Some time ago, 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-chancellors like Dr H A Ranganath, Dr B G Mulimani and others to examine the status of science education in the state. The Committee came up, recently, with a policy paper entitled Revamping Science Education in Karnataka, asking the government to implement its recommendations. An attempt is made here to briefly analyse its major recommendations.
The policy paper has emerged in the background of the New Education Policy (NEP 2020) with the objective of expanding opportunities for furthering science education. This exercise is worthy of being replicated in other states too. The Chairman of the Committee Prof S K Saidapur says the emphasis in the 21st century is on critical and creative thinking, skill development and innovations necessitating re-purposing science education.
The Committee report, running to 37 pages, 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 globally competitive science education. The report also examines the NEP 2020 in brief and comes up with its recommendations with a focus on (a) creating state of the art infrastructure,(b) empowering 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. Covering these topics was much-needed.
First, the report focuses on the need for creating ‘state of the art’ infrastructure emphasising on good infrastructure, academic ambience and educational ecosystem against the background of 21st-century requirements for online and on-demand education. The report cautions that hands-on training in labs cannot be replaced by virtual labs that disable experiential learning. It calls for a cadre of ‘Lab Managers’ for supervising the use of laboratory equipment etc. The Committee’s call for higher budgetary allocation by the Government may not, sadly, be forthcoming in view of the severe economic strains faced by the state, reeling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Physical infrastructure in state-run universities and colleges are poor to sub-optimal, compared to their private counterparts.
The second important issue raised 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 cardinal requirements for promoting science education, both of which seem to be on the decline. State-run HEIs, faced with an acute shortage of teachers, are relying on guest faculty to manage the teaching load. The faculty seem to be over-burdened with examination-related work, with no time for quality research. A lot of them are unable to cope with the task of preparing their teaching material for delivery in the online mode. Many teachers require training to fully 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 capabilities. Indeed, blended teaching, combing in right proportions online and conventional classroom teaching, with vibrant interactive sessions, is critically needed.
Another closely associated issue dealt with by the Committee is curriculum development. This is significant if viewed in the context of implementing NEP 2020. Doubts are being raised in several quarters about the quality of curriculum finalised for teaching the new programmes being started under the NEP. Exhaustive preparatory in the form of workshops for the senior faculty in charge of curriculum design should have preceded curriculum designing. Faculty in charge of teaching new courses/ programmes should be exposed to refresher courses. The government’s decision seems to be a case of putting the cart before the horse!
In this regard, the Committee’s recommendation for starting of ‘Centres for Human Sciences’ where disciplines like Anthropology/Sociology, Psychology, Economics and History are integrated with hard sciences for purposes of holistic teaching should be considered.
Finally, the Committee’s suggestion for the appointment of experienced faculty as Research Directors in universities, across the board collaborative research by teachers and the setting up of an office of Academic Integrity with branches in universities/ colleges need to be taken up seriously. Is anyone listening?
(The writer is former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University.)