also known as IIT Ramaiah, he is an educationist, an MLC of Andhra Pradesh and an acclaimed expert in mathematics coaching for IIT-JEE | A Radha Krishna / Express
For most, 55 years is a ripe age to hang up their boots and settle down to the lull of impending retirement. Not so for Chukka Ramaiah who became a household name in Andhra Pradesh for mentoring students for admissions to the premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). The retired mathematics teacher from AP Residential Degree College at Nagarjuna Sagar moved to Hyderabad in 1983 looking forward to a means of subsistence. “My pension papers were not settled then and the age of superannuation was also 55 years. Financially, I needed a way out and though I had never taken tuition classes for students during my service, it was the natural progression for someone with a passion for teaching,” admits Ramaiah.
The idea for guiding students in maths for the national competitive examination was also born out of an observation Ramaiah made when he visited IIT-Madras as a parent for his daughter’s admission. “In a class of 40, there was hardly any representation from AP, though 20 students were from Tamil Nadu. This suggested that the students were not able to match up to the standards of the national competitive tests and this inspired me to take up learning and subsequently, teaching the subject,” says the octogenarian.
The classes started with 10 students in a six by four room at Ramaiah’s unassuming residence. “As the students were pursuing their intermediate, they wanted to come for the classes at 4am. I would wake up at 3am, go for a walk and be ready for the class. That was my routine for more than two decades,” says Ramaiah.
The educationist believes that what transpired in class was not ‘teaching’ but a two-way process where the teacher learnt from the students too. “To teach, I had to come up with interesting problems, which could not be found in any textbooks or previous years’ papers. Often, students came up with an elegant way of answering problems which I could not device. My students taught me a lot,” he observes.
In a fit of laughter, he also mentions how he was taunted by his wife who commented that despite being a mathematics teacher for nearly 40 years at the Degree College, he had to prepare for each class. “I never studied in an IIT but the students made me study for four to five hours a day.”
It took him a series of batches to establish his potential as a good mentor. “None of the students from the 1984 batch could get through IIT-JEE though interested students knew of someone who taught the subject for the national entrance. In 1986, eight students of 15 were selected for IITs. As most of the IIT-aspirants would go to a different teacher for guidance in physics and chemistry, they requested us to conduct the classes at a common centre and the institute started in 1986 with all of us getting together. The support I have received from my colleagues is a vital part of the success which came our way,” reminisces the academician, who became a Member of Legislative Committee (MLC) in 2007.
By 2002, the institute admitted 125 students every year after an entrance exam. “We faced a lot of flak for conducting the written test for admission to the institute but people were trying to wield influence by asking us to take in a certain student. Initially, people tried disrupting the entrance examination and wrote a scathing piece about it daily. The entrance ensured that only those students who had the potential were taken in as all one can do is nurture talent, not create it. The institute was never about money,” says Ramaiah.
He adds that the culture of ‘corporate junior colleges’ that offer coaching apart from intermediate education have resulted in a formulaic method of teaching. “Since 2002, when multiple choice questions were introduced in JEE, the standards have dipped. The reason is that it does not really test the analytical skills of a student and one can always refer previous question papers and make it through. Also, we faced stiff competition from corporate colleges who would find out the students who made it through our entrance and lure them away with promise of cash awards or fee waivers. We never indulged in such tricks and as a result, students from my institute have not been giving consistent results,” observes the academician.
Apart from many social initiatives, he also mentors students from Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Residential Junior College for qualifying through the IIT-JEE. In JEE 2012, 35 per cent of the students who are mostly first-generation learners secured a place in the premier institutions. “When the system for reservation was introduced in JEE, only 40 to 50 seats of the 600 allotted for students from SC and ST categories would be filled. Keeping this in view, I suggested the state government to initiate a special college for students from rural areas. It took close to four to five years of mentoring to script a JEE success story.”