Outlook: Looking at the complex scenario of science education in India, three issues stand out clearly. First, science education is stil...


Looking at the complex scenario of science education in India, three issues stand out clearly. First, science education is still far from achieving the goal of equity enshrined in our Constitution. Second, science education in India, even at its best, develops competence but does not encourage inventiveness and creativity. Third, the overpowering examination system is basic to most, if not all, the fundamental problems of science education in India. 

The science curriculum must be used as an instrument for achieving social change in order to reduce the divide based on economic class, gender, caste, religion and region. We must use textbooks as one of the primary instruments for equity, since for a great majority of school-going children, as also for their teachers, it is the only accessible and affordable resource for education. We must encourage alternative textbook writing in the country within the broad guidelines laid down by the National Curriculum Framework. These textbooks should incorporate activities, observation and experimentation, and encourage an active approach to science, connecting it with the world around the child, rather than information-based learning. Additionally, materials such as workbooks, cocurricular and popular science books, and children's encyclopaedia would enhance children's access to information and ideas that need not go into the textbook, loading it further, but would enrich learning that takes place through project work. There is a dearth of such materials with rich visuals in regional languages. 

The development of science corners, and providing access to science experimentation kits and laboratories, in rural areas are also important ways of equitably provisioning for science learning. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is an important tool for bridging social divides. ICT should be used in such a way that it becomes an opportunity equaliser by providing information, communication and computing resources in remote areas. ICT if used for connecting children and teachers with scientists working in universities and research institutions would also help in demystifying scientists and their work. 

For any qualitative change from the present situation, science education in India must undergo a paradigm shift. Rote learning should be discouraged. Inquiry skills should be supported and strengthenedby language, design and quantitative skills. Schools should place much greater emphasis on co-curricular and extra-curricular activities aimed at stimulating investigative ability, inventiveness and creativity, even if these are not part of the external examination system. There should be a massive expansion of such activities along the lines of the Children's Science Congress, being held successfully at present. A large-scale science and technology fair at the national level (with feeder fairs at cluster/district/state levels) may be organised to encourage schools and teachers to participate in this movement. Such a movement should gradually spread to every corner of India and even across South Asia, unleashing a wave of creativity and scientific temper among young students and their teachers. 

Examination reform should be initiated as a national mission, supported by adequate funding and high-quality human resources. The mission should bring teachers, educationists and scientists on a common platform; launch new ways of testing students that would reduce the high level of examination-related stress; curb the maddening multiplicity of entrance examinations; and undertake research on ways of testing multiple abilities other than formal scholastic competence. 

These reforms, however, fundamentally need the overarching reform of teacher empowerment. No reform, however well motivated and well planned, can succeed unless a majority of teachers feel empowered to put it in practice. With active teacher participation, the reforms suggested above could have a cascading effect on all stages of science teaching in our schools.

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