Pure Science needs a boost
This about three decades ago, 7 out of 10 youngsters opted for Pure Science at UG and PG level. Be it chemistry, physics or biology the colleges in India had around 35 to 40 percent of students in the Science Stream. Then, most of the colleges used to have some of the best teachers who were known for their craft; they had the research aptitude and carried on lot of research in the laboratories. But today, the scene has changed drastically. As per a report of UGC, the percentage of students joining pure science courses has dropped down to below five percent, especially in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Many colleges in are feeling helpless as they are not finding quality teachers to teach physics, chemistry and mathematics.
Pure sciences deal with the study of natural phenomena through examination and observation, experimentation and use of scientific methods. Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Biochemistry, and Microbiology etc are some of the major streams followed in Pure Sciences.
Pure sciences are one of the most interesting and research oriented fields. It plays a vital role in innovation, new discoveries and inventions. Studying pure sciences requires inquisitiveness in the different phenomenon that occurs in nature. It requires creating theories and hypotheses about them, and finally testing and validating them through experimentation and logic. Different science subjects address different aspects of natural phenomena. For example Physics deals with the study of properties of matter and its constituents in the universe, as they relate to motions, force and energy. Chemistry concerns itself with the reactions of the constituents of matter to create new forms of matter. And Biology is the study of life forms including their structure, function, growth, evolution, distribution, and classification.
The basic eligibility criteria for pursuing Pure Science education are to complete a 10+2 education with subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Math or Biology. Students can then pursue a 3 years bachelor’s degree followed by a 2 years master’s degree in their chosen area or go in for a 5 year integrated M.Sc. After that students can opt for higher studies like doctoral research in India and also abroad.
Let’s understand this right: development of a country purely centers on how actively its research and development responds to changes. Pure science stream stimulates research in various areas. If we don’t wake up from our slumber, we might have to depend on countries like China for chemical formulae for developing a soaps, detergents, toothpastes and shampoos. Unlike in India, pure science is given utmost importance in all other countries like China, US, UK and Germany.
A lot of parents don’t want their children to take B.SC followed by M.SC route because it takes a lot of time to complete studies and jobs are not guaranteed. Whereas it’s a notion that an engineering graduate can get a job immediately and start earning. One needs to spend lot of years in pure science stream.
Science students who get into research are an important link in scientific application cycle. They design, plan in instrumentation and formulas which doctors and engineers use. They are therefore an important and integral part of the system. A country’s growth depends on how independent it is in terms of technology, hence it is vital to groom students for taking up higher education in pure sciences.
Indians are known for their competencies in the area of science and utilizing it well across the educational institutes the world over. But today however, Indian parents feel that the number of good colleges in the country offering pure science branch are not fit and it does not offer lucrative careers to their children. I think, Science as a subject requires more practical approach and certainly it requires training and preparing good teachers without any waste of time. If science is taught theoretically with mere lectures, it will never attract students. Another fact is that of poor conditions of laboratories in schools and colleges; if they are not well equipped and well utilized it is a tragedy. We cannot afford preparing students of science stream with bookish knowledge. And, world over the stream of science as a faculty is developing rapidly; the syllabus of schools and colleges need regular updating, we cannot teach students the subject backdated. It requires regular modernization and reorientation. Basically, I think we are treating the science seam shabbily and hence its numbers are dropping.
Strong analytical and conceptual skills are essential to excel in any pure sciences field. In addition curiosity to investigate a chosen area and a passion to go deep into it is a must. Generally students are confused regarding the fields of study and career opportunities in pure sciences. Guidance by expert counselors can help in such a situation.
Also, we need to bridge the gap between learning science and employment opportunities. There must be a major push towards interdisciplinary programs in basic sciences. Diversification of avenues and new choices will encourage students to take courses according to their aptitude. Emerging fields that act as a link between technology and science such as bioinstrumentation, allied health sciences, forensic science and medical imaging techniques offer a lot of scope.
Practically, in the science research one more vital fact is that many scientists have interesting findings and technology, but they are not aware about its relevance to the business world. Isn’t this a sheer waste of talent? The reason why many findings in science is not often exploitable is because the industry quite often does not provide any feedback to the scientists. We therefore need to bridge the gap between scientists and industry. Scientists cannot work in vacuum.
Are we risk-averse? Yes, in the area of research, we need to take some risks. Even business firms need to take some calculated risks while launching new products and services in the market. The business strategy followed by the Indian biotech research firms is largely service-centric. They prefer working on outsourced model which requires less investment this is because Indian biotech companies cannot afford huge investments.
We need good administrators in the science labs. Sadly, front office people are not aware what is being researched in their laboratories. Most research is not even data based it is therefore difficult to know what is happening in Kolkata from Mumbai. Our scientists get penalized for making mistakes but not rewarded for taking risks. The industry and research institutes need a friendly dialogue. Scientists require a good work culture. Most of our scientists are motivated within rather than motivated by incentives, this is a good thing. If we don’t encourage them and maintain their dignity we might lose out of whatever talent is left in the country. We have to drop the reservation system in scientific research area; promote the right candidate for his worth, not what caste creed he belongs to. Most of the scientists are frustrated because they are under appreciated.
In India, very few scientists have industry experience. India is missing the business environment where entrepreneurs scout for ideas from research labs. We are very happy importing scientific technology. I think Venture Capitalists can play a great role; they need to encourage small, mini, and micro labs with the requisite funds. Venture capital can play a pivotal role in flourishing research field in this country.
About five years ago, the government of India set up five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) at Bhopal, Kolkata, Mohali, Pune and Thiruvananthapuram with a specific agenda: to attract scientific talent from among the youth and to nurture them to become world-class researchers in science. The integrated five-year bachelor’s and master’s program at these institutions, along with the PhD program, is designed to guide students along the research path right from the beginning of their undergraduate education.
But it is facing two major challenges; first, knowing how to select students with the potential to make important contributions to the growth of science. And, the second, implementing the kind of education that will develop and strengthen such potential, so that a significant division of those students will help picking the genuine scientific researchers. Hope the initial teething problems get sorted out fast and appropriate beginning is made.