Science Education: INSA seminar in May 2002


A Brief Report on the Seminar on Science Education Programme : Trends and Future Initiatives
May 16-17, 2002, New Delhi, India

The Indian National Science Academy (INSA), New Delhi organized a two day seminar on the topic Science Education Programme-Trends and Future Initiatives on May 16-17, 2002 at INSA, New Delhi. The seminar was mainly based on experience sharing in science education bringing together those responsible for improving curricula, science textbooks, educationists, teachers from both the formal and non-formal sector, those responsible for the professional development of teachers of science, those involved in assessment in science education and also those interested in science popularization and dissemination of science.

The seminar was attended by 65 participants from 39 organisations, both government and non-government, who also displayed their initiatives in this area in the form of posters, science kits & books. Broadly seminar focused on science teaching (changing emphasis for teaching; professional development for teachers] and science contents in different branches of science; assessment in science education; science popularization and dissemination.

Participants were of the view that scientific institution should adopt high schools and colleges, providing them requisite assistance. While mentioning about 5-10 centers for R&D in science education, the participants felt more are required. Besides the parents need to be sensitized about the career opportunities in science, the need for massive programme of teachers training and also how good were the testing tools in spotting talent, lack of reading materials and difficulty to produce good text books were needed to be tackled.

For quality science education, quality science teachers are required to impart knowledge. The hallmark of a good science teacher is thorough theoretical knowledge and practical abilities. In addition, qualities of enthusiasm for science, interest in the surroundings, exploration of Nature and its beauty and the close relationship to science are essential and sparking the curiosity and rubbing off some of the same enthusiasm into the children. An inquiry based approach, can work wonders in the learning of science.

Eklavya, a NGO has pioneered such an attempt in the Hosangabad Science Teaching Program . Taking science to rural districts of Madhya Pradesh, the problem of interpreting science to children has been overcome, in an experiment that has stood the test of time (about 30 years). From small beginnings this novel experiment has spread to about 1000 schools in over 15 districts of Madhya Pradesh. The World Bank in a recent detailed report prepared on the school system has termed it finest for science education for schools. Also such a system as it appears according to Eklavya team, made students who can stand shoulder to shoulder with those from more formal schools when it comes to success in competitive examinations.

The HBCSE, Mumbai have field work and intervention programmes that target socio-economically disadvantaged children and first generation learners. The Centre mobile laboratory called Yes you can do it entertains while teaching science at the school level. At a more advanced level there are laboratories for biology and chemistry etc. It also is the nodal agency for the National Science Olympiads. The JBNSTS, Kolkata has helped to bring non formal science education for high school students of Eastern India and the North Eastern States. Their innovative approach to science education model has been researched and developed for making learning more fun, challenging and inspiring . A number of low cost kits were demonstrated.

During these two days of interactive seminar, a number of problems were highlighted and the suggestions made by the participants are reflected below.

· Increase mobility of science popularizers with adequate funding.

· Need for Mathematics in all science curriculums and at all levels, need for good text books, spotting and nurturing of mathematics talent by Maths teachers in every school, shortage of manpower in Mathematics.

Prof. V. Krishnan, convener of the seminar in his opening remarks cited that INSA was deeply concerned with the state of science education in the country. He said that there was a clear gap between what was achievable and what had been achieved. The problems were of reduced input of students to science, poor quality teachers and the lack of scientific manpower to administer scientific enterprises in the country. India, according to him had a unique position being a multilingual, multicultural country with a large rural population. So, any experiences that India had to offer in improving science education would be of interest. He informed the audience that INSA would be setting up a dedicated website to the cause of science education. This would focus on issues such as experience sharing, towards improving science education in the country, information on use of experimental materials and inquiry based learning modules. All this would help in making science important and motivate individuals to become rational
human beings. Finally the success would be measured in how much more effective science learning and teaching becomes, discussion on research findings that would lead to their use in science teaching and build towards an overall national model keeping in view of the necessity to have different sub models that are region specific. Strategies would then be identified and implemented based on shared experiences. This would be followed up at a collective meeting of all the science Academies of the country sometime in October, 2002.

Initiative like exploratory way of learning science where the emphasis is on learn how to learn, learn how to do and learn how to live was highlighted under this initiative. Children are initiated into the method of science while acquainting them with the way great men of science questioned Nature through very carefully designed experiments to reveal her secrets. They strongly believe that science cannot and should not be learnt from the blackboards or from the books but by participating in the process of science and by doing science. Exploratory guarantees a place where children can explore and experiment, design and fabricate, invent and innovate. The start of the discovery process comprises several key components such as keen observation, multiplicity of choices, prediction on basis of generalizations, two-way participation and confirmation of prediction leading to congenial active and creative interaction. At the outset, the emphasis is on basic concepts, significance and implications only thereafter ma
thematical formulations are introduced. A compendium of such activities is under preparation so that similar activities can be tried at other places and the role of the guide in this method of teaching has been clearly spelt out.

