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Keeping Pace With The Changing Perspectives Of Science Education In India

“We are all born scientists and we stop being scientist when we grow up. As a child we are curious about plants, insects, blue sky, and red sun. As we grow old, we just take blue sky for granted,”remarked Venkatraman Raman, the Nobel laureate in chemistry 2010 on the state of science education in India while inaugurating Children Science Congress 2011 at SRM University, Chennai on January 4 this year. As India is on the move towards a developed country by the year 2020 science education needs to be revamped. If India has to become an economic power, it should also emerge as a major global player in science. Unless India has a leadership role in science and technology, it will not be able to maintain the economic power status for long. Such are the thoughts prevailing in the mindsets of the education and economic planners of the country. Given the proper direction, the large population of one billion can be made into a great boon of human resources. It is estimated that in the coming 20-30 years much of the world population is becoming old and percentage of population below the age of 40 will be small. It is possible that a high proportion of the scientific and technical manpower of the world will be Indian. It should not only create new scientific knowledge but also become the knowledge provider for the world.

The National Knowledge Commission (NKC), the high level advisory body to the Prime Minister of India and the Prof Yash Pal Committee on higher education of University Grants Commission (UGC) submitted their recommendations to the Government suggesting an overhauling of the present system. The country’s pre-sent 12.4 per cent gross enrolment ratio (GER) is half the world average and one-sixth that of developed countries. At present 12.4 per cent of our students go for higher education. If we were to increase the GER to 30 per cent to be at par with at least that of above the average country, we need another 1000 more universities above the present 500 or so universities and another 35000 more colleges above the present 25000 or so colleges in the country in the next ten years. While GER is the most important metric for achieving the target, it is not the solution. Both the committees have strongly recommended setting up more world class institutions capable of competing with the global institutes of excellence. Quality Research and Development (R&D) program should be the engine as well as the fuel that powers these institutions. The importance of periodically upgraded curricula, innovative teaching methods, periodic assessment processes, and recruitment and retention of quality faculty for all higher education institutions in the country have also been highlighted. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has shown the urgency in adapting the recommendations of NKC and Yashpal Committee. The result of which is seen with the opening of a number of institutes of excellence in science education, central universities in all States and increasing the number of the existing prestigious national institutes. A number of institutions in the line of Indian Institute of Science have been opened. The five Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) at Kolkata, Mohali, Bhopal, Thiruvanthapuram, Pune and the National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER) at Bhubaneswar, Mumbai may be named among the others. In order to raise the quality and standard of the research in basic sciences these institutions are offering research oriented integrated programs leading to MSc degree and even to PhD degree after 10+2 to attract the young talents. The DST, Govt of India is also offering 10,000 scholarships @ Rs 80000 per year to the students pursuing BSc and MSc degree course in natural and basic sciences under the scheme of Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research(INSPIRE) from this year. This will cover top 1 percent of the successful candidates of +2 examination of each state board.

The number of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) has been increased from 7 to 15 in the past few years. So is the number of Indian Institute of Management (IIM) increasing from 5 to 10. Keeping the consideration of the national policy on enhancing the manpower of scientific research in mind, the universities and colleges throughout the length and breadth of the country have wakened up to the national call. The Colleges and the Universities have lined up for assessment of their quality and standard by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). It has also become a mandatory for all higher educational institutions in the country. They also have almost thrown an all out effort for the gold rush for achieving the highest national rankings in the reputed education surveys.

For an institute which has the love for science, science also seems to be in love with these institutes. A living example of such an institution is the Presidency College, Chennai. The age old institute with the pre-second world war buildings has been consistently in the highest national ranking of different education surveys. The centre of excellence which has produced such a person as CV Raman, the first Indian to win a Nobel Prize in Physics on the discovery of the famous Raman Effect still shows the inherent culture of scientific temper in every assimilation of the scientific knowledge. The students majority of whom come from economically weaker section, are highly motivated to display a keen quest for the scientific knowledge. No doubt they are inspired by the dedicated faculty for whom teaching is a process that goes beyond classroom. The campus itself displays a serene atmosphere conducive to learning the peerless knowledge of science. It is again a living example of how an institution can work around under the constraints of being under government control and yet break all the barriers to reach the top position.

