Imagination is Better than Knowledge: On the Imperative of Science and its Teaching

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Dr. Khurshid Ahmad Tariq

The basic purpose behind writing this essay is to lay emphasis on importance of teaching science education for better science with societal relevance. This year’s national science day on 28th February will be celebrated under the theme “Science and technology for a sustainable future”. No doubt, science and technology are based on curiosity and ideas; however, its basic roots of success rely on effective science teaching. Can our societies do better in absence of science education? The answer is simply No, because scientific discoveries and inventions primarily make the living on this planet joyous and successful. As is oxygen a vital component to living, so is a good science to live a better and dignified life. The basics of scientific pursuit start from ideas, hypothesis and understanding problems. So inviting ideas and queries for improving basic science education should be a regular affair in our educational institutions. According to Albert Einstein, “imagination is more important than knowledge”. There is a need from the very beginning to sensitise the student community on relevance of science education to society. Inculcating the passion and spirit of science from quite a young age among the students helps in better understanding and applying science towards solving human and environmental issues.
Good science is directly proportional to effective teaching and mentoring. Therefore, improving science teaching from elementary to higher level and filling the gap between students and scientists is pivotal to good science. By filling the gaps, I mean to simplify the path leading to becoming a scientist by providing innovative education, exploration of hidden ideas and talent, development of skills, deciphering good mentorship, improving scientific infrastructure, timely exposure to new concepts, encouraging the student potential of observing natural phenomenon, acquainting or meeting with scientists and so on.
Developing a new generation of scientists is definitely dependent on how we teach and make them understand the basics of science. We have to believe that science connects us to real life. The triangle of educators, scientists and students with collaboration will be quite a proactive step to fulfill this dream.
Utmost emphasis should be on schools to deliver in science education. Science at elementary, secondary or higher level should get its due recognition. We should develop beyond the classroom concept to take insights of scientific research by timely exposure and visits to fields, research institutions and genuine scientific deliberations. Well-equipped laboratories and museums in schools are simply a prerequisite and a must with continuous up gradation of science curriculum in tune with technological developments and societal needs. This demands additional grants and funding to boost infrastructure, science teaching and encouraging students to work in science projects. In this perspective, practical, appropriate and affordable initiatives by the government to ease the progression in science education should be a priority.
As teachers do we use effective science instructions, are we able to make our students think like scientists and do we encourage discussion among our students on basic concepts of science and how science works? What student success initiatives we apply or prioritise in our schools, colleges and universities, we should ponder on it and overcome the hindrances and problems that stop us from using best technology to support the progression and development of our students towards excellence in science. No doubt we are producing thousands of science graduates but deficient in basic scientific concepts and knowledge because of poor teaching and lack of interest in pursuing science education. Do we help science students to direct their own learning taking due care of pre-conceptions in their thoughts and solving misconceptions if any arising out of them? We should encourage problem solving, exploring positive ideas, using models to help understand the scientific facts and phenomenon. We should keep no stone unturned in developing the ability in students to reason and think like scientists from the very beginning. Teaching science should find an emotional attachment with the learners to enable its grass root applicability. The greatest insights are hidden in nature itself, therefore, taking inspiration from life, understanding natural principles, designs and phenomenon help greatly in developing the scientific temper.
However, one basic problem we are confronted with is the lack of interest or passion to pursue science education among our student community. Perhaps the thought is lack of suitable jobs except in the field of engineering or medicine. Our society is still held up in this mirage although the worldly view is now changed because science has big job prospects and careers ahead. Therefore, an important first step is the strategy for career orientation and choosing the subject/s of choice. We are still caught in that old dogma where the parents choose the subjects or career path of their children and that brings a disaster itself latter with no career options finally. We need to ensure it that only those come to learn science who choose it by choice and our student should not feel unhappy or insecure at studying science.
The other problem in our society is that we develop a student with scientific temper but latter they favour immigration to some top world destination for a better life. We fail to retain them or provide them best incentives or job security here. Our best academic and scientific diaspora is in the west or somewhere else with negative consequences for our universities and research institutions. Should we ramp up efforts to bring this diaspora back, we can also do better here and boost our science and scientific research ecosystem. There is a need of close assessment of our recruitment methodology and processes to select best and talent lot to improve our science teaching and education. Teaching staff in our schools, colleges and universities is still grossly under-represented if alone talent, merit or credentials are taken into consideration. Due to our defective or negative selection norms and agencies, the recruitment to teaching positions is often compromised which subsequently has a great bearing at the grass root level to impart best science education.
Therefore, doing away with controversial employment practices in our educational institutions can be considered one of the pioneer steps to contribute in improving science education. Similarly encouragement, training and continuous augmenting of skills to science teachers by providing them opportunities to learn by experiences and interaction with scientists must be also among the priority for policy makers. Finally how do we take decisions regarding our professional futures or careers remains the decisive factor in gaining scientific education and improving science teaching. Above all , choosing a path which corresponds with our motivation fulfils our aspirations and dreams in a better way with less input of energy because it is driven by inner engineering.

—The writer is an Assistant Professor of Zoology at the ICSC, Srinagar. He can be reached at: drkatariq@gmail.com

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