Nandini Ramanujam: Learning first-hand
“I realize what a catalytic force it was for me, too. Living and teaching in Kaunas during a period of socio-economic transformation – where standard concepts of economics were being tried and tested … ”
Dr. Nandini Ramanujam, an Oxford-trained economist, has been directly involved in the systematic reform of higher education in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.Her teaching is focused on the rule of law and economics and human rights.
She was appointed executive director for the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism at the Faculty of Law in 2006; has been a consultant for the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights; and since 2001 has sat on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Human Rights Foundation, becoming president in 2003.
What is your favourite teaching memory?
Back in 1993, when I was doing my doctorate at Oxford, I was quite discouraged with my doctoral work to the point where I asked myself “Why am I doing it?” Around that time I was hired by the Civic Education Project, which brought together around 120 young social scientists to work in universities in post-Berlin-Wall Eastern Europe. I was sent to Lithuania, which had recently gained independence from the Soviet Union. It was during a period of great transition, a period when many hoped that things would change dramatically, especially since the country did not have a currency – they were using coupons – and they also had an acute shortage of gas and electricity because Russia cut them off for not paying their bills.
So when I arrived to teach my first class on economics, 30 students sat before me wearing winter clothing. It was so cold that I taught with my mittens, hat and coat on! Still, they were so enthusiastic about the promise of a new way of learning, a space for critical thinking and engaged conversations that the sub-zero temperatures inside and outside the classroom did not dampen their spirit and enthusiasm. By the end of the course I had established a relationship that was so compelling on both sides that they persuaded me to return for another year.
When I think back on this experience, I realize what a catalytic force it was for me, too. Living and teaching in Kaunas during a period of socio-economic transformation – where standard concepts of economics were being tried and tested – gave me real insight into my own research on the macroeconomic transformation of the post-Soviet Russian economy. I went back to Oxford with clarity and determination and finished my doctorate with a true sense of achievement. While it was a turbulent period, it was also a stimulating experience for me on many levels: it was where I learned that teaching and learning are shared processes, and that it’s critical to understand the larger context in order to be an effective teacher.
Photos: Owen Egan