(Poongothai Balasubramanian is a Wikipedia editor who is part of this year’s Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser. You can support Wikipedia and free knowledge by contributing at donate.wikimedia.org. If you have trouble viewing the video below, please let us know in the comments and try watching it here.)
Balasubramanian–who retired in 2010 after 33 years in the classroom–started editing Wikipedia at the urging of her son. Thus began her “retirement career” as an active Wikipedian. She has created more than 250 articles; she has made 7,000 edits; and she has uploaded 6,000 audio files of pronunciations to Wiktionary in her native language, Tamil, which is spoken by nearly 80 million people worldwide.
“Every day I am on Wikipedia,” she said. “I sit with my netbook and I edit and create articles in my mother tongue and favorite language.”
Balasubramanian’s first article was on probability, and she has also written on quadratic equations and functions. She has expanded articles on parabola, ellipse and hyperbola—her love of math is quite clear. Equally important is her love of teaching younger generations, which she has done via the Tamil Wikipedia as it has grown to nearly 50,000 articles.
“People can be scared of math because it has some abstract ideas,” she said. “But if we can make students comfortable with the subject, I don’t think they will have that fear. It’s so important to learn because, not only will you use it in everyday life, but when students begin opting for engineering courses and higher, they will already have an understanding of the basic concepts.”
The 61-year old Balasubramanian remembers what it was like when knowledge was at a premium, and sadly, it still is in many cases.
“The fact that Wikipedia is free is not only the most attractive point, it’s the most effective point,” she said. “All over the world, including in my country, there are so many people who cannot buy the knowledge published in books. Wikipedia gives this knowledge out free of cost, and everyone benefits— whether they are rich or poor. In previous times only the rich had the knowledge.”
She sees editing Wikipedia as altering that dynamic and making it possible to deliver the sum of human knowledge for free.
“I’m so proud to be aging, engaging and leaving something for future generations,” she said. “That’s the satisfaction I get by participating in Wikipedia.”
Profile by Darrin Fox, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller