Random Education

“This should be interesting,” said Raja as he sat down for breakfast.

Radha just gave him a quizzical expression.

“Social media is great. You know who I stumbled upon recently? My teacher in high school I have not seen or heard from for the past 20 years. Yes, he was a big pain and made my life miserable but generally decent. I would have enjoyed school days a lot more if not for him.”

Radha was not totally with him. “Well, teachers, especially decent ones are not there to let you enjoy life. They give you good education. Especially scatter brains like you. Perhaps you should have listened to him more.”

Raja was not letting it go. “What do you mean? Have I not made a good life? I am not out on the streets. I am fairly successful. All those impractical lessons were certainly not the reason.”

“Listen, Raja. You are still not settled. I grant you that you are intelligent. But do you have a stable career? You make money, lose money. You keep hopping from one job to another.”

“Hey, I am a millennial. I am like a butterfly. I like new experiences. And I do make decent money. A job is just to park myself somewhere when I do my real work. Stock market is my arena. In our growing economy, it is more like a gold mine. I will certainly match Warren Buffet one day.”

“Speculation can’t be the base for people like us with no financial backup. It is like gambling. How many times you have been burnt? If not for me and my steady salary, I wonder where we would be. Sorry, I have to mention this but it is the truth.”

Raja was a little annoyed. “What about the times I made big bucks? We couldn’t have travelled to Europe or booked this flat if not for what I made.”

Radha was quiet. As he got up, Rajah told her that he was meeting his old teacher that afternoon.

Radha couldn’t resist the jibe. “Perhaps your teacher would drill some sense into you and complete your education.”

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As he paid off his taxi, Raja looked at the imposing school building. Memories came flooding back.

He looked at the huge clock at the top. It showed the correct time of 5.30 pm. They seemed to have repaired it. It had a shattered front for quite some time when he was a student. On a whim, he had taken a bet that he would do a direct hit with a stone. He did. In any boys-only school these shenanigans must be commonplace. So he had to really up the game and go for something that topped others.

After signing in at the security, he walked inside. In spite of minor changes, everything looked the same. He could walk to the principal’s office blindfolded. Mr Johnson was a new teacher at his time. Now he was the principal. How many youngsters he had to torture to achieve this, wondered Raja ruefully.

It was a blend of nervousness and excitement as he entered Mr Johnson’s office. To his surprise, Mr Johnson was very friendly and unpretentious. He welcomed Raja warmly. Well, that was quite a contrast to his previous experiences in entering the lion’s den.

“It is always a pleasure to see old students come and visit us. And I am glad you are doing well in the world outside. These are things that motivate old teachers like me.”

“Thank you, Mr Johnson. I am must admit that I am feeling pleased myself. And you have to understand that it was not the feeling I had when was in the school.”

‘But, Raja, were you not happy when you were here as a child?” Mr Johnson sounded a little surprised. ‘Anyway I have a surprise for you.’

Raja was curious. “Surprise for me?”

“Yes, knowing that you are coming down I have invited your old teacher Mr Kumar to join us” announced Mr Johnson.

Mr Kumar was Raja’s class teacher for some years. He was a numbers man. He taught basic statistics, maths and subjects like that. Must have surely retired by now.

Mr Kumar would surely live to hundred years. As Raja was thinking about him, he entered the room. He couldn’t recognise Raja easily. Mr Kumar was very neatly but simply dressed. He still had an air of authority about him.

However, just like Mr Johnson, he too was very amiable. They indulged in a bit of small talk.

Then, Mr Johnson asked Raja, “Why don’t you come for an interactive session with student one of these days. I am sure they will be interested in hearing from you. We can work out a suitable topic.”

Raja tried hard to suppress his feeling of swelling pride. Imagine, being asked to talk to little brats just like he was some twenty years ago. But now he is a worldly-wise gentleman ready to impart wisdom. Simultaneously, his mind had some perverse thoughts of silly tricks those little demons would inflict upon visitors. His thoughts were racing fast and he was a bit overwhelmed. But his answer was surprising.

“Thank you, Mr Johnson. You are too kind to think I have something worthwhile to say to the youngsters. Perhaps I do. But I think I must decline.”

Mr Johnson gave him a sharp look. Mr Kumar was just quiet. “Why, Raja? Are you very busy? We can work out a suitable time.”

“No, Mr Johnson. I don’t think I should do this.” Raja couldn’t elaborate.

Mr Kumar was still simply sitting there observing them. He didn’t say anything. Mr Johnson changed the topic and said, “Okay then. I have a little bit of work before I close today. Why don’t you go with Mr Kumar for school tour and we will join for some refreshments at the juice shop in the street corner.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was eerie feeling walking thorough empty corridors in the late evening. Raja remembered the place always full of people, boys running around, teachers walking about, noises of shouting and muted sounds of indistinct chatter alternating each other depending on the time during the day.

“Raja, what is the real reason you don’t want to talk the students? Are you nervous? Tell me.” Mr Kumar was as authoritative as he was 20 years ago.

