Don't burden children with too much homework

Don't burden children with too much homework

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

The joint winner of this year’s chemistry Nobel Prize recalls in this exclusive interview to Deccan Herald his formative years in Baroda where he did his schooling at the Convent of Jesus and Mary and later graduated in physics.

Reluctant to give an interview, Venky, however, happily agreed “since you’re (the DH staffer) an old schoolmate.”

A favourite student of the late T C Patel, a ‘task master’ maths teacher whom every student feared, Venky makes it a point to acknowledge him as one of the most important persons who inspired him.

The Nobel Prize winner is proud of his basic education in India and says schools in India offer very good foundation in basic education. “The fact that students from India go on to do extremely well in the West means that at least it is possible to get a very good foundation in terms of basic education in India”.

Venky has not forgotten the Science Talent Scholarship he won as a school boy, which eventually spurred a career in science. He doesn’t agree with the tendency in India to burden young students with too much homework and exams. Nor does he share this mad rush for engineering and medical education.

Not at all studious
“I was not at all a studious person… This is the kind of nonsense that I think people want to believe, because there is a tendency in Indian families to burden their children with homework and exams. The other tendency is to force them into ‘safe’ careers like medicine, engineering, management, etc. I remember people being shocked when I refused a medical college seat or engineering to do a BSc in physics.”

He believes that young children need relaxation as well, not just study, study and more study. “I shall never forget my days playing in the mango and chickoo (sapota) groves in school. It is a pity that trees are cut down not only in our school but all over cities in India. When I visit India, it is a little sad to see that cities have grown with little planning and allowance for green and open spaces. Where will the children of today play? They come home and perhaps watch TV or are forced to do lots of homework.”

The Nobel Laureate goes on: “I enjoyed the fact that my parents pretty much left me alone to do what I wanted… There is a myth being floated around that I was very studious, etc., but in fact I was a fairly care-free child, often failed to do my homework because I preferred playing with friends, running around, climbing trees... I remember that after school hours some of us would just play until it was time for dinner. When I read, it was often things other than my textbooks”.

Relaxation for him is not just play. Studying in a girls’ school savoured many good memories. He prides himself with his nimble fingers at needlework.
“I still have a table cloth I embroidered, and I show it to people and mention that I went to a girls’ school. They first think I’m joking and then are highly amused.”


“Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to learn music when I was growing up, which I regret. My son Raman Ramakrishnan is a well known cellist (although his undergraduate degree was in physics from Harvard. His website is: www.daedalusquartet.com and he has been to India several times to play at music festivals in Mumbai and Delhi), as has my daughter-in-law Melissa Reardon who is a violinist (www.ensoquartet.com). My step-daughter Tanya Kapka is a doctor who has been to India twice, and has worked as an intern at Christian Medical College in Vellore.”

About his Nobel award, Venky says: “I think chemistry, as the Nobel Committee defines it, is very broad, and includes people like Rutherford who certainly did not think of themselves as chemists. It was of course a surprise and honour to be chosen as one of the three because many people have contributed to the problem.”

Venky is married to Vera Rosenberry, a children’s book writer and illustrator. She has published over 20 books, including some with Indian themes like the story of Savitri.

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