Science and Technology Education and Research in India
The practice of science had come to acquire a nationalistic hue. The achievements of Raman, Saha, and Bose — in the face of tremendous odds — were regarded as points scored against the colonial rulers. School education, on the other hand, followed the model set up by the British. The idea that all children should have access to schooling was still in the future. Gandhi and Tagore proposed alternative models, but the mainstream did not adopt them.
With Independence came a model of economic development that set great store by science and technology. Nehru’s dream was of a modern, prosperous India propelled by science and technology. Naturally, school science education received special attention in the brave new world of Nehru’s India, though not in a systematic fashion. Scientists were the pilots of this new India, and there was an understandable desire to produce more and better scientists. This perhaps explains the direction school science education took after Independence.
If we look at the evolution of school science in India, we see a clear trend of including more and more content — overwhelmingly in the form of factual information — in the syllabus. Laboratories have declined, and even demonstrations, once common, are now confined to elite schools. Thus the factual information that dominates the syllabi is not supported by any kind of activity, which can make it plausible or even comprehensible. Students therefore have no option but to memorise the facts. The consequence of this is that students find science not only difficult but also boring. As a result, students don’t want to opt for science at the Class XI level.
Attempts to challenge the orthodoxy of Indian science education have mostly been very small in scale. An exception is the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP), a programme for teaching middle school science through experiments, which started in 1972 as a pilot project in 16 schools of Hoshangabad district in Madhya Pradesh. At the time of its abrupt closure in 2002, it was running in around 1000 schools in 16 districts of the State. The HSTP was unique in that it was a State programme, running in ordinary Government schools, supported by a large academic resource group. Although no longer a running programme, the HSTP has had great influence on the discourse on education in the country.
In the last two decades, the universalisation of elementary education has emerged as a national goal. Education for all children up to Class VIII now seems a realistic target rather than a distant dream. It is therefore worthwhile to ask: what is the main aim of teaching science in schools? The syllabi and textbooks of the last 40 years suggest that the (unstated) aim of school science education has been to produce scientists. Hence syllabi are dominated by the disciplinary demands of different branches of science, and there is a relentless downward pressure to cover more content in earlier classes.
UNESCO has mooted the goal of Scientific and Technological Literacy (STL) for all. Every citizen needs to be aware of trends in science, cope with technology in everyday life, and be able to take considered positions on science-related issues of social importance (e.g. the height of a dam, the location of a nuclear power plant). Clearly school science up to Class X has to be rethought radically if STL for all is seen as the primary aim.
The Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP) commenced in 2003 with World Bank assistance as a long term programme to be implemented in three phases.
The first phase of TEQIP commenced in 2003 and ended on March 31st, 2009. It covered 127 institutes across 13 States including 18 Centrally Funded Technical Institutions (CFTIs). TEQIP-II commenced in August 2010, covering 23 States/Union Territories (UTs) and 191 Institutes (including 26 CFTIs). TEQIP-II is scheduled to conclude in October, 2016.
Both projects have had a positive impact on the infrastructure and educational standards in the technical institutions where they were taken up. Institutions in the central, eastern and north-eastern region and hill States are at present in need of similar and specific interventions. The initiation and implementation of the project TEQIP-III will bridge this gap.