Speech at the valedictory function of All India Seminar on Science Education at Regional College of Education Bhopal dated 17-11-1985
We are formulating our national policy on the teaching of sciences. We are at present, going through a reappraisal of our educational policy and a debate is going on all over the country on the basis of a paper presented by the Governement of India after considerable preparatory work. Your recommendations on it will go a long way in helping the country find the right kind of education for our children.
One aspect I would like to emphasise in our science teaching is the history of science itself. There is a wrong notion that all science and technology have come from the West. I do not think India need feel beholden to anyone in matters of science and technology or of any creative activity. As far as I know, and according to historians we had the first say in almost all branches of creative activity.
Evolution of man is long story and Our Indo-Gangetic plains one of the regions where human civilization first developed. There were other areas as well, but in many spheres of creative activity, whether it be science, arts, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy or medicine, we have been pioneers. The origin of Western mathematics, Western medicine or the Western astronomy can be traced to our country. Scholarship had gone West through the Middle-East and with the renaissance reached Europe. There it has taken rapid strides during the last few hundred years. The West developed technologies which were helpful in manipulating nature and with them overpowered other people and today it dominates the Speech at the valedictory function of All India Seminar on Science Education at Regional College
scene. But the origin of it all was India. We have to stress this in our teaching of science.
As you have observed in your review, science is not to be perceived in isolation. Science, arts and philosophy are all inter-related intellectual activities of man. They are creative activities which cannot be isolated one from another. As a matter of fact, in all these spheres of creative activity, we had attained high excellence at one time, probably, unexcelled by any other contemporary civilisation. Our people were developed not only creative in their thinking, but also had an open mind; open to new ideas and highly inquisitive which was why India then attained such excellence. I do not think there was anything which our forefathers took for granted; they questioned everything. And, it is this quality of our forefathers-the habit of intense questioning-that distinguished them and made us all proud inheritors of their legacy, our cultural heritage.
There followed a period of stagnation-say of 300 to 400 years-during which, instead of creative activity, all kinds of superstition, obscurantism, myths, and legends came to control our lives. So science-teaching has not only to inculcate self-respect in our people, it should be able to free our people’s minds of their bondage to obscurantism.
Whenever people lose their creative ability, they tend to fall back upon legends and myths much as idle people fall prey to opium, L. S. D., brown sugar, etc. a phenomenon common among some of our idle youngsters these days. That brought India into a period of stupor in which we enjoy our legends for real. We have to redeem our society from that stupor. Science education has an important role to play here.
I do not think our achievements in modern times are mean, particularly in the Even before independence, we post-independence period. can see a kind of renaissance at the close of the nineteenth century when we once again regained our capacity for intellectual activity. That is why this renaissance threw up leaders in different fields, not only in science, but also in literature, philosophy and religion.
They were all people who wanted to take the country forward. In the field of science, we had eminent men like J. C. Bose, Viswesaraiyya and C. V. Raman and we have with us today equally meritorious scientists.
In the post-independence period, science has played an important role in our nation building, thanks to the architect of free India, Jawaharlal Nehru. He looked at science as an instrument of change, and, therefore, laid firm foundations for the development of science. During his daughter’s time they were the two persons who quided our destiny during the last three and a half decades-we established a firm base in science.
We now have over 180 research laboratories and about 800 in-house research-units recognised by the Science and Technology Department of the Government of India. Then, we have thousands of colleges which are producing science graduates and post-graduates in large numbers. From statistics I find that our turn-out each year is around 150 thousand scientists which makes us the third richest country in scientific personnel.
In the matter of educational institutions at lower levels, I don’t think that we have enough of these Institutions. But at the higher educational level, the number of institutions is more or less adequate. It is the proper use of These institutions that is wanted.
At the school level, probably more institutions may be needed to attain our target. Even there, I should like to have a fresh look at the whole set up: Whether these institutions which are already there, cannot be strengthened and made better use of? Without making proper use of existing institutions would it be advisable to have new institutions?
For judging the soundness and effectiveness of the strategy of educational management one should answer the crucial question: how are we utilising our resources ? I find that 90 per cent of the education-budget is spent on administration and teachers’ salaries. Only 10 per cent is spent on other inputs for education such as buildings, laboratories, libraries, etc. Isn’t such a distribution lopsided? After all, for these also provision is needed. Should not that be amplified ? That question has to be looked into.
You have made some relevant suggestions regarding model schools and model institutions. Let it be debated all over the country. At the same time, the question whether these model institutions would isolate and once again segregate our people from one another should also be debated.
