– Hem Raj Kafle
Some school children might wonder, “How do teachers know so many things? Why are they smarter than many other people? Why do people generally not speak ill about them?” They get the answer in growing up. They know that teachers have spent certain years learning, and imparting that learning. They have learnt from more qualified persons and qualitative sources. They command respect for being responsible, and thus people do not generally speak ill about them.
The opportunity to teach is a reward. The realization of being rewarded starts with the belief of being in good company of students and colleagues who signify the piety of creating, transmitting, expanding and sustaining the mission of culturing the society as a whole. The teacher is a torchbearer, who always helps fellow beings to explore their lives’ directions and to widen their intellectual horizon.
There are productive challenges in being a teacher. First, you can’t afford to be lazy. A simple rule in teaching is you have to know more than what you can tell in the classroom. For this you must continuously know. A competent teacher makes every teaching a new teaching, and every day a different day. And a teacher must be more dynamic and knowledgeable than students. Students adore teachers who are intelligent and active, in the same extent as teachers would love to teach intelligent and active students. Such expectation of reciprocation and mutual respect forms the first necessary classroom infrastructure. Second, you can’t be dishonest. Dishonesty does not go with real teaching. Dishonest persons, in fact, are unfit in every profession that involves welfare and service to people in large number and multiple generations. Even if honesty may not pay at once in teaching, it certainly gives the satisfaction of being a part of a virtuous growth of knowledge and wisdom, which expand as they transfer, and transfer as they expand.
In teaching there is always a chance to know people and be known. Knowing people helps you increase the number of friends. Adding the number of acquaintances is a good source of knowledge, and partly, of emotional security. And this does not happen just once, but over the years. The piety of the profession itself suffices to keep you honest and invulnerable to corruption. Teachers are expected to act as role models both in knowledge and conduct. They are ethically conditioned to continuously update and polish themselves. This keeps them good, and goodness is not without returns, let alone the joy of seeing successes and growths.
Teaching may not ensure material prosperity. Sometimes, you may think of switching the profession for rapid social or financial uplift. But everyday necessities and the desire for quick fame do not suffice to make you disapprove of the grandeur of teaching. The fact that teachers are needed until humans stop learning makes your presence indispensible and your profession respectable.
[Published in Educational Frontier]
– Pushpa Raj Adhikary
Former Dean and Controller of Examinations
We human beings live in a planetary system of a star which we call the Sun. Our sun is just one of the minor stars in the cluster of about 250 billion stars called the Milky Way. We live far from the bright and densely populated nucleus of the Milky Way. Earth is one of the nine planets which surround the Sun, and continuously revolves around the Sun in more or less a fixed path known as its orbit. The earth is surrounded by a gaseous ocean. We live on the bottom of this rather opaque gaseous ocean. The earth is also one of the billions of other planets in the universe, nothing more than a tiny speck of dust in the vast galactic island. What can we hope to learn of this universe from our galactic backwoods?
In our short history of the existence on earth we had hardly had time enough to take stock of our immediate surroundings. We have just begun to know and understand ourselves. Thousands of years of human civilization are but a fleeting instance as compared with the periods of time in which matter evolves on the universal scale. Less than 500 years have passed since man first proved that this planet is a globe by circumnavigating it. A century has passed since we discovered, at first by speculative reasoning, some of the laws connecting space, time, and motion. We have just begun to probe the secrets of the structure of the matter. Our knowledge of the universe is scanty indeed and we still have a lot more to learn. But we are inquisitive, have learned things step by step and continue to learn many more things about our universe by the same way and in course of time will unravel more mysteries of the universe.
Apart from the terrestrial landscape of mountains, valleys, flat plain, dense forest and oceans, man has been looking up at the twinkling dots in the sky for thousands of years. Some have compared these twinkling dots, known as stars, the twinkling eyes of the universe looking down on earth. Stars appear after the Sunset and must have looked very mysterious objects for early human beings. Beginning with idle stargazing, it has now turned to systematic observations, first with naked eyes, then with the simplest of instruments, and today with the help of giant telescope with lenses several feet in diameter and other sophisticated instruments. Now we can distinguish planets and stars.
In addition, we have identified various other objects scattered around the vast void of the universe. There are very big clusters of stars like our Milky Way. These clusters of stars are known as galaxies. The galaxies have hundreds of solar systems like ours. There are huge objects made of a gaseous material known as nebulae. Some objects are not visible to us but we feel their presence by detecting the noises they emit. These noises are known as radio waves and are detected and analyzed to understand about these noisy objects. We can measure how big a star is, how far one star is from another, and measure the distance of the farthest nebulae. So the old saying “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are” is no longer true. Today we can say “Twinkle, twinkle little star, we know exactly what you are”. Stars are no wonders today and neither are they little. Other stars are several thousands to even hundreds of millions larger than our sun and are made of materials in plasma state.