The above are the success story and the story of gold rush towards a higher realm of knowledge in a country projected to become a superpower by the year 2020. Coming back to home ground in Manipur, the state of affairs of science education in the higher educational institutions of the state is in a pathetic condition. Out of the total 28 Government Colleges, 8 Aided Colleges, 30 Private Colleges and 2 Universities in the state, only 8 Government Colleges, 1 Private College and 1 University can be accredited and assessed by NAAC so far. Although accredited, none of our institutes could secure grade ‘A’ certification on account of certain pertinent areas where we need a lot of improvements or an overhauling. Whom should we blame for this state of affair as the system had been going on for the last so many years? The downsizing and ban on fresh appointment policy of the Government during the last decade cut down miserably the number of subject teachers, laboratory staffs and library staffs in all Government Colleges. Departments in many of the Colleges are being run without a single regular teacher. Only two or three Government Colleges have a Librarian while for the remaining twenty five, libraries are without Librarians after the former incumbents retired on superannuation. College library is one of the areas which is strongly stressed by the Peer Team of NAAC visiting the Colleges.

Needless to say our neighboring State Assam has got almost all their higher educational institutions accredited by NAAC in the past 5 years, many of which have got grade ‘A’ certification. As a result, all these institutions in Assam have remarkable progress both in terms of quality education and infrastructures as the funding flows from the different funding agencies of GOI including the UGC, DST, MHRD, etc depending upon the NAAC accreditation. Over and above, their Government has taken up many serious initiatives to improve higher education and paid a higher wage compared to the other Government services to the higher education teachers by implementing the UGC sixth pay recommendations in order to attract young talented youths towards teaching profession.

The society in general and the students in particular in our State are really in a state of confusion about choosing a better and suitable career or profession after the plus 2 stage. Choosing a line would be making the first big decision of their lives. Choosing a right career, it is a lead towards a lifetime happiness, fulfillment and prosperity. A mistake to it could lead to frustration, drudgery and poverty. Students who feel nervous about choosing a profession could take heart from the example of the late Homi J Bhabha, the visionary scientist and father of Indian nuclear science. Under pressure from his father in 1927, Bhabha started for England to study engineering at Cambridge. A year later, Bhabha wrote wrote to his father, ‘The business or, job as an engineer is not a thing for me. It is totally foreign to my nature. Physics is my line; I shall do good things here. For each man can excel in only that of which he is passionately fond, in which he believes, as I do, that, he has the ability to do it.’ Bhabha’s father yielded and the rest is a legend.

Not knowing exactly what to do, many of our science students are losing their precious time in terms of some years appearing just the medical or engineering entrance examination. A large number of students have totally given up their academic career after the failure at five or six repeated attempts. The number will be increasing more and more in the years to come if the present trend continues. The following data reveals an alarming situation in the present scenario of science education in our colleges.

The present trend of enrolment of undergraduate (science) courses shows that out of above 10,000 students who have passed higher secondary science examination last year, only 5000 or so students get enrolled to first year of BSc degree course of Manipur University. The number of enrolment in final year BSc has also given a clear picture of more than fifty per cent of students entering the undergraduate (science) abandoned or dropped out.

Keeping in view the changing policy on science education in the country and the opportunities and job prospects in the very near future, time has come for everyone in our society including those in power to change our attitudes on science education. Our future depends on how we develop human resources. For the state with limited natural resources, science education will be an important key for bringing the development, prosperity and peace in the state. Our higher educational institutes should be supported and encouraged from all angles so as to enable them to grow at the pace of those in the entire country which is moving forward. Now, it is a pertinent big question…

Are we ready for the challenge and where will we be heading to?

*The article is written by M Bidyasagar.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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