How to Encourage Learning of Science

Curiosity about the world around us is one of the finest qualities you can have that will direct you to the pursuit of science. Children are always curious, then as time goes by, they grow up to be young adults – burdens of exams, peer and parental pressure, conforming to the hidden/unspoken rules of our society –  ephemeral qualities (such as curiosity) are not nurtured; they are lost in the labyrinth of everyday struggles! Young adults are curious no more, they have no time; they have joined the rat race of completing a degree and getting a job!

So how should we (science teachers, outreach persons, educationists and others) keep the motivation for learning science going, and growing?

(a) Science as a Quest: Human civilization has grown because of scientific knowledge – first questioning everything and then finding answers; then asking more and reaching to better innovative solutions………..this is an increasingly large cycle. And is a great thing! Otherwise we would have been cave dwellers still 🙂 The famous Greek philosopher Socrates has said wisdom begins with wonder!

So how can we encourage a quest for science among children and adults? Have public and popular science lectures, have local science and astronomy clubs, create science museums, science based theme parks, excursions to scientifically significant places – all these avenues probably may address this quest. Another idea is for celebrating National Science Day and National Technology Day to generate mass awareness and interest in science and its application (technology) in amongst laypeople. Scientific institutions should make it mandatory for all scientists to reach out to the public at least once a year.

(b) Scientific Temper: Scientific reasoning and logic (scientific temper) make us more rational.

Here is an episode I’d like to narrate: During a total solar eclipse in 1980 in India, Doordarshan telecast a movie so that everyone would stay inside their homes, and not be affected by evil influences of Rahu-Ketu! This superstition was officially supported by the government, even though the term ‘scientific temper’ is enshrined in the Indian constitution! All shops were closed, and people went to bathe after the eclipse was over!! Years later when the same event occurred in 1995, scores of people came out of their homes (with safety eye glasses of course) and watched the eclipse. Not only that, this time Doordarshan had a live telecast about the eclipse and scientists were placed all across the path of the eclipse and were giving live commentary!

So through popular science education, and explaining the simple geometry of Sun-Moon-Earth, many people were able to enjoy this rare celestial event; it was good to see that, indeed! People broke away from the shackles of superstition into a space where logic and reasoning ruled.

(c) Science for Social Transformation: A rational demeanour leads to empowerment and social progress. Be it farming for better yields, or be it a public health, science can be applied for improving and enhancing the quality of life and bring about social transformations.

Educate public and make them aware about science based applications, so that they will look to logical solutions for their issues, rather than visit god men and fall prey to their bogus and nonsensical advice.

The analytical and predictive nature of science is a great empowering tool – this thought should be inculcated in the fabric of every being, as early as possible!

(d) Science Teaching: Science curriculum and the way it is taught is schools and colleges may need some amount of overhauling. In many schools a teacher with no scientific background is made to take a science class! How can that be?! The teacher may just read through the text-book, or with the help of a smart class tool finish a lecture, without making any effort to pump scientific quest or even scientific temper in students!! In most Indian colleges, things are no different – there is no atmosphere for any learning, let alone about learning of science!

So how should schools address this? Have science workshops for teachers so that they contiguously upgrade themselves; have a few hands-on fun-filled practical sessions for the young students, make project work, self-study and research compulsory for students in higher classes, make a science hobby workshop available in the school, keep a few hours per week for learning from content on the internet (there are plethora of things available freely on the internet), organize local science clubs with activities such as lectures, presentations, visits, subscribe and buy science magazines and books for everyone to read and enjoy the discoveries of science.

(e) Science Channels: Science news and science channels do wonders for keeping up the interests in science learning amongst everyone. Space exploration news, animal planet and information about tech toys and gadgets hooks people into science, definitely!

Besides science channels available on TV and cable, there are plenty of internet TV channels too. Videos on You Tube, quite a few NASA educational channels have indeed done a stellar job of teaching science to one and all. These should be watched regularly.

And now my story, how did I come about to be such a science enthusiast? Well, it started with my father who was a science enthusiast too. To avoid the summer heat in Kolkata, we would sleep on the terrace with the wonderful night sky above us – the look of the Moon, recognizing planets and constellations, finding the North Pole star, watching an artificial satellite (most probably Sputnik) moving above, seeing how starts and constellations rotate around the Pole star during the night, did definitely create a lot of wonderment as a child. Then many visits to the Birla Industrial and Technological Museums, handling interactive science kits there, and then watching science movies, going to their library, were a routine thin s with my father, and we did that almost weekly! Kolkata also had a lovely planetarium, which we went to whenever a new show was announced. The Indian Museum – had dinosaurs and mummies! All this really hooked me into science! I must admit that unfortunately I had no great science teachers ever (they were good and generous human beings, and that’s the way it was in those days!). Thus all my science education has been self-taught! And fortunately for me this imbibing and soaking in science has become a habit – the quest for learning science for me will be never-ending, I thoroughly enjoy reading, writing, teaching and disseminating science, at every given opportunity! And of course when you teach others, you learn more! I maintain a ‘book of ideas’ for myself, whenever I think I have a good, innovative thought. When I come to know that someone else has discovered what I had thought about earlier and is in the public domain, I open my book and tick it off with date, and tell myself that I had been here before – get a sort of an ‘intellectual kick’!!

Thus in summary, how should learning of science should be encouraged?

Ways of Learning Science Suggestion
Science as a Quest
  • Have public and popular science lectures
  • Have local science and astronomy clubs
  • Create Science museums, science based theme parks
  • Excursions to scientifically significant places
  • Celebrate National Science Day and National Technology
  • Have public outreach programs in all institutions
Scientific Temper
  • Have a rational and logical outlook to everything
  • Have popular science education to know the impact and benefits of application of science
Science for Social Transformation
  • Educate public and make them aware about science based applications, so that they will look to logical solutions for their issues, rather than visit god men and fall prey to their bogus and nonsensical advice.
  • The analytical and predictive nature of science is a great empowering tool
Science Teaching
  • Have science workshops for teachers so that they contiguously upgrade themselves;
  • Have a few hands-on fun filled practical sessions for the young students
  • Make project work, self-study and research compulsory for students in higher classes
  • Make a science hobby workshop available in the school, keep a few hours per week for learning from content on the internet (there are plethora of things available freely on the internet)
  • Organize local science clubs with activities such as lectures, presentations, visits
  • Subscribe and buy science magazines and books for everyone to read and enjoy the discoveries of science.
Science Channels
  • Science news and science channels do wonders for keeping up the interests in science learning amongst everyone.
  • Space news, a few NASA channels, You Tube should be watched regularly.

Any learning is a very individual, personal journey, but to be motivated to take that journey and keep walking on, however difficult the path may be, is the key to all learning; and especially science learning.

In just one sentence I can say that to encourage learning of science, it ultimately really boils down to just one thing: encourage good SCIENCE EDUCATION for all!

 

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