On Education - Articles - Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

Department of Education

(Central Institute of Education)

University of Delhi


National Seminar


Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives

(Panel Discussion)

Points for Discussion By KIREET JOSHI

16th February 2008

11.15a.m. to 1.15 p.m.


Central Institute of Education,

33, Chhatra Marg, New Delhi - 110 007

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives

Our curriculum needs vast changes, not only because we need to enlarge our objectives but also because our total scheme of education needs to have new orientation as also because our pedagogy is in need of fresh inputs; the new media for teaching and learning have opened up new possibilities of pedagogical research and eventual transformation of educational and curricular framework. Development of integral personality that implies self-knowledge, self-control and learning to be and to be wholly, has emerged as an overarching objective of education. This objective is struggling to find its rightful place in our curriculum and it is yet only being sought to be dovetailed in subject oriented, book oriented and examination oriented scheme of education. We still continue to think of subjects rather than faculties, attitudes and values; we are still concerned with stuffing the brain rather than with cultivating it; we are still obsessed with materials that can be memorized and reproduced in measurable outputs, instead of engaging ourselves in search of materials that provide exercises for understanding, comprehension, interrelating and synthesis. Lectures continue to be the staple method of teaching, and we are bewildered when methods of exploration, demonstrations and inventions have become more accessible, thanks to enormous possibilities inherent in the electronic media. Classroom-teaching continues to be our basic framework even when we recognize great need for a new framework for freedom in choice of subjects and pace of progress.

The essential nature of science is characterized by its pursuit of truth and by relentless search for objectivity by means of rigorous methods of observation, exploration, formation of hypothesis and arrival at crucial facts on the basis of which verifiable conclusion can be seen in terms of generalization or universal law with maximum degree of probability or even certainty. What science can contribute to the educational development of the individual is the training of the human mind that is tuned to the search for knowledge and to the persistent effort at the arrival of truth, even in contradiction of appearances of facts, with as much certainty as the highest rigour of scientific method can provide. In converse terms, science aims at empowering the individual to combat ignorance and superstition and to extend the boundaries of belief into the realm of knowledge.

We have to judge the current programmes of science education, basically, on the basis of one important criterion. Do the science courses provide to students enough ground to understand what knowledge means, what truth means, and what we mean by subjectivity and what we mean by objectivity. We should also expect scientific education to provide to students multiple experiences of explorations, or processes of discoveries, and processes of invention, which are essential for understanding the rigour of scientific method and the fruits of scientific endeavour.

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

This is not enough. The contemporary socio-cultural background impels us to consider how far science education can contribute to the creation of knowledge-based society, and in this context, therefore, to consider the relationship between scientific knowledge and philosophical knowledge and relate these forms of knowledge to what may be called holistic knowledge. This is necessary because we have reached a stage in the development of world civilization, where there is combat among religions, each of which takes recourse to defending itself on some belief, the source of which is often admittedly rooted in dogma or in knowledge that appears to be antagonistic to the employment of scientific methods and their insistence on objectivity and public shareability. We speak today of conflict of civilizations, the most difficult aspect of which is related to conflict of religions. Closely connected with this issue is that of conflict of values which, if unresolved will tend to increase disequilibrium, not only in social life but also in the lives of the individuals. It is for this reason that the dimensions of science education are in need of new paradigms.

Are we prepared to reconsider the entire curriculum and relate the four main areas of studies into harmonious relationship, without diluting the uniqueness and value of any of them? Science, Technology, Arts (including Crafts) and Humanities — each one of them needs to be integrated with all the rest. We need to develop human beings who can combine in themselves the rigour and strictness of scientific knowledge and the loftiness on one hand and vision and imagination, on the other which are indispensable for art and beauty of expression as also nobility and harmony among human relationships that are inescapable for human happiness. Science today is largely centered on the study of the outer universe, but the increasing socio-cultural contexts which are expanding into vast globality have tended to place the human being and the internal world of the human being into the central focus of our attention. How to study the outer world and the internal world and inter-relate them is today a frontier area of research, and it must have natural consequences for the scheme of education and for developing a new pedagogy.