The earth is surrounded by an ocean of colorless gases which we call air. Air mainly contains nitrogen and oxygen along with different other gases in traces. This air covering of our planet earth is known as the atmosphere and is spread up to 3,000 kilometers altitude above the earth. Clouds are usually observed at an altitude of about 80 kilometres. Somewhat higher, between 100 and 120 kilometres, meteors appear as shooting stars. A flying meteor is a complex phenomenon involving the interaction of a fast moving body carrying an electrical charge with the Surrounding air. Atmosphere gradually becomes less and less dense depending on the distance from the surface of the earth. Some strange lights (Northern and Southern lights) called Aurora Polaris occur in the uppermost layers of the atmosphere as high as 1,200 kilometres.
At an altitude of 3,000 kilometres above the surface of the earth, just outside the edge of the atmosphere, electrically charged particles from the outer space counter us. Earth is a huge magnet and its magnetic influence spreads in the surrounding space known as magnetic field. The charge particles which come from outer space towards earth are trapped by the earth’s electromagnetic field. They spiral along the earth forming three radiation belts. A disturbance in this belt causes disturbances in our radio, television and other means of communication.
From the surface of the earth we see the sky is blue and the stars twinkle. These phenomena do occur due to the earth’s atmosphere. So, how does the sky look when we watch it beyond the atmosphere? Astronauts and space travelers tell us that the sky looks totally dark and stars no longer twinkle. Rather they look like dull light-emitting objects. If we recall back, on March 18, 1965 an earth man named Alexei Leonov, citizen of the then Soviet Socialist Republic, first encountered the vast void of the universe face to face. Leonov became the first person from the planet earth to push himself away from his spaceship Voskhod 2 to drift out into the bottomless void known as space. Leonov was connected with a rope-like chord to keep from losing himself in the strange, weird void surrounding him.
Man is inquisitive by nature. As soon as we discover a new law of nature, we try to exploit it for our own ends. Having discovered the secret of lightning bolts we use it to produce electric light. By learning the laws of river flow we dug irrigation canals. We have harnessed the power of nuclear fission of uranium and will soon learn to tame the thermonuclear reaction which heats the sun and stars. No sooner do we discover the laws of the universe than we surely put them to work and make them serve us. We have understood the terrestrial laws and phenomena and made them serve us. So we can hope that by becoming the master of the universe one day we may be able to reconstruct the planetary systems, move stars about and regulate their brightness at our will.
– Hem Raj Kafle
‘Change’ is not my word in the title above, but I agree to use it. Do books change our lives? Someone said it is the reader who has the potential to change; the book only triggers that potential. And one who does not have that potential does not respond to the trigger. I agree to this, too.
But I am not here to present a thorough appreciation of ‘five classics’. Not that I avoid reading classics, but I am willing to write about those books that have told me their actual worth. Each of the five books came to me almost ‘out of nowhere’ and left a lasting message. Not that any of them should ever satisfy your intellectual need if you someday decide to read. I write here simply because I have deemed them contributory to my own growth as a teacher. An English teacher.
I was delighted when NELTA Choutari Team asked me to write on five books that ‘changed’ my life. I decided to speak up: I have already read a book with the same title and loved it so much. It is The Book That Changed My Life (2006) by Roxanne J Coady and Joy Johannessen. A book about books, and about how books change one’s life – I had loved this idea long ago. The Book indeed was a reward, such as Coady herself would like to regard as a gift “from heaven”.
I bought it in the summer of 2008 at Books and Books, Coral Gables, Florida, only as a memento of my US visit. And, because it was a casual pick, my interest in it turned into epiphany as I read through the short essays inside. This was an opportunity to peek into seventy one writers’ celebration of “the books that matter most to them.” These seventy one people gave credit to certain books and their writers as their life’s important change agents. So, the writers’ appreciation of their favourites helped confirm that none of my previous and recent cravings for ‘good books’ were without meaning. Anyone, even you, will subscribe to Coady’s prefatory justification for publishing this book, so will I.
Reading is a way to live more lives, to experience more worlds, to meet people we care about and want to know more about, to understand others and develop a compassion for what they confront and endure. It is a way to learn how to knit or build a house or solve an equation, a way to be moved to laughter and wonder and to learn how to live.
