'Covid has taught us to strive to become self-reliant'

Covid pandemic has taught us to invest in R&D, strive to become self-reliant: Venkaiah Naidu

The pandemic has also reinforced the importance of scientific temper, the vice president said

Venkaiah Naidu. Credit: PTI file photo.

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on Friday said the coronavirus pandemic has taught us the need to invest in and sustain research and development and to strive to become self-reliant, and urged the private sector to partner with various institutes to promote innovation in the country.

Addressing the valedictory function of the India International Science Festival through virtual mode from Hyderabad, he also said science lays the path to progress and create material wealth for the country.

"We should also aim to first achieve self-reliance in critical sectors like electronics and defence. With the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world and nearly 10,000 technology-led startups, India has great potential to become atmanirbhar (self reliant) in many sectors," he told the gathering.

Describing science as the lifeline of human progress, he said hardworking scientists gave us many things -- from a light bulb to an aeroplane, to vaccines that can fight deadly diseases.

"In fact, we are on the verge of releasing our own indigenous Covid vaccine. It is science and hard-working scientists that have made this possible. Beginning with very few testing kits at the beginning of the pandemic, in a span of a few months we have developed cheaper and rapid diagnostics, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPEs).

"Today, we are even able to export PPEs. It is in this context that people have to be made aware of scientific developments of the day and the work of dedicated scientists," he said according to the text of his speech.

The pandemic, the vice president said, has also reinforced the importance of scientific temper in our lives.

One of the major challenges in this pandemic has been the prevalence of the 'infodemic'. False information on the nature of the virus, medication and the vaccine caused panic and anxiety among the people, he observed.

"It is not vaccines or drugs that can defeat the infodemic, but a rational outlook among people. A citizenry that can think critically will be immune to such misinformation or fake news. This spirit of inquiry must be taken to the people...," he stressed.

Naidu felt people must also recognise that the fourth industrial revolution is underway and India cannot afford to miss the opportunity this time.

"We must quickly capitalise on our demographic dividend, skill our youth, and ride this revolution to make our unique mark in the world of science," he observed.

Naidu felt there was a need to increase the focus on science education. "I am referring to both -- education in science (STEM) and in scientific thinking. We must encourage our children to pursue a career in STEM, improve the quality of research in our institutes, increase Rand D investments, and encourage diversity in the field," he pointed out.

As regards scientific-thinking, there is no quick fix but to nurture critical thinking from a young age through a revamped pedagogy, he felt.

Sustainability should be an intrinsic part of scientific research, he said, adding that one cannot afford to look at sustainability and technology in silos. "We need to go for a holistic and inter-disciplinary approach in science education that addresses ecological concerns," he said.

The vice president felt that science and technology should address the pressing needs of the common man. Cutting edge advancements like nanotechnology are strategically important, but what is critical is recognising micro-innovations in agriculture, handicrafts, education, and health, he opined.

"For instance, a reliable low-cost water-purifier could potentially save millions of lives. A resilient seed variety can benefit an entire farming community. In the end, science has to make the common man's life comfortable," Naidu suggested.

Referring to Covid-19, he said if there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it is that we need to invest in and sustain research and development and to strive to become self-reliant.

"Our space programme is a sterling example of how self-reliance can be achieved ... To this extent, I also call upon the private sector to partner with various institutes to promote innovation in the country," he said in his address.

He felt there was a need to inculcate scientific temper at a young age. "Children have an inherent curiosity. How we channelise that curiosity is very important. If we encourage them to ask questions and think critically, they will become confident, self-assured, and fearless for the rest of their lives.

"A confident generation means a confident nation. On the other hand, if we discourage them from asking questions and curtail their imagination, they will forever be dependent on others' solutions and remain unsure of themselves," he said.

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