University Grants Commission efforts of launching National Lectures Scheme was pointed out by UGC chairman wherein mentioned that the Tenth Plan would see an integrated programme put in place where research laboratories become a part of the process for students at +2 level. A fund of 50 crore had been sanctioned for each centre that had been selected.

· Content based curriculum changes necessary at all levels.

· Inadequate number of science museums

· Mobile vans for science teaching

· Change in methods of teaching and making it more inquiry based, raising curiosity, conveying the excitement of science and understanding and exploring Nature through experiments.

· Inadequate practical work at all levels.

· More creative toys that have in-built scientific concepts REQUIRED

· Need for national standards and a national model in science education.

· Changes required in the evaluation system especially in entrance examinations.

· Identification of strategies both local/region specific and for the country as a whole.

· Increase the role of science journals, popular science magazines and comic strips.

· Adoption of high schools/colleges by science institutes.

· Open Centres of research and development for science education.

· Scientists/Fellows to write more textbooks.

· Changing the ?Do not touch? and ?Do not ask questions ? mindset.

· Backward areas and the under privileged have to gain access to science education.

· Population can be an asset if properly educated.

· Reflection of India in examples, illustrations while teaching science.

· More networking between Government and NGOs required.

· Pockets of excellence need to be proliferated.

· More science parks for learning science outdoors.

· Increase Technology education at the school level.

· Increase use of VHS for mass dissemination of science

· Increase teacher training at school level.

This interactive seminar, with participants having a wide cross-section of backgrounds in the field of science education helped for a better understanding of the problems faced and strategies that have proved successful in combating them. The experience sharing, providing a platform so that Academies such as INSA could play a positive role in raising the quality of science education in the country.

Suggestions:

- INSA, would like to dedicate a Web site to science education in the country that would also help in networking individuals and organizations through knowledge exchange and experience sharing for the improvement of science education with special emphasis on taking science to the masses, and encouraging the participation of women towards careers in science. This would focus on issues such as experience sharing, towards improving science education in the country, information on use of experimental materials and inquiry based learning modules. Strategies would then be identified and implemented based on shared experiences.

- A collective meeting of all the science Academies of the country to be held in October, 2002.

- India needs to overhaul its science education and improve its quality in general. Particularly, it must have a system designed broadly to suit its own needs and yet cater to different multicultural and multilingual needs that are unique to the country.

- Science education must reach the masses, the underprivileged and especially the girl child.

- Science education must evoke the natural curiosity of the child, the wonderment for Nature. For this, the education and its tools should be fashioned to the environment in which the child lives. The child should be encouraged to find its own answers with textbooks being only a guide. Concepts must be introduced and field trips and outdoor activities to learn must be encouraged. At the school stage itself, there should be spotters to identify special talents for science and these must be further supported.

- The quantum of practical laboratory work, field work must be substantially increased. To aid learning by inquiry more exploratory methods must be incorporated into the curriculum. A larger number of experiments, kits and multi media teaching aids should be created using as far as possible locally available materials with accompanying do-it-yourself books.

- Activities must be designed in full harmony with the child environment and from this environment more detailed concepts of scientific truth must be got and understood. This would sensitize the child to its environment and help to solve niggling problems at a later date but makes the whole exercise of learning all the more interesting and invigorating.

- The do-not-touch mindset that is taught in the present system ought to change. Encouragements must be given to ask questions, understand the history of science, find how science is so entwined in their daily lives, feel the excitement for science and understand that there remains a lot to be still done.

- Curriculum at school and college level including university level must be periodically assessed and any resistance to change should be suitable thwarted.

- Textbook writing by senior scientists and teachers must be encouraged. The general quality of textbooks should be raised taking heed to the environment in which the child or student finds themselves in.

- Mathematics should be taught at all levels and must be mandatory for all science subjects or their combinations. Making mathematical construct rather than with pen and paper should be encouraged.

- School teacher training programmes must be increased all over the country and they should be given an opportunity to understand more recent developments taking place in their subject disciplines. This would help them to imbibe the same excitement in their students and raise the level of teaching. Spotters among teachers must be encouraged to spot talent early in each school at all district levels.

- The media, parents and students should be sensitized as to the various career options and job situations available to students coming out science streams. This would encourage more students to science and reverse the alarming trend of lack of interest for basic sciences.

- All kinds of possibilities to encourage and popularize science such as mobile vans, science centres, interactive exhibits, workshops and activity centres for children should be supported financially.

- Role of journals, popular science magazines in spreading the scientific temper among citizens must be more aggressively encouraged.

- Incentives for promoting science education in the country on a larger scale should be given.

- All science Academies must come together for the sake of improving the quality of science education in the country and play a more active role in the process of raising the scientific temper of the people of this country. The Academies should be a watchdog, leading the way for governmental policy issues that concern science education and help to change an outdated system.

A K Jain, INSA,
New Delhi, India