One book that has made great sense to me as a teacher of English is The Elements of Style, the tiny work of William Strunk Jr. and E. B White. You may wonder why such commonplace as ‘elements of style’ would strike anyone who boasts of degrees in English and years of teaching in a reputed University’s central department. But I realized, after having gone through the authors’ terse admonitions against verbosity and carelessness, that degrees and years of teaching do not make one a writer and a teacher of effective communication. The actual prerequisite of being a writer is not only the mastery in grammar and vocabulary, but craftsmanship in stylistic and rhetorical choices.
The Elements offers an extremely concise treatment on style. I have nurtured the following assertion more than anything in life and, of course, for writing in Nepali as well:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
Strunk and White made me aware of the beauty of brevity in writing. Then Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark, a writing instructor at Poynter Institute, Florida, helped polish this awareness. The “50 essential strategies,” more as rich illustrations of good and bad samples from various established sources than commonplace imperatives, have best corresponded with my zeal for learning rhetorical styles. Clark taught me writing as an artful yet serious activity and knowledge of grammar a means to shape the artistry of expression.
Assuming the role of a highly active, playful teacher along the “strategies,” Clark encourages every aspiring and established writer to become an entertainer, a performer. He likes to take writing for carpentry, and then has this to say: “You can borrow a writing tool at any time. And here’s a secret: Unlike hammers, chisels, and rakes, writing tools never have to be returned. They can be cleaned, sharpened, and passed on.”
Clark’s metaphors of gold coins, ladder of abstraction, internal cliffhangers, X-ray reading etc. will surely tickle one’s sense of sufficiency as a writer and editor. Initially, he makes you skeptic about every sentence you write yourself and read from others. As you move on, because Clark will not allow you to drop midway, you become a better writer, better reader, better editor. Clark follows you directly into your profession. He is with me – in lectures, in instructions, in formal presentations – and now as I write these lines.
I got Wayne Booth’s famous book The Rhetoric of Rhetoric at a time I was trying to get clear knack on rhetoric in scholarly, philosophical and practical terms. Booth proved a rescuer, and a guide to the fact that rhetoric is a vastly developed academic discipline way beyond its everyday currency as a signifier of a cheap lie or a political bombast.
Booth observes rhetoric’s relevance as much in persuasive communication and study of such communication as in the resolution of conflicts, teaching of science and general upbringing of people. Of special value to me has been his idea of “rhetorology” defined as a “deepest form of listening rhetoric: the systematic probing for ‘common ground’”, which in other words involves a practice of paying attention to opponent views during a conflict situation.
Booth emphasizes that rhetoric is simply the way we think and communicate in the process of creating a better life, and eliminating slippery situations. So, I believe, after Booth, that “the quality of our lives, moment by moment, depends on the quality of our rhetoric.” Isn’t it then even more appropriate to say that the kind of political system and social structure we see/experience “depends on the rhetoric of our leaders and our responses to them”? Booth is equally true in his belief that “our children’s future depends on how they are taught rhetoric.” That is, by us.
Literature, Science and a New Humanities by Jonathan Gottschall is one of my recent readings. It has made much sense in my decision to work across humanities and other disciplines in Kathmandu University. It has reshaped my understanding of the common tension of where humanities needed proper overhaul.
Gottschall makes readers aware of three main fault lines of the current humanities scholarship. The first includes the excessive use of jargons and “theories of human nature that are defunct.” The second is a methodological problem involving the impossibility of getting tangible evidences unlike in science because the “theory-generated hypotheses” in humanities are not “closer to truth.” The third problem involves attitudinal dilemmas where the dismissal of the “possibility of generating reliable knowledge” is critical among humanities scholars.
Reading Gottschall coincides with two very important contexts of my academic life. The first involves a larger concern of the humanities ‘fraternity’, to which I belong. This is the concern for the visible decline of interest and intake in certain traditional university programmes like geography, history, political science, psychology and philosophy. That some people still desired to study English literature or journalism is nothing of a solace to a career-ambitious young man in that it is gradually subjected to preparing ‘service’ writers or higher-secondary teachers. Personally, working in an institution heavily focused to profession-specific academic programmes in science and engineering, I have always felt the need of reconfiguring my disciplinary orientation to more goal- or job-centric terrains. The second context has to do with the recent shift in my disciplinary priorities. I moved from where I liked to work (social sciences) to where I loved to belong and contribute (humanities and sciences). The move has also added a challenge of helping to interface the mutually complementary facets of communication, teaching, management, entrepreneurship, and economics in the promotion of engineering and science education.