What exactly is the usefulness of science? We have been looking at science as an instrument of change and science should provide us the necessary personnel to bring about this change. We require three types of scientific personnel : the craftsman, the technician and the scientist. Which categories are we producing today? Our industry says that they do not get enough technicians. They also say that they were not getting the right craftsman from our institutions. The common complaint is that our degrees do not match the job requirements. I would say this is equally relevant in the
case of sciences. The science that we are teaching today is not very relevant to life and it is this which keeps students away from science. You find it difficult to impose your science curricula on the students, because they consider it as a burden. It is nowhere related to their life. How can we relate this to their life? The curricula has to change in such a way that the science education that we impart must be useful in life.
At the school level, the science that we teach must be capable of offering the country enough craftsmen. The science at the post school or transitional level (the +2 level) must be capable of producing necessary technicians and the science at the post-graduate level should be capable of producing scientists necessary for the country.
If you want to achieve this, naturally, the method of teaching will have to change-and that is an area where you have to do some innovative work. The présent day method of teaching whether science, arts or philosophy, is mostly, making students learn by rote. It is the memory power alone that is tested and, therefore, you find people resorting to all sorts of short cuts and unfair methods to get through the test. Instead, experience and knowledge acquired should be assessed. When learning is by rote, practical experience has very little to do with it. It is, therefore, that we have so many science colleges without proper laboratories and degrees and conferred without laboratory experience or practicals.
What is the role of practicals ? At school level it may not be as important as at college level. Nevertheless even at school level, we have to make a beginning. That is the way you enable students to experience science. It will make science interesting.
The artificial method of evaluation, which is the only method of evaluation at present, will naturally have to change. It is still related to learning by rote and is more a memory test than an assessment of assimilation of knowledge. This has undermined the entire system and to my mind for that reason alone our education system will have to be overhauled. The present examination system will have to be changed. It will have to be replaced by some other method of evaluation. Can it be continued internal assessment. It also has its flaws. Excessive reliance on practicals also has its flaws. It is at practical examinations that one hears of large scale manipulations. That brings us back to the question: How can evaluation be properly done? The right way is a continuous evaluation without the flaws of internal assessment. How can we introduce it? That has to be given serious thought.
If internal assessment depends upon each institution, it will have to rely upon its intrinsic merit and not on the recognition a University or a Government gives. They will have to depend upon the quality of the product they bring out. This is obviously, an ideal situation. Will it be possible? Yes, we will have to find better teachers. If we want better students, there will have to be better teachers. Here we come up against a lot of vested interests. If the student is to experience and learn, then, the one who is guiding him must necessarily have enough experience and inquisitivenss to take him along so as to make him experience and learn. For this we require hard working, well trained and well equipped teachers who would like to be questioned, rather than put questions.
Two trends have practically a stranglehold over our educational set up. One is politicization-don’t be under the impression that I am against politics: I have been a
politician myself or inducting politics into the academic life. Neither the student nor the teacher should use politics to make up for his academic shortcomings. He must work hard and earn his wages-for the student his wage is, of course, learning and for the teacher, his job satisfaction. His wages should be honourably earned.
The other malady is bureaucratisation. It has a historical background. For the promotion of education we have throughout depended upon governmental initiative, particularly in the post-independence era. The reliance has been such that while the non-governmental input in education around 1950 was about 25 per cent; in 1981, it came down to 3 per cent. Naturally, when government’s input is practially 100 per cent, bureaucracy will come in the picture because bureaucrats run the Government. They have a different orientation which is not educational, but administrative. They would be more concerned about administrative propriety. When you ask for some books, they will ask, “Which is the cheapest book in the category? And, which is the cheapest edition”? You will have to establish that books are absolutely necessary for teaching. They do that because dministrative propriety requires that they should be satisfied that no government money is unnecessarily spent. They are more concerned about expenditure control. Therefore, the whole gamut of education has been looked at from this angle only by the bureaucrats.
How do we release education from these constraints ? For that we have to depend on the collective effort of the community. We have to create informed public opinion in that matter. By community I mean the community of parents, who will have to take greater interest in education. I suggest-I hope they are moving in that direction that panchayats be given more initiative and responsibilities. They must be given necessary authority to raise resources and run educational institutions. Initially there may be some difficulty, but when responsibility is entrusted, accountability follows. How can one learn to ride a cycle without falling off once or twice? That risk will have to be taken; decentralizing education and giving it to the people to the extent they can manage, rather than a monolithic government taking over the whole gamut of education and bureaucratising it is the only way out to save education from the twin ills of which I mentioned.