In Hyderabad, there is an educational institute that has become synonymous with the Indian engineer’s utopia, IIT. Called Ramaiah IIT Coaching Center, the institute has helped hundreds of students, from all backgrounds, successfully crack IIT’s famously tough entrance exam.
And the man behind it is a 91-year-old freedom fighter, mathematician and erudite educationist, Chukka Ramaiah. Here’s his inspiring story.
Born on November 20, 1925, Ramaiah spent much of his childhood at the place of his birth, Gudur in Telangana’s Warangal district. After completing his schooling, he gained admission to Osmania University.
It was during his years at college that he decided to join the freedom struggle. The revolutionary ideas swirling in Osmania’s student circles inspired him to fight feudalism and untouchability in his village. This, Ramaiah later recalled, got him banished from his own Brahmin community.
“The struggle was never political; it was a struggle for economic independence coupled with social independence. The land should belong to the tiller. I got jailed at the Aurangabad Central Jail because I participated and believed in the movement,” he explained to the Hindu.
In Aurangabad jail, Ramaiah spent time reading books like ‘Letters from a Father to her Daughter‘ and ‘Discovery of India‘. This was when he truly realised the value of education in opening minds and bringing about change. Deciding that there could be no noble profession than becoming a teacher, he decided to become one himself.
With this in his mind, Ramaiah began teaching mathematics at schools. After a long and satisfying career, he retired from the Andhra Pradesh Residential School in Nagarjuna Sagar and settled in Hyderabad. Setting up the coaching institute happened by chance. A few students came up to the retired teacher and asked him to train them for the fiercely competitive IIT-JEE.
Ramaiah had always believed that concept-based training was more important than learning formulae by heart and this was the principle that underlined his teaching. Soon enough, the positive results of his approach had become evident, and the number of students began to grow, purely by word of mouth.
Set up in 1985, Ramaiah’s Institute for IIT coaching quickly became famous, especially for its 4 o’clock-in-the-morning timings. When asked about it in interviews, the amused teacher would often answer,
“I was obliged to take lessons at that hour because students preferred coming for class before they went to school, rather than afterwards. The practice just continued.”
A fan of IIT questions, Ramaiah feels that they are carefully selected to meet the amazing challenges of setting a question paper of such unique nature. He explains that the questions are not picked from textbooks, are rarely repeated and notably, never exceed the syllabus or intellectual level of Std XII students.
Thus, conceptual clarity and original thinking is a must for solving these questions. For this reason, Ramaiah believes, it is important that coaching be a thought-provoking dialogue between students and the teacher rather than a one-way communication that discourages them from challenging conventional thinking.
Ramaiah also believes that most of his knowledge comes from his own students, who often come up with better solutions than the faculty.
“Original thinking comes from a fresh mind. So, it’s important to remember that the source of knowledge is not the institution, but the student. I am not a student of IIT myself, and I stand where I am today thanks to the 25 batches of students I have groomed.
In fact, if I got into coaching, it is thanks to my students who took up the responsibility of finding a space for me to teach,” says the austere man who has authored over 16 education-focussed books in Telugu.
Today, Ramaiah’s institute is renown for producing the largest number of successful IIT aspirants in Hyderabad. Thousands of students apply to Ramaiah institute, of which around 175 are selected through the institute’s own entrance exam!
While Chukka Ramaiah has retired from active teaching due to advancing age, he continues to be a revered mentor for students and faculty alike. Concerned about the falling standards of IITs (that once ranked 4th in the world but have fallen below the 100th mark), the noted educationist also continues to speak and write about why nurturing creativity is essential if we are to prevent a generation of intellectuals from being lost.