Unscientific take on science education

Two recent events in different parts of the country — the Indian Science Congress held in Tirupati and the Nobel Dialogue Series held with Vibrant Gujarat in Ahmedabad — gave an opportunity to view the state of science and science education in India and to examine proposals to improve its standing in both areas. The science congress is an annual gathering where nothing really happens, but it provides a platform for many scientists to interact. The Dialogue Series saw nine Nobel laureates sharing a forum and talking to the nation about its potential in science and how it can be realised. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the Tirupati meet that India would figure among the top three countries in science and technology by all parameters by 2030. He also spoke about the need for more linkages between universities, laboratories and schools, promotion of the spirit of innovation and the need to bring back scientists and technologists back to the country.

Some Nobel laureates spoke about the vast space we need to cover and how fast we need to move. Physics Nobel laureate David Grossman pointed out that while 20 people out of 10,000 are engaged in science and technology in China, the corresponding figure is four in India. He observed that major science projects like the LIGO observatory and the Neutrino lab are getting stuck in India. The spending on R&D was 0.8% of the GDP in India while it was over 2 % in China. Some suggestions like finding a new model for startup development were made by other scientists. Many suggestions are not new. What is missing is evaluation and implementation. It is pointed out that in many data bases on global scientific output, India ranks high in terms of the number of S&T personnel, research paper publications etc. But the quality in terms of publication in peer-reviewed journals, patents and the honours and awards won by scientists is low. 

More institutes like IISERs and IITs are being set up, more scholarships and grants are being given and more promotional activities involving S&T are undertaken. But the bureaucratic culture and political meddling, which are pervasive, do a lot of harm. They bring extraneous issues into the management, reduces efficiency and are against the spirit of science. Enough number of qualified teachers are not available in schools, colleges and universities. The real promotion and encouragement should be done at the level of schools, where talent should be spotted and groomed.
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