We Do Not Focus Simply On Learning

Updated: Dec 22 2002, 05:30am hrs
If there is something which even the best of scientific advancement could not change, it would perhaps be destiny. Although, one could not exactly measure how much Professor Phillip L Clay, chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), would have agreed to the above statement, it is apparent that he has at least no qualms about the statement. As a young boy I wanted to be a diplomat but as things happened I have become the chancellor of MIT, quips Professor Clay.

Clad in a navy blue suit and with a classic French beard in place, the lanky academic would have definitely given UN secretary general Kofi Annan a run for his job, if one were to stretch the limits of imagination to assume that Mr Annan got his position because of his looks. For, these two gentlemen look like mirror images. Soft spoken, Professor Clay put to the fore all the qualities of a good guide as he answered one question after another from scribes gathered at the Paharpur Business Centre during his recent India visit as a part of MITs ambitious Media Lab Asia programme.

When asked why he chose city planning as his area of specialisation, the answer was forthright. I always wanted to be in a career, which would help people, says Professor Clay. The housing problems that plagued New York and substandard conditions of living moved him and it wasnt a difficult choice for him to make. His involvement in the Media Lab Asia programmea project aimed at narrowing the digital divide between the urban and rural area in Asiadefinitely echoes as one sought possible solutions from him on the problems India is facing. However, the childhood aspiration of becoming a diplomat doesnt seem to have deserted him as he gave his replies that would make a diplomat proud. I would not like to advise or say this is the end solution, but yes technology can play a major role, says Professor Clay.

As it is in other parts of the world, people are migrating from rural areas to urban areas in search of work and a living. If you use technology and make the villages more attractive in terms of job availability and make economic activity prosper, then you can reduce this urban crowding to a large extent, he says. The biggest problem we are facing today is that since younger people have migrated to cities, those who are left in the villages are older ones and that makes the place unattractive for potential industrial houses to go there, he adds. So perhaps you need some incentives to attract those people back, says Professor Clay.

Talking about his institute MIT and how it manages to stand out from the rest, Professor Clay has a very simple answer. We at the MIT do not focus simply on learning. We teach the students not only about knowledge but also how to apply it, not just once but sustain it a lifetime, says Professor Clay.

Providing knowledge and its application is the key, he adds. However, in his trademark humble note, he adds, We just try to provide the little bit of introduction to the students and get them ready for the future.

As for his personal approach to teaching, Professor Clay says, I always give importance to developing lifelong skills for learning and how to contribute in that aspect. And the rest, it is for the students to carry on.