There are two other desiderata that we need to keep in view, if we launch upon developing a new curriculum. Our present compartmentalized curriculum is so designed that each student is required to study a number of subjects compulsorily up to class X, and each subject that is taught is prescribed in the framework of a scheme that aims at arriving at specialization. The result is a top-heavy curriculum with unbearable load of books and emphasis on stuffing information without taking into account that there are in each student varied points of interests, inclinations and seasons of growth. Consequently, we fail to apply in our curriculum the sound principle of pedagogy that every child needs to be developed on the lines that are suitable to the predominant inclination of nature and the law of the rhythm of the development of nature. In terms of Indian pedagogy, we have, under the stress of colonial system of education, obliterated the value of swabhava and swadharma. We are expanding today schools and colleges on the pattern of productive factories instead of developing gardens and sanctuaries of flowers and living souls.

The second desideratum of good education is that the highest good of the individual and of the society is secured when educationists are able to provide to each student what is, first of all, essential for him/her as a growing human being, and, secondly, the development of faculties and skills and utilization of courses as instruments for the development of faculties and skills.

In this brief space we need not elaborate these important principles of pedagogy, but it will be sufficient to draw an outline of a possible new basis for curricular reform, which will give to science its extremely important place and yet become rightly related to all other demands which have become imperative in the context of national, international and global socio-cultural contexts.

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

In the first place, there seems to be a need to create a curriculum, which can be termed as an "essential curriculum”. This essential twelve year curriculum that will aim at inspiring students to ask and answer a basic question: What is essential for a human being to learn and develop as a human being? It would thus aim at asking and answering the following four questions:

  1. What is the aim of life, how to discover it through a process of inquiry, instead of any arbitrary prescription of a dogma or any set of dos and don'ts;
  2. What is this vast universe in which human being is so placed that there arises the need to develop art and science that would accelerate harmonious relationships between the human being and the universe?
  3. What are the essential faculties and instruments of the human being? What is a human body and how the human body can attain increasing and durable health, fitness and excellence? What are instincts, desires, ambitions, and how can they be guided and controlled under the powers of thought and will, as also, under the inspiring force of the ideals of truth, beauty and goodness?
  4. What are the essential domains of knowledge and wisdom? What is science? What is mathematics, what is technology? What is art? What is music? What is poetry? What is literature? What is philosophy? What is ethics? What is aesthetics? What is rationality? What is irrationality? What is super-rationality? What is religion? What is spirituality, what is yoga? How can science and values be related? How can science and spirituality be related? What is integration? What is integral personality, what is self-knowledge, what is self-control? Who, in history, have provided great examples of integrated personalities and who have inspired harmony, unity and peace?

The aim of the essential curriculum is not to prescribe text books on various subjects but a few interesting booklets and a few questions and answers, illustrated through stories, interesting anecdotes and simple definitions and simple and short formulations of questions and answers. A well formulated curriculum, spread over twelve years, would be able to provide the students, the wide general background and wide vistas of horizons which are necessary for a modern citizen in the country and the world. The subjects covered under this curriculum will only aim at developing habit amongst students to look for essentials and not for arriving at any learned or specialized study.

The second element of a new curriculum should consist of what can be called basic study. This basic study could have three components:

  1. Elementary study of three or four languages, since they are the basic tools of learning and of development of understanding and simple reasoning.
  2. Secondly, it should consist of learning and mastery of four operations of arithmetic, which are essential not only as the basic tools of learning but also as the residual elements of skills which are necessary for day-to-day life. These four operations of arithmetic provide solid basis for the study of science and mathematics.
  3. Thirdly, the basis of curriculum will provide training in physical education, and training in elementary work-experience through activities relating to agriculture, horticulture and some basic arts and crafts
Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

The basic curriculum will also consist of component of three activities, for which adequate time will be made available in the timetable but these three activities will aim at creating interest rather than in building up any systematic or formal blocks of knowledge.

This is because, pedagogically, building up interest is the first need; if this need is fulfilled, it is easier to build up on a durable basis the required blocks of knowledge.

The three activities will be connected with explorations aiming at discovery and invention, demonstrations aiming at stimulation, and elementary participation aiming at preliminary experience. These three activities will be related to a number of topics connected with sciences, arts, crafts, and elementary skills. For example, a number of topics in science could be expounded to stimulate explorations through discoveries and inventions. A number of films can be exhibited on a variety of topics, which would stimulate interest but will not burden the students, and will not be matters of examinations or testing. There could be a number of programmes of recitation of poems, a number of dramas, slide shows, film shows, expositions of various kinds of dances and programmes of painting, flower arrangement and various other intellectual or physical games that will stimulate interests and create basis for skill development.