I feel now that Gottschall’s book endorses my decision to work across these terrains. It lends adequate confidence in the goal “to establish a new humanities on surer foundations.” The foundations would then take more conciliatory yet “diverse and sophisticated methodological toolkit, and the pursuit of disinterested inquiry.” I have subscribed to Gottschall’s “call to move closer to the sciences in theory, method, and ethos.” I have accepted this mandatory, though difficult, challenge to “participate more fully in revealing the ultimate subject of the humanities: humans.” To this my life is directed with tenacity. To reiterate, I have set conciliatory, empathetic performance in scholarship to be the main motto of my further scholarly priorities.
Finally, books do not respond to the extent of leading to change unless you approach them with love and passion. Love for books comes with birth. This love becomes passion when books become a part of your upbringing. Books shape our thoughts which shape our actions. Thoughtful actions are change agents. A book’s contribution to change lies here. With this belief I seek to read good books, more and more.
– Ananda Kafle
Nepal’s wealth of water, forest and mineral resources has been a popular local slogan. The issues of their proper exploitation remain notable instruments for election campaigns of some prominent political parties. Politicians have in their minds that if these resources are exploited extensively, the economy of the country can be rapidly developed. Without talking much about the practical feasibility of utilizing these resources in economical and technical grounds, many are fond of exaggerating their potentials.
During the last centuries, whole quantity of iron and copper used in Nepal were from indigenous production. The metals produced here by traditional smelting were exported to Tibet. The Department of Mineralogy data reveal that there are at least 85 localities within the country that have been identified as iron deposits. At least 107 contain copper and 49 contain zinc minerals. Besides, other minerals comprise those of tungsten, gold, nickel, tin, calcium, aluminum, magnesium, cobalt, etc.
If not all, definitely, some of these minerals can be processed for metals that are in high demand. Copper and iron can be extracted using simpler techniques. Copper has low reactivity with other substances and hence, can be separated from rest of the materials in the mineral, more readily. Iron predominantly exists in the form of its oxide ore, which is easier to process as compared to other complicated forms. Their higher abundance in the country and high utility also point towards potentiality of these metals to be manufactured.
In the past, when no any sophisticated technology was available, our country remained a renowned place for metallurgy. Now, when the world is already richer in technologies, there seems no any practical effort being made here. Following the entry of better refined metals into the country, the conventional metallurgy that used to flourish here began to decline. Instead of making it better, we have stopped doing what we used to.
It looks like we are needed to begin from zilch on exploiting mineral deposits. Nepal government has existing laws and regulations regarding mining. Till now it has distributed hundreds of mining licenses for a variety of minerals including coal, iron, copper, gold, zinc, etc. No one knows, for so long, what is being done of those licenses. Providing licenses alone does not account for the sole responsibility on the government’s part. If it recognizes minerals as the major resources for economic growth, it should be able to present its direct involvement in the sector as an initiative.
Forest, which is remarked as a major national resource is likely to be extinct before the general public can experience any advantage from it. The politics behind hydropower projects has left water resources mainly as a job place for the cadres of political parties. The mineral resources, whose ‘unjust conduct by limited groups (?)’ is widely being lamented, will similarly be a piece of fiction if proper initiations are not made.
(Published in The Kathmandu Post May 23,2013)
So many people today — and even professional scientists — seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. – Albert Einstein
Men of the sociological tribe rarely visit the land of the physicists and have little idea what they do over there. If the sociologists were to step into the building occupied by the English department, they would encounter the cold stares if not the slingshots of the hostile natives … the disciplines exist as separate estates, with distinctive subcultures. (p. 23)
We all want to make our lives more meaningful tomorrow than they are today. This is our ideal. That ideal can be understood as truth for scientists and as an ideal place for geographers, as a good society for social scientists in general, and as a good life for the people in humanities. Because this ideal is to be achieved in the future, it is open-ended, and it requires the use of intuition and imagination. Again, I want to say that intuition and imagination know no disciplinary boundaries. (Shin, “Confessions”)
- Becher, T. (1989). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
- Frank, R. (1988). ‘Interdisciplinarity’: The first half century. In E.G. Stanley and T.F. Hoad (Eds.), Words: For Robert Burchfield’s sixty-fifth birthday (pp. 91–101). Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.
- Lattuca, L. R. (2001). Creating interdisciplinarity. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
- Moran, J. (2002). Interdisciplinarity. New York: Routledge.
- Nissani, Moti. Interdisciplinarity: What, where, why? Retrieved October 25, 2005 from http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/2030/ispessay.htm .
- Shin, Un-chol. Confessions of an Interdisciplinarian. Retrieved October 25, 2005 from http://www.humanities.eku.edu/interdisciplinarian.htm .
