society:
The Society has various future plans and hopes to implement them with the help and cooperation of well-wishers. Some of the plans have been listed below:
- Extending the Physics Talent Test to the college level.
- Organizing an orientation program for school teachers
- Establishing a library with a good collection of books in Physics and Maths for teachers and students.
- Setting up a laboratory wherein students are trained to do experiments with the true scientific temper.
- Publishing books of high academic standard and a journal in Physics.
- Publishing question papers of The Physics Talent Test along with their solutions.
- To develop contacts with reputed authors, teachers, educationists and scientists in India and abroad.
The Physics Society is a voluntary, non-profit organization. The Society has been able to carry out its activities with the help of members, the public and well-wishers, appreciative of the Society’s efforts in the field of education. But, considering the quantum of activities, there is a great financial constraint. The Society invites people to extend their valuable cooperation and patronage by way of contributions of any kind.
About our President Prof.R.Ananthan
— A personal Note from C.S.Ravi Shankar, Secretary
I have been with Prof.Ananthan for about 15 years. It would not be an exaggeration if I say that I have learnt all my physics from him. I have been attending the weekly meetings from the year 1992 when I was a B.Sc. Physics student. It is a matter of pride that I have missed only about 25 and odd meetings in all these years and that I am the only member to have been attending the weekly meetings for such a long span of time. My relation with Ananthan is more than that of a student-teacher relationship. He has been my friend, philosopher and guide. It is only apt that I utilize this opportunity to tell something about this great man and his vision!
Born in the year 1934, in a simple Hindu family, he completed his schooling in 1951. However, fate has its own cruel ways. Family circumstances forced him to discontinue his studies and take up a job as a lower division clerk in the Revenue Department. It is indeed difficult for me to imagine the torment his heart and mind would have gone through during those years. One needs to bear in mind that the concept of distance education did not exist those days. The fact that he could not pursue his interest in physics did trouble him a lot. But, fortunately, nature is not all that cruel. Miracles do happen! He was able to continue his studies after a break of 7 long years! With great difficulty (he was too ‘old’) he joined The Venkateswara College of Arts and Sciences, Tirupathi. He was 24 then. And no one is expected to do P.U.C. at such an age. The one and only person to encourage him was his elder brother. There was no stopping him from then on. He joined the Annamalai University where he did his B.Sc. and M.Sc. In 1965, he joined the D.G. Vaishnov College, Chennai, as professor, where he served for 28 years before retiring in 1992.
I wish to place on record that though Prof Ananthan did go through years of University education like a majority of us, his knowledge is mostly original. The unfortunate thing is that no one would believe this. After all, we need a teacher to teach us, is it not? And our idea of learning is to listen with obedience what the teacher reads out! Being a school teacher in an International setting, I can very clearly see where he would have been if he had chosen to look for opportunities outside India. I can’t avoid feeling that this man is ‘the right man in the wrong country’. Even at the age of 72 he still retains the undiminished energy and enthusiasm to share his knowledge with students and teachers. It is my hope that our society will, at least now, use him to the fullest.
I was fortunate to be under his tutelage in the last year of his service, but unfortunate that I could learn physics from him in college for only a year. In a sense, it was the only year I learnt physics in college!
Prof.Ananthan has been my source of inspiration. To him, I owe all that I know in Physics. He is a person whom every one must meet atleast once in life.