“No, Sir. I have to be very frank if I have to tell you the real reason.”

“Tell me.”

“Well, I have learnt great many things in my life. I have used all that to make my life. But, with all due respect, I have not learnt many useful things as a student in this school. I am sorry for being brutally honest. Nothing practical has ever been taught to me when I was here. I don’t want to tell the students all this.” Raja was surprised that Mr Kumar was still listening calmly.

“Raja, I appreciate your candid words. But I am not sure I agree with you though.” Mr Kumar said.. Then he suggested that they walk to he juice shop and meet up with Mr Johnson.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

All of three of took a table by the window in the small juicery. They could look at the busy road with peak hour traffic. Lots of pedestrians passing by. What with a shopping complex and eateries nearby. 7.15 pm in the evening saw a lot activity.

The locality seemed to have changed a lot since Raja was a student. The school building on the road seemed to be only one which stood impervious to the march of time.

Raja took some time take in the scenery. Mr Kumar started the conversation. “Mike, I had some good conversation with Raja. And yes, he still does not want to interact with students. And the reason he says is because he is being considerate to us. He does not believe he can be frank with students and tell them what he thinks because that would offend us.”

Mr Johnson was puzzled. Mr Kumar explained Raja’s views on practicality of school education and how people learn more from experiencing the world outside.

“That is an interesting perspective, Raja. But I would have imagined that many things you learnt from experience would have their foundation in what you learnt in school, right? Like, 1,2,3 and ABC,” explained Mr Johnson’s in a pleasant tone.

“No, Sir. In school, we are made to learn many things by force. And all these things could actually be picked up in real life with experience. You see, even a illiterate beggar on the street knows how to count. He could speak the language. In fact, if you go tourist spots, you will small boys acting as guides could speak seven or eight languages. They didn’t learn it in school.” Raja was coming into his elements.

Mr Johnson still maintained a reasonable tone. “All right, Raja. What you say is true. But in school you not only learn the basics but a whole lot more. Theory behind concepts, assumptions, exceptions, origins.’

Raja rudely interrupted him, “There we go again. This is precisely why I got lost in school. Never took interest. Has it affected my life. No. Not at all.”

“You mean to say that you never used what you picked up from school in your life. Nothing was useful in helping you make a career or avoid mistakes or develop your skills?” asked Mr Johnson.

“I am sorry to say, Sir, that is true. However, I learnt many things on the go. For instance, I never got good marks from Mr Kumar. But I have made a lot many is trading stocks and shares. I understand probability. Where did I learn all these. Certainly not in class.’ Raja continued, “In fact, I am enjoying this interactive session with you both, my teachers, where I am sharing my worldly experience.”

Mr Johnson seemed a little irritated, Mr Kumar still appeared calm.

Raja continued, “Let me tell you how you can make the school better. You play games with children. Get them involved. Get them feel the fear and exhilaration playing life games. Yes, I am a speculator. I make money in the stock market. I understand statistics. How will I teach that tosomeone else? Let me show you.”

Mr Kumar said,looking at his watch, “I am glad to see you getting energised, Raja. But perhaps we can continue this some other time.”

“No, sir, Just a little more time. Let us play a thought game. This is an ideal time to play this game as there are plenty subjects for the game. As we look out of the window, we see people walking past. Some male and some female. You and I know that male:female ratio is 1:1. Here in this road it seems to be the same as people come in families for shopping or eating.

“Now to make things interesting, we can place some bets. It is all about probabilities. I will place a conservative bet if you tell me that the next person to walk by the window is a male. Because the probability is 50% However, I will be safe to place higher bets if you tell me that the next 3 people to pass by the window would all be male because the probability is only 12%. That means I can bet you 800 rupees to 100 on that.

Raja was on a roll. “And if we say the bet is next 10 people would be all male, the probability is roughly 1 in thousand. I can bet you rupees 100,000 to rupees hundred.”

Mr Kumar appeared a bit impatient. He looked a his watch and said, “OK, Raja, will you wager a million for my hundred if I say the next 25 people would all be female?’ And quietly Mr Kumar placed an actual hundred rupee note.

Raja was taken aback. But he was game. He was not even thinking of how he would get a million rupees if he lost. But then Mr Kumar made a silly bet. “Sir, you are mad. With all your knowledge of statistics and numbers you are making a stupid bet like this.”

Mr Kumar was composed. He said, “Young man, I know my statistics, numbers, probabilities, conditions. And the real world. Take the bet, if you dare.” Raja said, “Done.”

They all looked outside the window to see an employee bus drop off about 30 women for the next shift in the 24/7 supermarket nearby. The chattering women filled the pavement and marched off crossing their window. So not one or two or three. Next thirty people to cross the window were all women.

There was silence all around and it was not clear whether the education was complete.
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PS: This story is based on an example shared by my brother when he was showing me the intricacies of statistics. He always made learning fun. Wish more teachers would do the same.

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Pandiyan Vairamani

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