The Backbencher Misconception Unravelled

Rohit Wadhwaney
Managing Editor
rohit@educationpost.in

What is it about the backbenchers of a classroom that their sincerity or dedication to learn as much as their frontbench counterparts is downplayed?

It’s a rather common misconception – the ones sitting on the last benches are usually weak students, more interested in creating a ruckus rather than paying attention to the teacher.

The truth is, as India’s former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam famously said once, “The best brains of the nation maybe found on the last benches of the classroom.”

During an interaction with some schoolgoing students, Dr. Kalam was asked what made him come to this conclusion, to which the late aerospace scientist and eminent scholar replied: “I was one of the last-benchers.”

Reasons are galore as to what makes some of the brightest minds choose to sit in the back of the classroom. It could be that they’re shy, or lacking in self-confidence, possibly because of their English-speaking ability or their economic position in society. Or simply, they might just be able to generate more focus sitting at the back.

Professor Emeritus Shiv Bhushan Sharma of Tamil Nadu’s Akhand Vidyashram had his own reasons for being a backbencher through his student life. “It helped me to improve my concentration power. As a result, I was able to score much better marks than my contemporaries.”

“In medical college, I sat on the last benches for a totally different reason: I was from a hindi medium school, and the medium of instructions and discussions in medical college was English. I was not fluent in English. But when I joined the same medical college as a research scholar, I continued sitting on the backbenches, even though my English had improved considerably. I could listen to every word carefully and observe the body language of others. I wouldn’t raise any questions during the deliberations. As a result, I was not considered a brilliant person,” Sharma said.

While we were interviewing Dr. Sundeep Anand, president of the Bharath Institute of Higher Education and Research (BIHER), for this issue’s cover story, he first quoted Dr. Kalam and then said: “We are scanning the last benches for geniuses.”

When asked what he meant, he said that the financial prowess, or the lack of it, shouldn’t determine how far a brilliant student could go in the field of academics.

After BIHER was conferred with the Asian UK Award at London’s House of Commons earlier this month for having one of the most robust systems of promoting industry-academia relations, Dr. Anand said that he would create a program to fund 100 underprivileged but deserving students to pursue research grants abroad.

“We have made great strides in the kind of research we are doing, despite working with some of the more rural and underprivileged students. We do this by encouraging this kind of progressive thought process to solve society’s problems. That is more important to us,” he said.

It doesn’t matter where your seating position is in a classroom. Your bench, be it in the front or back, is never a benchmark for your capability.

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