This "essential programme" and this “basic programme”, if well developed over first five years of elementary education, would create among students, joy of learning and sufficient basis for further learning and elementary ground for character development. The approach will be holistic, and constant emphasis will be laid on combining two tendencies in harmonious manner tendency for scientific observation and experimentation and tendency for artistic creativity and development of the faculty of vision and also formation of right habits, good manners and temperament that rejoices in cheer and in activities of progress.

The first five years should be reserved, as far as science subjects are concerned, for informal exposure to the relevant topics through the methods of demonstration and explorations. During these five years, students may be observed by teachers and counsellors, so that the natural inclinations and talents regarding science and mathematics could be noticed, and students could be encouraged to learn scientific and mathematical subjects through a formal process of learning even at the lower levels of elementary education, if the relevant talents permit such formal process of learning. The same rule should apply also in regard to other subjects concerning arts and humanities.

Formal process for training or education in regard to these scientific, artistic and humanistic and literary studies should begin only from class VI onward, and at this level, the curriculum should have three alternative courses, and students should be free to select whatever course they would like to pursue in regard to any or many or all of these subjects. Availability of these alternatives will enable students to develop self-determination of their educational process. Indeed, for many students, this self-determination may be quite difficult, but they can be helped by counselling from those teachers or counsellors who have observed them during the previous years of their participation in the programmes of demonstrations, explorations and project work. The three alternative courses would aim at ordinary standard (O), advanced standard (A) and specialized standard (S). These three courses will have between them bridge courses, so that if a given student wishes to switch over from one to the other, the process will be suitably facilitated. In any case, the programmes which are conducted and pursued at lower levels through demonstrations, explorations and project work will be continued throughout the periods of elementary, secondary and higher secondary levels, but participation in these programmes will be entirely optional and there will be no pressure in these programmes on formal training or tests.

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

It will be seen that the options available to students in this system will greatly reduce the load of books on students and will yet provide to each student that much pressure in regard to each chosen subject which is in consonance with his or her talents, inclinations, capacities and goals for achievement. It will also be seen that since programmes of explorations, etc. will continue to be available throughout the period of schooling in regard to a wide variety of subjects of science, mathematics, literature, arts and humanities and even technologies, the requirements for a wider general background will also be met.

The pedagogical reason for providing options at class VI, in the way in which it is proposed here, is that the most important part of education is related to self-education (under observation and counselling of teachers), and that student should not be burdened with courses of formal training in regard to those subjects for which one does not have natural inclination and the study of which is not necessary for attaining any high level of advanced or specialized or even ordinary levels of proficiency.

The advantage of this scheme will be that students with special talent will have more time and possibilities for reaching higher levels, and even specialized levels which, in the current system, are achievable only in the courses of higher education. This will thus serve the purpose of nurturing the talents of students in subjects of interest at a faster rate of progression and enable them to achieve higher goals of proficiency.

How do we achieve, in this system, the integration of those studies which are demanded by socio-cultural contexts with the studies in scientific and mathematical subjects? The answer can be provided if the curriculum, which we have termed as “essential curriculum”, is so designed that it is made available to average students at all stages, and if the "essential curriculum" blends, e.g., the study of science and values, in a very organic manner, and not in any artificial manner as it is being done today. The essential curriculum, as has already been suggested above, will be an integrated programme and the subjects chosen in this programme will be harmonic programmes, and they will be so designed that value-orientation, fact-orientation, knowledge-orientation and wisdom- orientation are properly blended. We may, for example, divide the integrated programme into four main sections:

  1. Science and values;
  2. Aids for the development of self-knowledge, value-orientation, knowledge-orientation and wisdom-orientation;
  3. Exercises for widening knowledge of facts and knowledge of theories as also for heightening and deepening interests in variety of subjects;
  4. Exercises for self-observation and self-control.

Socio-cultural context and science education, the theme of science and values, science and philosophy, science and music and poetry and art ‒ all those need to be blended, and the ideas which have been suggested here are only preliminary ideas, but they need to be developed through a more concerted effort involving detailed exercises and detailed pooling of experiments and experiences of those who have contributed to the pedagogy of these subjects in the framework of interaction and harmonization

Science Education in Schools: Emerging Perspectives Socio-Cultural Perspectives (16 February 2008 )

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