– Ananda Kafle
Department of Natural Sciences (Chemistry)
The later decades of the 20th century are marked as the period of a rapid growth of technologies. Beside information and communication technologies, significant developments have been achieved in a multitude of areas including agriculture, power generation, alternative energies, industrial productivity, etc. For developed countries, scientific innovations and researches have for long, remained an inevitable tool for strengthening national economy. The foundations of the 21st century identity of India and China as rapidly growing world economies were laid with the governments’ acceptance of the importance of science and technology in development.
Realization of the value of science and technology by the Chinese regime following frequent blows from Europeans in the 19th century enabled the sector to regain its pace, that was lost four centuries before, when the monarchy withdrew its interest on the subject assuming it to be trivial. Until the 14th century, when the country had its well flourished scientific innovations, China used to make remarkable contribution in the Asian economy. Especially, the four Chinese inventions – papermaking, gun powder, printing and compass (known as the Four Great Inventions) are appreciated for the prominent role they played in the then China. With the efforts of modern Chinese reformists, the science and technology sector of China has been flourishing as an independent discipline.
The field of scientific research and development is increasingly gaining higher priorities in China. The average increase in the Gross Domestic Expenditure in Research and Development (GERD) since 2000 is by 22.8%. The highest fraction of the allotted budget now is being spent in experimental developments and attempts are being made to raise the investments in applied researches. Higher expenditures in researches and an enthusiastic involvement of the business enterprises in the sector are playing important role in increasing the GDP. The multilateral efforts have made China able to rely on its own technological innovations to some extent. The ongoing developments in indigenous technologies are manifested in the fields like agriculture, manufacture of electronics, production of synthetic goods etc. All things together, are establishing China as a leading economy.
The well flourished economy of the ancient Indian subcontinent was contributed by their innovations in the then relevant areas like shipping, mining, baking earthen artifacts etc. The prosperous Vedic community was enriched with discoveries on medication, astrology and mathematics. The technologies blooming here earlier had greatly increased the power of this community among human civilizations. Inability of the scientific community to keep the spirit of the novelty and discoveries eventually kicked the territory back from the technology scenario.
In the colonial period, the British emperors had brought along with them the power of science and intellect, which in combination with the tactful political strategies, they used to dominate and rule the Indian society. After independence India’s economic growth is greatly contributed by innovations in technologies, especially in automobile engineering, nuclear science and information technology.
Some powerful political leaders in Nepal take the abutting Indian states as development models for our own country. The economic growth in different Indian states including those lagged behind in mainstream development are a consequence of the increasing investments that the government has been making in the field of scientific research and technology development, coupled with improved governance. Even in the time of harsh economy it has been making a 1/5th increment in science budget every year. Indian agriculture is not limited in development of dams, irrigation facilities and proper supply of the farm essentials, rather, is getting increasingly assisted by most modern technologies. Besides, the industrial sector including automobiles, textiles, pharmaceuticals, software etc are vigorously growing. The nations that are in the race of becoming the prospective world powers have been using science and technology as the most efficient tool to accomplish their purposes.
While the two large neighbors are making a big hop in development and use of technologies, the situation of our own is the most disappointing. We are not simply lagging behind with regards to the scientific innovations, rather, have not even started walking. Our agriculture sector, which is claimed to make the highest contribution to the GDP, has still remained within debates of how to augment the farm yield from traditional methods. Instead of being grown through the application of modern technologies, many of the industries are getting closed. The possibilities of using native technologies in agriculture or industries are still like a far cry.
The scientific research sector has always remained staggered by the government’s indifference, corruption and uncertainty. The organizations like Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) etc. and the universities in the country, which are supposed to be the centers of research activities have almost become non- functional. Instead of carrying out their actual job, the officials are busy pleasing the political power centers for their own development. This sector has been polluted by the political and bureaucratic influences. Instead of the scientists, the bureaucrats are making themselves the real leaders. General complaints are that the largest fraction of the scanty amount of budget that is allocated for scientific researches is either embezzled or is spent for purposes like international visits of the officials. Most of the scientists, who are working on the grants from foreign agencies, spend their skills on planning how to manipulate expenditures so that a large amount of the grants goes to their own pockets.
If we are to move ahead in the race of development and increasing national prestige, all the rubbishes associated with the scientific communities must be removed and technological innovations promoted or else, we can’t be upgraded from the status of the mere consumers of foreign products and gadgets.
(The numerical data presented are based on the official information from the concerned governments and authorities.)
(Earlier published in Republica, 7 August 2013)