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Going beyond textbooks

Meera Srinivasan


“I can’t call this programme a great success or failure. But it is certainly one of its kind”


— Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

M. Narayanaswamy.

CHENNAI: He recalls incidents from over half a century ago with phenomenal ease. He speaks about Lord Macaulay and Nanotechnology with the same amount of eagerness. When M. Narayanaswamy, honorary secretary of the Children’s Club Society, Mylapore, says he turns 90 later this month, one cannot but be surprised. (The Children’s Club Society, founded in 1947, is itself celebrating its Diamond Jubilee this year.) The veteran talks about the programme he has built and sustained.

“Parents and students, these days, are more interested in lessons that are part of the syllabus prescribed in schools. But our programme goes beyond the syllabus,” Mr. Narayanaswamy says.

The science programme at the Society, since 1987, is aimed at promoting a scientific temperament among students. Senior scientists and professors of international repute, from institutions such as the IITs, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, the Chennai Mathematical Institute, the Ramanujam Centre, Anna University and Vivekananda College give lectures every Sunday.

Besides basic sciences, topics relating to a variety of subjects such as global warming, biotechnology and nanotechnology are covered in detail. “Children learn without the fear of examination. We do cover areas related to their syllabus. But we go much beyond the scheme of their textbooks,” he explains.

So how did Mr. Narayanaswamy build this programme over the years? As an Economics and Political Science graduate from Loyola College, he was admitted to Harvard University to pursue higher studies, but he could not take it up.

Obeying his father’s wish, he took up a job and served various bodies such as the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC).

On his return to Chennai, Mr. Narayanaswamy was asked if he would take over the running of the science club. “I said I was not interested in conducting the usual table tennis or chess classes alone. I insisted that I be given a free hand to run the science programme.”

The science programme may have been a late entrant in the club’s activities, but has over the years built an enviable reputation for itself. The lectures as part of this programme are held every Sunday between 9.30 and 11.30 a.m., from June to December. The programme is targeted at students of Class XI and XII. No fee is charged. “The lectures will be held even if only two students turn up. Unless there is a storm or earthquake, it will go on,” he says.

For the lecture series organised between April and June, a small fee is collected for the reading material and compact disks that would be distributed to students. The club also has Rs.50,000-worth endowment prizes to give participants.

“I can’t call this programme a great success or failure. But it is certainly one of its kind,” he says.

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