Nurturing the art of science

Nurturing the art of science

There have been plans to upgrade the science curriculum in India but not much has changed over time. Students more commonly associate Isaac Newton with an apple and Albert Einstein with a high IQ than their contribution to their respective fields. As youngsters cram textbooks, they are left with a severe deficit of practical knowledge, which leaves them handicapped when they venture into the ‘adult’ world.

With ISRO’s recent test launch of India’s first indigenous reusable space shuttle, Bengalureans talk about how science education is treated in the country. Praneeth Chakravarthy, who will head to Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a PhD in September, says that the very foundation of science is based on proof and not belief. “But unfortunately the Indian education system at present lays very less or almost no importance on practical and experiential learning. It encourages us to believe in the concepts instead of understanding them, which I think is the fundamental flaw in how science is taught.”

Right from primary school we are made to run behind good marks, good ranks and more, so science education, or for that matter education itself, according to Praneeth, is incentive driven. “This incentive driven learning system discourages educators and students from being practical and experiential. We have reached a point where practical learning is impractical! And as long as science is not perceived, and we do not enhance our perception, all equations and theories remain just pieces of writings and they stop making sense. Once we start learning without any other motivation but just learning, we start to appreciate science, experience it and automatically push boundaries in research, and all equations too start making actual sense,” he says.

Dilip Shirolikar, Chief Executive, India Remote Sensing and Inter-Scientific Mission, ISRO Satellite Centre, agrees with this. “These days there aren’t facilities to teach subjects like physics, chemistry and biology. Most educational institutions aren’t adequately equipped.” Chandrashekar Prabhu, project coordinator at Digicaptions, adds, “The Indian education system focuses on teaching students theory rather than promoting an environment that leads to them finding out the answers for themselves. We should focus on teaching the fundamental.”

Since everyone has different learning capabilities, they should be given the freedom to figure concepts on their own. But this doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any sort of scientific teaching. As Praneeth says, teach them the basics and let them explore as practical application is received differently.

In a time when the internet has answers to almost everything, has formal science education taken a beating? No, says Sandhiya Vijayabaskaran, who works at ‘Bosch’. “I don’t think the internet is a substitute for science education as it doesn’t always give the right answers. It’s one thing if you were to study journals and research papers but they aren’t available for free and accessible to everyone (unless downloaded illegally through torrents). There should be more emphasis on research methodology to help students.”

While most people turn to the internet for answers, Dilip says that nothing can replace a good teacher. But that, he adds, is the problem; there aren’t too many good teachers anymore. “A good teacher will inspire, motivate and turn a student in the right direction according to their aptitude. These days, education is more of a commercial thing where teachers work for the money rather than job satisfaction.” Though it takes more effort, those interested in science find a way to do their best. “Not many realise and relate to the fundamental principles that drive everything in nature,” says Praneeth.  

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