A very ‘calculating’ engineer 

When off-duty, this NIC official posted in Arunachal’s Changlang district is engaged in removing the fear of mathematics among students. 
Schoolkids participate in exhibitions; Gautam poses with students.
Schoolkids participate in exhibitions; Gautam poses with students.

ARUNCHAL PRADESH: B.Tech engineer from Uttar Pradesh has taken up the gauntlet to make the children of Changlang in Arunachal Pradesh fall in love with science and mathematics. They are afraid of the two subjects, particularly mathematics, and Keshav Singh Gautam wanted to remove their fear. 
Perched on the Myanmar border, Changlang is one of India’s 10 low-performing districts.

A product of Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur, Gautam is a scientific technical assistant of the National Informatics Centre (NIC), currently serving as an Additional District Informatics Officer (ADIO). He joined the service in 2018 and his first posting was in Changlang.

This engineer maintains a fine balance between his official duties and his role as a teacher. On January 6 this year, he began teaching class 10 students the two subjects at Government Higher Secondary School, Changlang and Secondary School, Laktong in the vicinity. He takes classes when off-duty. Talking about donning the teacher’s mantle, albeit temporarily, Gautam told this newspaper that he wanted to help the students overcome their fear of the curriculum.

“I observed that the performance of class 10 students in the last board examination (in 2022) was disturbing. I felt I have an engineering background and I can contribute positively. So, I approached district magistrate Sunny K Singh. He responded positively,” Gautam says.

He has four others in his team – two government employees, Harsh Saikia (economics) and Kiruba Suthan (biology and geography), and two locals, Langmung Ngemu (history) and Supriya Pasi (political science), who have finished their studies and are preparing for competitive exams.

“The DM sir is instrumental in motivating students. He also encouraged parents to send their children to schools,” Gautam says.

The parents were initially not much bothered whether their wards went out to take this extra class but they soon started realising the importance of it when the DM called a parents’ meeting.

“Schools are closed due to summer vacation but I have continued with taking one class to make sure students do not have a learning gap. I now teach around 40 students in the morning. They are from different schools. I am getting a good response from them,” the NIC officer says.

He says many families cannot afford to send their children to private tuition centres as their fees are high. The regular teachers in the schools get busy ahead of exams and the syllabus is hurriedly covered. The extra class is helping them a lot, he adds.

Talking about the interest and knowledge of students in science and mathematics, Gautam says they hardly have any craze for the two subjects, particularly mathematics. “You won’t find even five-six students out of 200 in the two schools taking up the science stream after class 10,” he says.

Science and mathematics are invariably the two subjects which most find very difficult to clear. In this year’s class 10 board, the schools in Changlang town had altogether 224 students and 216 had appeared. A total of 74 passed, 62 failed while 80 others will reappear in the supplementary exam in July. They failed to clear one or two subjects, mostly science or mathematics or both.

Gautam says the students have foundational problems. Citing an example, he says there are many who struggle to even add or subtract numbers, adding the situation is such that even many class 10 students do not know the multiplication tables up to 10.

Gautam’s team at NIC also organises workshops on computer learning and science exhibitions with support from the administration. It won the gold award for excellence in digital governance in Digital India Awards, 2020.

Come July, he and the four others with him will take classes for some youths preparing for police jobs.
The DM says foundational literacy is dismal in Changlang. He says more than 50% of students of even class 5 cannot perform basic mathematics. The average pass percentage in class 10 board stands at 36. A worrying factor is some students drop out after failing and become vulnerable to drugs.

“Teaching is his passion. He has the ability to connect as evident from students thronging to celebrate his birthday. It is rare that the students here celebrate a teacher’s birthday together,” the DM said.

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