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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 35, New Delhi, August 14, 2021

Policy Paper on Revamping Science Education in Karnataka: Summary Analysis | P S Jayaramu

Friday 13 August 2021

by P. S . Jayaramu

August 9, 2021

The Karnataka Science and Technology Academy appointed a Committee headed by the former Vice Chancellor of Karnatak University, Prof. S.K. Saidapur, along with a few former Vice chancellor like Dr. H.A. Ranganath, Dr. B.G. Mulimani and others to examine the state of science education in the State. The Committee has come up with a Policy Paper entitled ‘Revamping Science Education in Karnataka’. An attempt is made here to present a summary analysis of its major recommendations.

The above report has come out in the background of New Education Policy (NEP 2020 with the objective of pointing to the right opportunities for science education in Karnataka. Such an exercise is worthy of being replicated in other states too. The Chairman of the Committee Prof. S.K. Saidapur says in the Foreward that the emphasis in 21st century is unmistakably on critical and creative thinking, skill development and innovations calling for revamping and re-purposing science education in the State, which is the hub of science and technology in India.

The report rightly begins with a quote from Sir. C.V. Raman which reads like this: ‘there is only one solution for India’s economic problems-that is science and more science and still more science’. The report has compact chapters dealing with a brief perspective on the growth of science, emerging trends in science and technology education against the background of the impact of the industrial revolution and the need for a globally competitive science education. The report also examines the NEP 2020 in brief and comes up with it’s recommendations with focus on (a) creating state of the art infrastructure,(b)empoweing faculty to take on new roles,(c)curriculum development,(d)teaching-learning processes and assessment, (e)promoting research and innovation and (f)science communication and practice of ethics, really exhaustive topics coverd in it’s 37 pages report. My purpose here is to critically summarise the recommendations of the Prof. Saidapur Committee report.

First and foremost, the report focusses on the need for creating ‘state of the art’ infrastructure emphasising that good infrastructure, academic ambience and proper educational eco-system ( cooperative and competitive) against the background of 21st century requirements for online and on demand education. The report, appropriately, cautions that hands on training in labs cannot be replaced by virtual labs as that will destroy attempts to establish a ‘mind to hand’ connection and experiential learning. Sage words indeed. The report also calls for a cadre of ‘Lab Managers’ for proper use of laboratory equipments etc. The Committee’s call for the requisite budgetory support by the Government is unfortunately is not forthcoming in view of the severe strains faced by the State’s economy, reeling under the impact of the Covid19 pandemic.

The second and most important issue dealt with by the Committee is about empowering the faculty in colleges and universities to take on their new role. The report underlines the need for commitment and passion on the part of teachers as a cardinal requirement for promoting science education, both of which seem to be on the decline. State’s HEIs, faced with an acute shortage of teachers is relying on guest faculty to manage teaching work load. Additionally, the faculty are over-burdened with teaching and administrative cum examination oriented work to bestow optimum time for creative teaching. As many teachers point out, online teaching is take it’s toll on teachers. A lot of them are unable to cope with the task of preparing their teaching material for delivery in the online mode. Many teachers themselves require training to optimally adapt themselves to the new modes of teaching. As the report underlines, teachers will need training to shift from memory-based education and assessment to enable students to develop critical thinking and analytical abilities. Dishing out information should not replace imparting of knowledge. Indeed, blended teaching combing in right proportions online and conventional class room teaching is the need of the hour.

Another closely associated issue dealt with by the Committee is with curriculum development. The same acquires additional significance viewed in the context of implementing the NEP 2020 in the State, for which the Government of Karnataka has formally passed orders, claiming to be the first State in the country to be doing so. Doubts are being raised about the quality of curriculum developed for teaching the new programmes started under NEP 2020.

The Committee report rightly emphasises the need for jsound domain knowledge by the experts in the Boards of studies to address genuinely issues related to inter and multi multi-disciplinary teaching. The report underlines the need for integrating the contributions of Indian and Indian origin scientists abroad to inspire and instill confidence among students and even suggests the use by faculty of the book ‘Founders of Modern science in India’ authored by Profs. C.N.R. Rao and Indumati Rao. The Board of Studies in HEIs should consist of faculty from related disciplines offering courses and not comprise only of teachers from single disciplines, as has been done recently, while preparing the curriculum for various UG and PG programmes in the State under NEP 2020. The courses offered should be broadly inter and multi-disciplinary in nature to make the students future ready. The report, suggests in a novel way, the need for the introduction of a short introductory course on the ‘Excitements in Contemporary Sciences’. It also recommends the starting of Centers for ‘Human Sciences’ where disciplines like Anthropology/Sociology, Psychology, Economics and History are integrated for purposes of teaching. It also highlights the role of science and importance of making innovations for societal development to be included in the curriculum. The need of the hour is to implement such recommendations as part of new age teaching by our higher educational institutions.

The Commitee also refers to the need for restructuring teaching- learning processes and assessment with emphasis on blended learning, group learning, project-based learning followed by seminars, quizzes using various Apps, social media etc. While the emphasis on blended learning is of paramount importance, use of Apps and social media have to be cautiously done, specially with an eye on responsibility/ accountability of such modes of teaching.

Nextly, promotion of research and innovations occupies the attention of the Committee with it’s emphasis on teaching and research going hand in hand. Easily said than done. Research out-put by faculty at the UG and PG levels, with the former going to launch 4 years programmes, leading to post graduate degree under the NEP 2020, is generally poor/ sub optimal. Quality research publications in reputed professional journals,( not the commercially oriented peer reviewed journals which have cropped up competitively in recent yearly), are found wanting by our faculty. Collaborative research which the Committee recommends, in its report are not generally pursued by teachers who live in their ivory towers with empire-building proclivities. The Committee highlights the advantages of appointing eminent Honarary Researcher Directors by HEIs and sharing of instrumentation facilities for optimum use by faculty across disciplines.

Finally, the Saidapur Committee lays stress on Science Communication and Practice of Ethics. It favours the establishment of ‘Centre for Science Communication’ by the HEIs in the State with appropriate facilities for preparation and dissemination of contents in the form of books, manuals, soft copies etc with provision for open house interaction sessions with school children and interested general public. Yet another novel idea indeed. Academic social responsibility (ASR, like CSR in the case of corporates) needs to be compulsory insisted upon to ensure that teachers pass on the benefits of their research to the society as a whole.

The Committee also recommends that the State the establishment of an office of Academic Integrity with branches in universities and colleges. In my view, the role of the State should be taken away in such matters for fear of misuse. Instead, setting up of an Ombudsman for HEIs may be considered with powers of conferring punishment, like courts of law, wherever necessary..

In the end the Saidapur Committee calls upon the HEIs to be an educational system for imparting knowledge and carrying out quality research and not remain as Prof. C. N. R. Rao says examination system! The reforms recommended by the Committee need to be taken seriously and implemented to make higher education to be academically and socially relevant.

(Author: Prof. P. S. Jayaramu, is former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University and firmer Senior Fellow, ISSSR, New Delhi)

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