Constant Upgrade in Tech and Science Important for Classrooms

by November 12, 2018 0 comments

Tech and Science

Majority of India’s schools and teaching methods, especially lab work, are bordering on farce. With immense success in the field of technology and science, it is important to pay heed to classroom upgrades in terms of technology.

In May 1974, India announced its entry into the exclusive club of nations that had nuclear weapons of their own. Courageously confronting criticism and international sanctions, it went ahead with Pokhran II in 1998. Now, after another 20 years, the 6,000-tonne nuclear ballistic missile submarine, Arihant, is fully functional. It has caused ripples in international circles, particularly amongst China and Pakistan. India launched its first satellite — Aryabahatta — in 1975 and progressed towards the spectacular launch of 104 satellites in one go in 2017. Leaving other aspects apart, every Indian is proud of the achievements of its visionary scientists, dexterous technical experts and bold policy-makers. India is also proud of its institutions like Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Indian Space Research Organisation, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Defence Research and Development Organisation, and several others.

Young Indians have earned global commendation for their intellectual proficiency in National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and subsequently at the Silicon Valley. Amongst all the recollection of Indian achievements in science, technology, space physics and ICT, my mind drifts to teaching and learning science in Indian schools. I am convinced that only around 30 per cent of children in Indian schools are getting education at an ‘acceptable level’. Could some institutional research prove me wrong in this hypothesis? The HRD minister announced a couple of months ago that the curriculum load in schools would be reduced by 50 per cent. If achieved successfully, it would be a memorable landmark in school education. One looks forward to it with great expectations of tangible changes in teaching and learning of science that would be woven around the power of imagination, curiosity and creativity. The pre-requisite is to prepare teachers who internalise the difference, making children memorise the content in science textbooks vis-à-vis learning the ‘science’ contained in it. Over the last three-four decades, complacency has damaged the system.

Deterioration in the quality of teacher preparation, delays in recruiting regular teachers and neglect of practical work in school laboratories have  also contributed to the malaise. Our success in science and technology should not lead us to ignore that in majority of schools, science teaching, particularly laboratory work, is bordering on farce. Proper teaching and learning of science could effectively contribute in total personality development, particularly in bringing the best out of body, mind and spirit. This would be possible only when certain basics are comprehended properly by all those responsible for teaching science — right from policy formulation to teaching science, and that too, not only in classrooms, but more of it outside, in real life situations.

Dr Radhakrishnan, former President, while delivering a convocation address in Bangalore in 1965, posed a couple of simple queries and answered them: “What is science? It is the pursuit of the truth. What is truth? It is the understanding of nature and its mysteries. Can you understand nature and its mysteries if you are a part of nature? The man, the human being has in him a spirit which makes him different from things, from objects, from materials, et al. It is the capacity to reflect on nature, to sit in judgement on nature, to mould nature to his own pattern; it is that which distinguishes the human being from others. There is a spark which is not natural, which is non-natural, which is super-natural. The pursuit of truth tells us that man is capable of remoulding his own environment, changing it, making it into a different pattern altogether.”

While the 20th century was acknowledged as the century of unprecedented change, the 21st is surely the century of the ‘pace of change’. The credit goes to the advances in science and technology that have impacted human lives beyond recognition. From an information society, we have moved towards knowledge society, and the words of wisdom like “future empires shall be empires of knowledge” are often emphasised by learned ones across the globe. At this stage, we are face-to-face with one practical reality: Man has proved — beyond an iota of doubt — his dexterity, capacity and creativity in moulding ‘his own environment’. Even two simple terms — connectivity and mobility — are sufficient enough to convey how miraculously human ingenuity has transformed the Earth into a global village. But has all this advancement been in the right direction? To comprehend the contrast, one may recall that in   mid 50s of the last century, school children were writing essays on the “age of science”, and then it was “boons of technology” that quickly transformed to “ICT revolution”. The last one heard recently was the “age of accelerations.”

Never before, human beings had such a profound familiarity with and comprehension of the secrets and forces of nature, and the skill to utilise the bounties of nature for human welfare. Man has moulded nature to his own patterns and liking. But probably he forgot to reflect on the man-nature relationship — on his responsibility to ensure that this sensitive bond between the two is not disturbed because of his materialistic pursuits and inherent traits to ‘acquire and accumulate’.

It appears that under the influence of the gadgets that offered more and more comfort in daily life, man forgot to ‘reflect on nature’. On one hand, systems are under human control that could annihilate poverty, hunger, ill-health from the surface of the globe, and on the other hand, nations are suffering violence, wars, hunger, migration, rejection and  malnutrition on an unprecedented scale.

What should children learn in science in schools must be determined by the facets of the world before them, and what could be the challenges ahead of them. If man had reflected on Nature, one lakh children would not be dead in India in a year, only because they were deprived of their divine right to breathe  fresh air. India would not be suffering the ignominy of having 10 out of 15 most-polluted cities of the world. If man had realised that in the man-nature relationship, responsibility lies solely on him, there would be no need to organise Earth summits, global meets on environment, climate change or ozone depletion and the like.

We have reached a stage in which systems of governance have deteriorated in basic elements of humanity. What happened in Kedarnath was certainly a man-made disaster.  The Kerala floods of this year are another example. In fact, there is no shortage of evidence explaining how the race for quick materialistic gains have obliterated the human vision, the consequences of which are polluted rivers, low quality air, vanishing ponds and deforestation.

We were not deficient on knowledge, skills, understanding or tradition. We knew which tree is to be planted where — near the home or away from human population — what were their uses in the daily life of people. But lack of developing scientific temper, sharing and caring has proved disastrous.

Dr Homi Bhabha and Dr Vikram Sarabhai were the pioneers in India’s nuclear and space research initiatives. They put India on par with developed countries in these sectors. Dr Bhabha planned the Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai, now known as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), with unmatched scientific, artistic and aesthetic sense. All those who visit BARC marvel at the landscape designing of the campus. One old mango tree that had lived there for over 100 years stood at the spot that was to be swallowed by a newly-planned road. The engineer, as expected, recommended cutting of the tree. It disturbed and distressed the scientists. To save that one tree, Dr Bhabha suggested re-alignment of the road. The tree still survives. Should such an anecdote not find a place in textbooks of Class V or VI? The motivational impact would be everlasting.

Now is the time to re-orient the process of learning of science by pushing it towards real life situations and the perils that face us because of unwise use of science and technology. Could one think of children learning science outside the classrooms of elementary schools? Relate the process to local elements, environment, flora, fauna, water bodies, forests, people, social habits, cleanliness, health issues, pollution and adulteration. A fresh look on how to improve experiential and experimental learning in school science is necessary.

India has done well in science so far but it has the responsibility to continuously upgrade the teaching and learning experience of science in a majority of its schools at the earliest.

(The writer is the Indian Representative on the Executive Board of UNESCO)

Writer: JS Rajput

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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