Dr Suhas Pednekar, principal R N Ruia College and recipient of the Tata Chemicals Best Chemistry Teachers Award talks to Knowledge about promoting the subject and generating interest among students
Even the teachers agree that fields in pure sciences are not the first choice among students, who want to opt for more professional courses. Professor Dr Suhas Pednekar, principal of R N Ruia College, has been working relentlessly to promote his subject – chemistry among undergraduate and postgraduate students.
His persistent efforts have paid off, not only in the field, but also in terms of recognition, especially after winning the Best Teacher Award in Maharashtra last year, and more recently, winning the national-level Tata Chemicals Best Chemistry Teachers Award (Bchelor’s Degree).
The BCTA is a part of a larger initiative by Tata Chemicals called the ‘Human Touch of Chemistry’. The aim of these awards is to appreciate the work put in by chemistry teachers across India.
Dr Pednekar was selected for the award by the eminent panel of academicians and scientists for his commitment to teaching and popularizing the subject. “It is unfortunate that the trend for students opting for pure sciences is declining in favour of more professional courses,” he opines, stressing the need for making students aware of the future prospects of taking up the subject. He also talks about the need to promote chemistry in a different and more appealing way to students.
This promotion, according to him should come in the form of interesting experiments conducted in the laboratory. “I realized long ago that in science, most things are taught to students in theory and very little in experiments. In fact, science cannot be understood by reading textbooks and theory. It is a classic case of learning by doing. We are trying to bring this trend to Ruia College, where students work on new and unique experiments and research projects, outside of the syllabus to keep their interest levels intact,” says the eminent academician.
With the propagation of experiments, comes in Dr Pednekar’s field of expertise – micro-skill techniques in chemistry. This process has a two-fold advantage. It helps reduce pollution in the lab while conducting the experiments, and also makes it possible to conduct experiments with minute quantities of substances, thus reducing the cost.
“I was fortunate enough to be trained in this technique in the US over a decade ago. Many colleges forego experiments due to rising costs of chemicals. With this technique, that cost is eliminated. I have conducted teacher training workshops in many colleges within and outside of Maharashtra, and I hope that these teachers are able to propagate the subject with it,” says Dr Pednekar, who also informs that laboratory pollution is one of the reasons why students in higher education opt out of studying chemistry. He mentions that we in India continue to use a few hazardous substances for experiments even when these are banned in other countries. The ill-effects of these chemicals sometimes surface after years, when it is too late to reverse the process.
Dr Pednekar’s current research is focussed on green chemistry – which is how to use chemical processes without hazardous substances, and chemicals that are harmful to the environment. He tries to inculcate the interest for the field among his students as well, and extend this interest through other teachers.
Apart from these processes,
Dr Pednekar says that he is aware that financial reasons also determine the choice of subjects for any student. In pure science, it takes longer to reach a level that you can perhaps reach with an MBA. “That’s why an idea was circulating in the Mumbai University to reduce the MSc programme to a year from two years. If we see, in 12 months, we teach only for about eight, and the rest of the year is gone in holidays. If this time is utilised for intensive training, it would not be difficult to finish the course within a year,” he opines. Apart from specializations, he feels, students need to be offered horizontal options with exposure to other disciplines, for instance, science students taking classes on economics or management.
Dr Pednekar is one of five recipients of the BCTA in different categories. He is definitely inspired further with his work being recognised, and is happy about the fact that his network of colleges will expand with this award. “I will be able to interact with and train teachers from across the country, will be great exposure for me as well,” he ends positively.