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Indian American teacher gets Presidential award

July 22, 2010 19:52 IST

Radhika Plakkot, a biology teacher from Huntington High School, Maryland, United States was recently named by President Barack Obama as one of America's best mathematics and science teachers for 2010.

Plakkot, who hails from Kerala, will receive the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in Washington, DC this year.

She is the only Indian American among the 103 honourees.

Plakkot, who lives with her scientist husband and children in Maryland and has received a number of honours in the past, said the presidential award is unique. 

"Definitely this is the highest honour a science teacher can get. So, it is very special. Also this is done by the National Science Foundation, which is a very prestigious organisation," she said.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is awarded annually to the best pre-college-level science and mathematics teachers.

Each year the award alternates between mathematics and science teachers teaching Kindergarten through 6th grade, and those teaching 7th through 12th grades. 

This year it goes to teachers teaching 7th through 12th grades. Winners receive a $10,000 award from the NSF. They also receive an expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC for an awards ceremony and days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and science agency leaders.

Plakkot, who has a Master's in Science from India and taught in India for a year before migrating to the US, said even after she came to America she wanted to be a teacher despite having other options like joining the field of computer science.

"I chose to stick to the teaching profession. You won't believe but right from my childhood, when I was a little girl, I used to play the role of a teacher. By the time I reached for my master's degree, it became clear that I could only be a teacher and nothing else, and I am still staying with it because I am able to make an impact on students and I like it," she said.

Yowonda Kola, Plakkot's supervisor in the state board of education, called her a "a highly motivated teacher. She constantly challenges herself as well as her students. She is extremely connected to her students and students like her."

Plakkot thinks students need to be exposed to more science and experiments from early childhood. "They should be exposed to more intensive science curriculum and to more hands-on activities," she said.

"They should not feel that they are learning or studying but they should develop an interest and then they will be on right track," she added.

Image: Radhika Plakkot

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York