Science beyond classroom teaching

INNOVATIVE

Teaching of science, to school children, needs more imagination and experimentation, says Dr N N Prahallada

While there is rapid development in science and technology, the standards of science instruction, both in our schools and colleges, unfortunately, are plummeting. Since tomorrow’s citizens are moulded today, we have a duty to equip our students with proper scientific knowledge and attitude to face the problems of 21st century with ease and confidence.

According to Bentley Glass, the Chairman of the Biological Science Curriculum Study Programme in USA, “Science is an unfinished business . . . an evergrowing, ever expanding body of knowledge that is grouped around a fruitful method of exploring the unknown secrets of nature.

The current extent of this expansion is such that with each new generation our fund of scientific knowledge increases five-fold. Yet, for all this vast change, the teaching of modern science has become more and more inadequate. This situation, in a world that hinges on science, has led to increasing concern and worry on the part of scientists, educators, and parents.

Science should be taught at whatever level, from the lowest to the highest, in the humanistic way, i.e., it should be taught with a certain historical understanding, with a certain philosophical understanding, with a social understanding and human understanding in the sense of biography, the nature of the people who made this construction, the triumphs, the trials, the tribulations”.

According to the Kothari Education Commission (1964-66): “Science education in our country is in bad shape and it will become worse if we fail to reckon with the explosion of knowledge”.

The reason is quite obvious - that we are still following a beaten track. As a result, science teaching in our schools has generated more heat than light.
In most schools, science is not taught interestingly and seldom motivates students. The following are some of the major causes for the poor standards of science instruction in schools:

* In a majority of schools facilities available for science instruction are far from satisfactory.
* Methods adopted are outdated and stereotyped.
* Opportunities are very meagre for students to take up laboratory work in schools, particularly in rural areas.
* Science teaching is going on only at the ‘knowledge level’ in most schools because of teachers’ ineptitude.
* Owing to lack of interest on the part of teachers, science instruction has become dull and unimaginative.
*  In most schools science instruction is only at oral / verbal level with just occasional demonstrations.
* Research and innovation are not in-built in school programmes. Consequently, the school ceases to be a centre of inquiry.

The Kothari Commission quite appropriately remarked that “if science is poorly taught and badly learnt, it is little more than burdening the mind with dead information and it could degenerate, even into a new superstition”.

It is a pity that science education in our schools hardly goes beyond mixing liquids in test tubes, taking measurements and solving known problems. Because of poor library facilities available in schools, students are forced to confine themselves to the prescribed texts without any novelty. Overcrowding of classrooms and lack of individual attention from the teacher don’t help either.

The following suggestions, if implemented, will go a long way in improving standards of science instruction in schools:
* Science teaching should never be confined to the four walls of a classroom; instead students should be taken out for field trips to study nature, visit nearby factories and other places to acquire first hand information.
* The existing syllabus should be restructured as per NEP-1986 guidelines and, accordingly, modern methods of teaching should replace stereotyped ones.
* Students, right from the middle school level, should be given laboratory facilities to conduct experiments for themselves, with the teacher guiding them.
* Students should be encouraged to participate in activities relating to the school science club, science fair, science museum, and science exhibition.
* If we want to make science instruction interesting, science should be considered as a way of thinking and a method of problem solving.
* Science provides opportunities for accurate observation and to draw meaningful conclusions from sufficient and adequate evidence.
* The teaching of science should encourages gathering evidence, evaluating the worth of the evidence and formulating conclusions.
* Experiences in science are of two types – activities involving the collection and evaluation of data and those involving the organisation and presentation of data.
* The following types of experiences are needed specially at elementary level – making collections, taking students for excursions/field trips, caring for animals, growing plants, naming and identifying, observing, analysing, experimenting, listening, reading and testing.
* Teachers should give importance to the development of problem solving and the use of, scientific attitude of mind.
* Science teaching in elementary schools should focus on discovering problems. defining problems, planning experiments and selection of materials, developing the ability to make careful observations, maintaining records, drawing inferences and conclusions from data, testing validity of results, applying principles and generalisations discovered in one situation to similar situations and helping each individual to solve problems.
* Teachers should help develop, in elementary school-goers, the ability to maintain and use the scientific attitude of mind, viz., the tendency to look for cause and effect relationships and respect for another’s point of view.

Teachers can foster creative thinking in science teaching by adopting the following approaches.

* Consequences/situations: Instead of asking “What do you mean by gravitation?”, the teacher can ask, “What would happen if the earth’s gravity reduces by one-third?” Questions like this will certainly develop the imagination of children.
* Analogies: By asking divergent questions, adopting discussion-enquiry approach to solve problems and preparing improvised science apparatus, teachers can foster children’s creative thinking abilities.
* Research and innovation: Should be made part and parcel of school curriculum.
* Interaction: Science teachers should meet at the taluka and State levels to discuss science instruction at various levels of school education.
* Encouragement: Students should be encouraged to develop rational thought which includes the ability to use reason and evidence in solving problems and making decisions.

(The writer is guest faculty and Associate Professor in Education, Regional Institute of Education NCERT, Mysore)

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