Insightful Learning




Why is it that the Indian Industries find only a small percentage of the applicants employable? Why is it that students find it difficult to get employment inspite of scoring in 90’s in the examinations? What exactly is wrong with our system of education?


It is because the students lack insight into the subject. They fail to see the quantum of knowledge they have ingested connected to the practical life. What they have are only a mass of disjointed words which they have learnt through ‘mugging’ and can easily recall and reproduce sometimes in sequences, sometimes in patterns and sometimes mathematically as formulae. The chits some of them smuggle into the examination hall are perhaps the exact way the information has been stashed in others’ minds too.


But what they should remember is not the sequence but the meaning it conveys, not just the patterns but their relevance in the background of actual life situation and not just formulae but the logic behind the process of its derivation.


It is very obvious that those who have this insight into the topics are the ones who do well later in real life in spite of relatively lower marks and it is not the rankers and toppers. In fact insight and high marks is a very rare combination which goes towards making a good, intelligent worker. That’s why how one succeeds in their jobs is totally unconnected with the marks they have in their academic report cards. A person who grasps the whole picture is the one most likely to succeed as a leader or manager.


How is this insight achieved? It depends mostly on how the subjects are presented in the class rooms. For this, the caliber of the teacher should be high not just academically but in making the students relate their learning to their everyday life.


I still remember my first high school Physics class. Already coming from Kannada medium to English-that too to learn a new subject impressively called Physics was daunting enough. The teacher introduced the words ‘solute’, ‘solvent’ and ‘solution’- all in chalk and talk and dictated the definitions for us to take down, which we were supposed to ‘mug’ and reproduce it verbatim in the examination, we being none the wiser. How could a child ever see this as related to real life? If only the teacher had been intelligent enough or better still insightful enough to bring half a test tube full of water and a teaspoonful of salt and mixed it in front of them or asked one of them to mix it  and then explained the terms, the child would have had no difficulty in identifying them in the milk she drank everyday, in the tea her mother made, in the sambar she consumed everyday.


At primary stage topics like measurement and currency, the students could be asked to bring their own measuring tape and small coins and experiment with them


By the time the students come to high school, they can conceptualise certain things and at this stage, the derivation of formulae can be taught in a more logical, heuristic way.


For example let us take the example of Specific heat and its formula.


a) Let’s take 2 beakers of same size, one half filled with  water and the other with three quarters filled  at same temperature and supply same amount of heat to both.

Which one takes more heat to reach temperature of say 80 degrees?

“The smaller one”. More the quantity , more is the heat required.


So, Heat required is proportional to the mass of the water. Q is proportional to m


b) Let’s take a beaker half full of water from the refrigerator and the other half full of water at room temperature. Supply the heat till they both reach 84 degrees.

Which one takes more heat?

“The water from refrigerator’. More the difference in temperature, more is the heat required.

So, Heat required is proportional to the difference between initial and final temperature. Q ia proportional to difference in temperature., say T2-Tl



How do you combine the two statements?

Q is ppl to m(T2-T1)

How do you convert this proportionality to an equation?


“By using a constant”


Q= mS(T2-T1)


What is this S, the constant? That is called the Specific heat of a substance. Why is it called ‘Specific’?


Supposing you take equal amounts of water and oil (same m) and at same temperatures (T1) and heat them to same temperature (T2), will Q the amount of heat required be same for both. “NO”.

The Q will be different for different substances as their S, their specific heats are different. That is why it is called SPECIFIC HEAT.




Q= m S (T2-T1)


Or,      S= Q when m and T2-T1   are all 1


In other words, Specific heat of a substance is the heat required to heat 1 gm of substance through 1 degree Celsius.

As mentioned earlier, the sp ht differs from substance to substance.


Once the derivation of formulae is taught to students through eliciting answers, ‘mugging’ of the formula becomes redundant.  If the student remembers how it was derived and recalls it with insight,that is more desirable than ‘mugging’ it. Any formulae in Physics could be taught to the students like this at high school level and they are not likely to forget them.


Similarly in Algebra it is very necessary for the students to arrive at the fact why the signs change when algebraic quantities change sides by discovery and insight. For a teacher the moment the students’ faces brighten when they get the insight is the most valuable moment in her teaching.


For Indian students to do well in technical field, research and innovation, it is very necessary that their learning becomes insightful not just a jumble of meaningless, disjointed bytes.

(This article was published in the Education supplement of Deccan Herald dated 4th April 2013)