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Geo sciences teaching needs fillip

Somnath Dasgupta, Dec 20, 2012:

Geo Sciences or earth science as it is now called is the new avatar of what was earlier known as geology. For a long time, geology as a discipline provided unlimited employment opportunities for those well-trained in the discipline.

The expansion of mining activities, exploration of hydrocarbon sources and water divining had offered unlimited scope. Geologists had their heyday all through the second half of the twentieth century.

Industrial society needed them. However, with a rapidly increasing population and consequent pressure on natural resources, besides alarming threats to food security and human-induced climate change, the very survival of the living system on the planet is under the danger of possible extinction.


Now it is time to assimilate all observations of the earth system into immediate actions for sustaining a habitable planet. True, new technologies have helped us as never before to ask and understand fundamental questions about earth processes, be it plate tectonics, evolution of life or hydrological cycles.

Yet the trained manpower in core areas of earth sciences is rapidly declining in the country.

Perhaps this is a reflection of global phenomenon when the 2012 report of the American Geoscience Institute draws a grim picture of severe decline in the number of geoscience degrees granted in the United States from 7,000 in 1985 to merely 3,000 in 2010.

The situation is more critical for India when several reports indicate much lower quality and citations of Indian science in general. For geosciences, the global share of publications is just 3 per cent while that of chemistry is around 8 per cent.
The issue is further compounded by the fact that the discipline of geosciences is neither included in the school curricula nor are there many colleges or universities that offer geosciences courses.

The day is not for when neither trained manpower for exploitation and production of geological resources like ores, coal or oil will not be available nor there will be faculty for teaching the geosciences.

Realizing the enormity of the problem, 45 eminent geoscientists from 16 universities, IITs and National Institutes across the country participated in a workshop, ‘Goals of Solid Earth Geosciences in India in the next decade, September last.
The meet deliberated upon the issues affecting earth science education and research in the country.

Prof. Anindya Sarkar, workshop convener, informed the reasons behind the workshop were the increasing gap between international frontiers and Indian R and D in solid earth geosciences, lack of research infrastructure and over-dependence on overseas R and D facilities huge heterogeneity in the course curricula and mode of earth science teaching across the country, all resulting in the knowledge gap and shrinkage of manpower which have adverse effect on both teaching and natural resource developments in the country.

The workshop recommended the intensive summer/ winter school in specific core subjects need to be organised at best known centre on war- tooting. This is to ensure a minimum teaching quality in less endowed colleges and universities.

Video lectures of established faculty members or scientists should be available online through ‘countrywide virtual classrooms’ of the National Knowledge Network (NKN).
The geoscience course curricula need an emergency revamp to incorporate all aspects of earth, ocean and atmosphere. An annual meeting of all the geoscientists (like American Geophysical Union meeting) is necessary to encourage new professional geoscientists. It further recommended the creation of a central data management in earth sciences of late India has started the establishment of national history museums.

The workshop sought these natural history museums be mounded on the lines of Smithsonian national museum of natural history.

The workshop also recommended launching several large scale multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional national research programmes during the next five years.

 These mega programmes are expected to produce a high impact science by 2020, when India would be hosting the International Geological Congress, a grand quadrennial carnival of International geoscience community.

The research programmes will ask probing questions on structure and chemical composition several tens of kilometers beneath the Indian lithosphere and how the life originated in Indian billions of years ago and evolved. Or how the mighty Himalayas came into being as well as dynamics of the large Indian rivers.

The silver lining at the end of the day is that more than so per cent of trained geoscience students have remunerative employment in core sectors like petrochemicals, mining, geoinformatics and nuclear establishments.
    
(The author is the Vice-Chancellor, Assam Central University, Silchar )

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