Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dr. Kalam and Sexing up science

This has nothing to do with his hair. Promise.
He's the lead intro for an article in Newsweek on 'Sexing up science'.
Though his job in this parliamentary nation is largely ceremonial, Kalam, a newspaper boy turned aeronautical engineer who stewarded India's guided-missile program, has made it his mission to raise his country to glory through scientific scholarship. He travels from school to school, exhorting students to hit the books and excel at science.

Article talks about the 'developing world's' hunger for science - 3,00,000 engineers a year from India alone and twice that number from China - while western standards in the same are dropping. Having read the article, i'd say it tends to potray a bleak picture for the west though as it notes:
A recent study by Duke University showed that while developing countries often inflate the numbers of science scholars, the United States still employs nearly a third of the world's science and engineering researchers, publishes 35 percent of science and engineering articles and generates 40 percent of research and development spending.
In middle and high schools, where the spark of scientific curiosity begins, the majority of students can't be bothered to take advanced math or physics.
Well, i don't think that's the case in India as well. It's just that we are compartmentalized into taking either Arts, Commerce or Science immediately after junior high school. And due to being a 'safe and respectable' option the top rung take up 'Science'. It's not some great interest in understanding how things work that someone takes up science. Run of the mill. But that's changing now. A lot more top students, especially since the 90s are starting to at least take up 'Commerce'. 'Arts' still remains the rich-man's-son or civil-services-aspirant arena.

I am still waiting for the day students in India can combine streams and be better rounded individuals. Given a chance i would have taken a combination of courses in Sanskrit, History, Statistics, Philosophy, Math and Physics. But all i did was do ONLY Physics with some math in my undergraduation.


Sandeep Bhasin said...

At least you knew what you wanted to do. In my case, everything was decided by elders in the family... but all said and done, I am not doing bad at all [except for my dislike for this country :-)]

Kshitij L said...

"Our future doesn't depend on producing more engineers than China. [We] need more innovators,"

This is from the article, and sums up the situation. More is not necessarily better, and unless all this quota and syllabus and related bullshit is done away with, the future looks pretty bleak.

Sure, we have the IITs which regularly place among the top 5 engineering colleges in the world -- but what else? What research is being done here? How many papers from the IITs? What is the quality of hard science research in India? Unless I'm badly mistaken, the answers to the above questions aren't too promising.

And about Kalam hopping from school to school, well, my school hasn't had Kalam here, but we've had some other bureaucrat idiots over at a science exhibition. These were supposed to be some top echelon guys from the Ministry of Science and Tech or something. What did they say? "Very nice models, very neat, yes, well made." Nothing about science. And for a good reason: the CBSE doesn't want projects which showcase *science*, they want to see that we read their pathetic textbooks and copied their sentences properly into our project reports.

This won't work. This ghetto mentality towards science education is making it worthless because all we end up learning is a collection of facts and formulae, and not the essence of science itself, which lies in reasoning and experiment and hypothesis, that is, the scientific method.

Another reason it's bad is that is deglamorises science. Science of itself is a beatiful, logical subject, which involves far more or at least as much creativity and innovation as, say, painting or music or fashion design. It's a very, very human subject, with its set of heroes and villains and opposing theories and grey areas and uncharted waters and beautiful structures and novel ideas. All this is lost in education -- at least as education is done in India. Science is taught as, and hence perceived as, a very dry subject, where the truth is what is there in the textbook and everything else is "out of syllabus."

It's not the teachers who are to blame for this; this attitude shines through brilliantly in the CBSE's policies, which seem to be aimed at making us into middle class farmers or bureaucrats.

I can't see this changing in the near future. The standards of policies and textbooks of the CBSE have fallen steadily for the last half-decade, and I assume the trend will continue. This is not a good thing, and we will end up with an army of educated yet insular worker class people.

I mean, do we want India to remain someplace where everybody outsources their dumb work?

Sharan Sharma said...

But i remember my sister's case...when she wanted to take up Arts despite a 'good percentage', complete chaos at home...

Also, you meant dislike for the government policies :)

All very pertinent points!
> need for innovators...sums up the situation

Very true. The one thing i've seen here in the US is that graduate education is taken very seriously and even if not from a very good univ, it has a standing. In our case, every other person has some post-graduate degree..mostly worthless

> IITs which regularly place among the top 5 engineering colleges in the world

top 5? really...i remember some kind of ranaking on this remember the source for this? and

> ghetto mentality towards science education is making it worthless

Absolutely. And another thing COMPLETELY missing is the Intuitive approach. My experience here in the US has been that Indians (and even Chinese) are very good at *computing* things but bad at intuitively coming up with solutions or ability to *visualize* the problem.

> Science is taught as, and hence perceived as, a very dry subject,

They almost convinced me about that even though i was interested! But i must say, i did my undergrad from Bombay Univ. and we had come very nice teachers...but then again, you know, that spark/that passion was missing...i mean you could not go and ask them about the latest developments in the field, or say in the course on 'relativity' you couldn't discuss the deeper philosophical implications...i missed that the most

> aimed at making us into middle class farmers or bureaucrats.
Ha...ha...good one...

> everybody outsources their dumb work
and that's something people are just not relaizing...they keep saying tech powerhouse, but a large proportion of what they call that is the call centre fixing computer kind of stuff - though i do not have figures on what proportion.

Sandeep Bhasin said...

I must add here that in Meruth univ. 9th and 10th standard students were caught checking the graduation papers. Now, what are we talking about? The students, as expected, came on the streets. The university has assured all the students that an ‘enquiry’ will be set to take a stock of the ‘damage’ done.

Now for the better part. NDTV and other TV channels, on 60th Independence Day, went to the parliament and asked basic questions to the politicians. Sample questions are here for you to check your GK:

1. In our national flag, which is the colour right on top? (Majority said Green)
2. Who authored 'Rashtra Gaan' and 'Rashtra Geet' (Najma Heptulla said there is a controversy on who authored the rashtra Geet. According to her he was Chatopaddhaya and not Chaterji or wait a minute, “let me attend the session and will answer you once I am back. I have read history!”)
3. Baapu ka pura naam kya hai? (One ass said karamchand; others could not answer. Another one from UP (or was he from Bihar??? Never mind, its one and the same) said, "hum to unhe Bapu aur mahatma bulate hai".

You would be surprised (no! I don't think so!!!) that all these questions were asked to our Minister of State - Education and he could not answer any of these questions.

Now, once again I would like to ask, what are we talking about???

Sharan Sharma said...

what are you saying, Sandeep!

9th and 10th standard students! Were they all Tathagat-tulsis:)

> Baapu ka pura naam kya hai? (One ass said karamchand
........this was just MY GOD!

What the hell is going on!!!

Kshitij L said...

I can't summon up a ref right now but I remember seeing it on wikipedia somewhere.