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Why on earth would a child study?

If you happen to study at a prestigious institute, I’m sure you must have come across this situation. You visit one of your relatives’ house. As fate would have it, they have a kid studying in school. You, in their eyes the supreme authority on the art of “studying” would be asked to persuade the child to study more often and waste less time.

I’ve been there often, and I am never able to figure out what should I tell the little child. The parents would say that he watches cartoons all the time, or plays outside most of the time. Think from the child’s perspective. Why on earth would he leave the exciting world of Doraemon, with all the magical things in it, and get back to learning tables of 17 (I picked up 17 randomly as I never used to get it correct). He already has all the things we “grown ups” wish to have - friends, a healthy active body, a caring family which provides for all his needs and lots of free time.

As for me, I did well in “studies” because I loved the things that I learnt.

One afternoon, when I was small, I was solving some problems on perfect squares. And I saw something interesting. Take the first perfect square - 1 and add 3 to it. You get 4, which is the next perfect square. After 3, the next odd number is 5. Add 5 to 4 and viola! you get 9 which is the next perfect square. Add 7 to it and you get 16.

Perfect Squares Odd numbers Sum of the two
1 3 1+3=4
4 5 4+5=9
9 7 9+7=16
16 9 16+9=25
25 11 25+11=36

By this time I was so thrilled. My little brain already thought I was the next Archimedes, or Newton! After verifying that this “Kundan’s conjecture” was true for the next few iterations, I ran out to one of the more learned people in the neighbourhood. He is a very good friend of mine, who was much senior to me, probably he had just passed twelfth grade at that time and was preparing to become a CA. I revealed to him my glorious discovery. I expected a look of awe, but I just got something like “Yeah, it happens that way.” I was disappointed, that I was not the first one to discover that pattern. But I still remember how happy I felt when I found that pattern. Later, when I learnt more things, I figured out that it was actually a pretty simple thing.

So the sequence of differences between consective perfect squares is the sequence of odd numbers starting from 3 (actually you can start from 1 if you take 0 to be the first perfect square) .

Then there was the time when I unplugged the front lens of my binoculars and put it in front of a window with bright sunshine outside. I put a white paper on the other side and saw the exact image of the trees outside on the paper. It was beautiful. I had just made a basic camera. It is also important to emphasize here that at that time, I had extremely shortsigted vision. I could not see the trees clearly from that far, but on the paper they were just gorgeous. So maybe that added to the effect :p

There were many such moments- the time when I saw a cell under a microscope, when I used wires from my computer’s printer port to power an LED light, when I filled a syringe with water and fitted a pen’s nib in the front to make a water pen (I really loved that one).

Now I’m back, looking at the child, wondering how to tell him all this. But more importantly, do the parents care about all this? Unfortunately, for many people, perhaps most people, studying is just the routine thing that their kids must do to get a good life when they grow up. For them, good marks are all that is important, as they look at it as some sort of golden ticket which is guaranteed to give the children a “secure” future. Maybe this trick works, but I don’t think that the kid would be content with his professional life in the future. In any case, if that is what parents want, then no I can not tell the kid why he/she should study harder.


Written by Kundan Krishna on 16th May 2016

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are based on the author’s own experiences and cognitive biases. Hence they might not be true in general.