Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Science in Indian Education

National Science Day is observed every year on 28th February to mark the novel discovery of Raman Effect by the great Indian Physicist Sir C.V.Raman on this day in 1928. Raman Effect is a phenomenon in spectroscopy discovered by him while working in the laboratory of the Indian Association for the cultivation of Science, Calcutta. After two years of this discovery, Sir C.V.Raman brought the first Nobel Award for the country in 1930. Since 1987 National Council for Science and Technology communication fixed 28th February as National Science Day. The basic objective for observing National Science Day is to spread the message of importance of Science and its application among the people. All the NSD activities are planned around a theme for the year. Some of the interesting themes were; for 2006: Nurture Nature for the future, 2007: More crop per drop.
The role science could play in the development of India was realized by the leadership of the country long before independence.In 1938, Pt. J.LNehru sent a message to Silver Jubilee Session of Indian Science Congress at Calcutta was, "It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and traditions". Nobel Laureate Sir C.V.Raman once remarked, "There is only one solution for India's economic problems and that is science and more science and still more science". Homi Bhabha in 1966 while addressing the International Council of Scientific Unions, in Bombay, remarked "What the developed countries have and the under-developed lack is modern science and an economy based on modern technology."

Pt. Nehru's dream was of modern prosperous India propelled by Science and Technology. Naturally school science education received special attention in the brave new world of Nehru's India, though not in systematic fashion. After independence major break through came in Indian Education System with the implementation of Kothari Commission's Report. Learning of science became compulsory both for boys and girls from class first to tenth. Previously learning science was an option for girls and boys used to begin it after class fifth. At present superior strength of school system is in the area of mathematics, physical and life sciences. Creativity and innovations are not too remote for Indian School Students. Every year hundreds of schools arrange/participate in science exhibitions of the objects created by school students in mega-cities. Some of the projects are prized at national and inter-national level. Some of our students participate in International Science Olympiads and win prizes.

But there is other side of the picture. In almost all the states and in the majority of the schools there is a trend of including more and more content overwhelmingly in the form of factual information in the syllabus. Laboratories in the schools have declined and even of demonstration once common are now confined to elite schools. Factual information that dominates the syllabi is not supported by any kind of activity. Students therefore have no option but to memorize the facts. Consequently maximum number of student's find science not only difficult but boring. Little effort is made to get to the roots of students difficulties. Teachers fail to develop in the students basic concepts which are built on the previous knowledge of students. Learning science for life is almost ignored. In each class, science is learnt to prepare for next higher class. As a result majority of students don't want to opt this subject beyond class tenth. Not long ago, a study conducted by National Council of Applied Economic and Research revealed that less than three percent of school students want to pursue a career in science. It is because that the current education system in schools lays emphasis on rate learning which apparently fails to kindle interest in Science.

Beyond the higher secondary stage, too little of the zeal for science finds its way into the University system. There are vast dragnets of engineering, technology, medicine and so forth, which draw the best scientific talent away. In 2003 a study conducted by "The National Institute of Science Technology and Development (NISTAD) revealed that between 1992-2003 both at plus two and college levels in Delhi, priority for science discipline as a whole was on decline. The data of college enrolment in sciences between 1990-91 and 1997-98 revealed that on an average about 48 percent of the students drifted out of B.Sc Course to join professional courses. These students were those who got admission after securing 80-90 percent marks at plus two levels. The choice of the National Talent search awardees also reflects this trend. In recent years, of the 750 awardees hardly 100 opted for science and only 15-20 percent pursue science to the post graduation level.

The B.Sc course for instance has failed because it is over regulated and standardized, so much so that a student has no say in selecting his subjects of study. We are in a situation where the system makes decisions for the students. Allotment of the subjects to the students is just like a 'ration card mentality'. It is rarely that students with obsession and passion for science enter the portal of colleges and universities that offer science courses which constitute "catchment area" for serious scientific work. Even those highly motivated who choose to remain in science and move into universities for post graduation and research are confronted with outdated curricula, disinterested teachers, un-inspiring teaching and poor infrastructure. In fact 88% of the students who opt for science are studying in affiliated colleges. Most of these colleges, flout the rules prescribed for teaching science by University Grants Commission. For their part, Universities have long abandon the accent on research and have merely become counters killing the enthusiasm even of the few motivated students.
The reasons for this mass exodus of brilliant young persons from science to professional courses aren't far to seek, One obvious explanation is that a career in science doesn't pay and those who still continue to be in science do so as a last resort. They are there, 'unmotivated' and 'un-interested'. To cap it all that is, the authoritarian attitude of Indian scientists in 'commanding positions' either at the universities or in national science laboratories have done much to drive away precious science talent. Indian research contributed a mere 2.16% of world's science and technology publications between 1993-2004. One of the factors that has marginalized Indian Science is the extremely meager support forthcoming from budgetary resources. Not even 1% of GDP goes to Science and allied research.

This year's Noble prize for chemistry has been given to Venktaraman Ramankrishna of Baroda, presently in Ohio University. Decades ago he failed to clear medical and engineering entrances conducted by IIT. He also appeared in the entrance test for reputed Christian medial college in vellore but was unsuccessful to get a seat. Now the evaluation methodology of entrance tests conducted is being reviewed and the role of coaching classes which teach 'tricks of the trade' to get through is also being sought out. After his post doctoral degree in science in eighties, Venktaraman Ramakrishnan applied for a job in about 50 Indian Universities but failed. There seems to be something wrong with our methods of selection of teachers in our universities.

At a public lecture at the Indian Institute of science campus, Bangalore, Venktarman was asked by a member of the audience if he had plans of returning to India. He said, "No". There are some rules essential for science to thrive. Apart from material infrastructure there needs to be an intellectual freedom, where there are no masters but only disciples. It must have people who are committed. Science is not a career or a profession but a way of life. Knowledge is built that way. Sometimes a discovery here and a proof there, shakes or even destroys the very edifice, no discouragement that the building again starts brick by brick. It is this situation which is exciting about science. This kind of set up may not be available for Venktaraman in India.

No comments: