Published: 31st July 2019
At 81, this Professor of Science recounts his numerous experiences in the world of teaching
We speak to Professor Dr SO Pillai about his years of experience in the teaching field and his greatest takeaways from them
Even at the age of 81, Dr S O Pillai has tons of activities to keep him engaged all day long. From voraciously reading and writing and following the latest updates in the field of Science to occasionally trying his hand at cooking, this former Professor is certainly leading a busy retired life. However, Pillai has no qualms about taking some time out of his daily routine to narrate about his vibrant and well-lived life. In a tête-a-tête with EdEx, this versatile writer and recipient of numerous honours recounts nearly 35 years of teaching experience and shares some of the interesting incidents he has come across.
This native of Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu is currently a resident of Kozhikode. Pillai was born in 1938 and was one among the brightest students of his school. “After completing my schooling, I wanted to take up a degree in Mathematics or Physics and had no inclination towards engineering or medicine,” he says. Owing to his high grades, he joined for the BSc (Hons) course in Physics at Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu, following which he was selected, along with four other students for the MSc course at the institute. Further, he went ahead to join as a lecturer in Physics at Dr Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering and Technology in Karaikudi as per the advise of his family members.
“After serving 15 years at the institute and handling the wide spectrum of Physics for undergraduate students, I was recruited by the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission and posted as an Assistant Professor in Physics at the College of Engineering in Guindy under Anna University,” says Pillai. It was at the institute that Pillai came across several life-changing experiences. Whenever a fight broke out among students in the college or hostel, Pillai was the person that the faculty and staff sought help from. “I was always sent to settle issues among students and this helped me create a rapport with them,” he says.
Sharing a moving incident that he had during his tenure at the institute, Pillai adds, “Back then, students were made to sit in classrooms as per their rank in the entrance examination and were not allowed to switch places. In one of my classes, I noticed that a student seated in the last row was looking outside the classroom during all my sessions. Later on, I learned that he was partially blind and was actually trying to focus in class by tilting his head. I wanted to help him out and with the permission of the other students, I shifted him to the front row.”
Pillai who was often refereed to as the ‘First Pillar of the College’ by his colleagues, was also co-instrumental in starting Msc courses in ‘Material Science’ and ‘Medical Physics’ at the college. Known for his devotion towards his work and his amicable relationship with his colleagues, Pillai was chosen for the ‘Dr Radhakrishnan Best Teacher Award’ instituted by the Government of Tamil Nadu for the year 1990-1991. “It was one among the proudest and memorable moments of my life,” he says. He was also honoured by the state government for actively taking part in blood donation during the period of 1976 and 1995, and setting an example for his students.
The revered professor also has half a dozen research papers and 12 scholarly books to his credit, including ‘Solid State Physics’ and ‘Rudimentals of Material Science', a dozen research papers and six books. Interestingly, all the books have been composed without any reference to other sources. “I used to have the habit of preparing daily notes for my classes. So after retirement, when I sat to write my books, I just had to go through my handwritten notes for reference,”he says.
When asked what changes he would like to witness in the field of education, Pillai adds, “I strongly believe that children should be sent to school only after the age of five. My experience in teaching has also taught me that it is better if subjects are taught to students in their mother tongue, in lower primary classes."