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Bridging the Gap between Scientists and Science Educators

“Scientists and Science Educators should come together to strengthen the foundation of science education in the country.”

In spite of the fact that India has the third largest manpower in science and technology science education in Indian schools suffers from lack of crucial inputs. Scientists have a major role to play in the context of bringing about quality improvement in science education in the country. However, one observes that there exists a gap between Scientists and Science Educators. This article analyses the causes of the gap and suggests some ways and means to bring them together to improve science education in the country.

 

Prologue

Soon after gaining independence in 1947 India embarked on self reliance as well as sustainable and equitable growth. India has a long tradition of science and technology. By revitalizing its tradition it has committed itself to the task of promoting the spread of science and has recognized the key role of technology as one of the most important elements of national developments. Science is being taught on a compulsory basis to all the students until the school leaving stage. This task is being pursued mainly by science teachers and science educators with a minimal involvement of practicing scientists. Participation of scientists in school science education is encouraged by many research institutes. Generally, this participation is of the following types.

  • Delivering lectures and writing articles on topics of current interests
  • Participation in science exhibition activity of the department of education
  • Working as a resource person in in-service teacher training courses
  • Getting associated with professional organizations of teachers
  • Providing opportunities to students to carry out projects in their laboratories
 

Twenty  first  century is characterized by information explosion and unprecedented growth in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Globalization and use of space for human development can also be considered as two more special characteristics of this century. These features have enhanced the demands placed on future citizens of the globe. These demands are more prominent for the citizens of the developing countries as they have to first wipe out the difference between developed and developing countries and then to keep pace with rapid developments in science and technology. Future citizens, expected to take up these challenges, are being groomed in school and colleges. They are expected not only to gain scientific and technological literacy but also to acquire proficiency in one of the fields of specializations.

 

A typical science teacher, in a typical school is not equipped to cope with these challenges on his/her own. He/she needs a constant support and advice from a practicing scientist who is aware of frontier knowledge and who is willing to spend time and energy to pass it on to teachers and students. The need for the participation of scientists at school level education is felt very severely in the recent days because of the central role played by science and technology both in economic matters and political supremacy.

 

The Gap

Although the interaction between scientists and science educators is encouraged a strong relationship between these communities have not been built yet. There are a variety of  reasons for this limited success, some of which are enlisted below:

  1. There is a difference in the way scientists and science educators are trained. Scientists are trained in science faculty while science educators are trained in education faculty. After their education scientists land in research institutions whereas science educators land in schools or colleges of education. Difference in training and difference in workplace give rise to differences in personal characteristics. There is often a mismatch between the understandings of scientists and science educators on what science is. One sees it as a continuous human endeavor to understand nature while the other sees it as an accumulated knowledge to be passed on to students through education.
  2. Some research institutions and industries encourage their employees to participate in science education. But this participation is not considered of equal importance as that of engaging in research. Promotions are usually determined by his/her research contributions and contribution to science education carry little weightage in job prospects of scientists. Hence many scientists are not motivated to spend their time and energy for science education. Since interaction between scientists and science educators is negligible they do not have clear understanding of each other’s requirements and aspirations.
  3. Scientists, due to their profession, are exposed to frontier areas in their field of specialization. They are familiar with many problems and areas that need exploration. Science educators are, however, are ignorant of such grey areas. Thus, there exists an intellectual gap between the two. Scientists often feel that students be made aware of  frontier areas of research whereas science educators wish to limit themselves to established science and keep their students away from unsettled issues.
  4. Scientists do not have training in educational psychology. They go by their hunches on how children learn science. Science educators, on the other hands, have deeper understanding of learning theories, role of attitude and motivation in acquiring knowledge, etc. There is, thus, a difference in the way scientists and science educators approach teaching of science. One focuses on content while the other focuses on pedagogy.
  5. Scientists often are not aware of the ground realities that exist in schools and colleges. Science educators have to work under many constraints like lack of material resources, high pupil teacher ratio, loss of teaching days, etc. Teachers have a tough time in managing all these constraints and hence are unable to follow suggestions by scientists.
 

Bridging the Gap 

We have seen that there exists a gap between scientists and science educators. This gap needs to be narrowed down. Here are some plausible ways and means to achieve this goal:

  1. Scientists and science educators must learn to work together. They must first respect each others field of specializations. Scientists should not go with a sense of arrogance that he/she has much more content knowledge than the educators. Educators, on the other hand, should also shed his/her arrogance of his teaching experience and background in educational philosophy. It is the combination of content and pedagogy that will result in better teaching of science in schools and colleges.
  2. Research institutes should not only encourage their scientists to take part in teaching but also should recognize their teaching work on par with the research. It must be realized that improvement in school/college education would ultimately benefit the research organizations as they would get better trained manpower.
  3. Scientists and science educators must realize that they have much to learn from each others. Teachers by interacting with a scientist would gain knowledge in the frontier areas of discipline. Likewise scientists by interacting with teacher would gain knowledge on how children learn, how to facilitate concept formation, how to develop problem solving skills, etc. The interaction, thus, prove mutually beneficial.
  4. Collaboration between scientists and science educators should not be limited to individual person. Instead, there should be collaboration between research organizations and teaching institutions. Such a collaboration would pave a way for free exchange of scientists and educators among these institutions.
  5. At present involvement of a practicing scientist in science education is voluntary. There is no national policy on this issue. Considering the present scenario it is imperative that such a policy be framed without delay. In fact, scientists should be encouraged to work in educational institutions located in remote areas.
  6. There is need to expose teachers to research institutions. Teachers from remote schools/colleges should be given an opportunity to spend extended period of time in established research institutions. They must be given incentives to do so and be awarded appropriately after they complete their research assignments.
 

Role of a Scientist

In the recent years the tendency to take up professional courses like engineering, medicine, management, etc. has increased among the young generation and the number of students taking science is decreasing day by day. Research institutions are, therefore, finding it difficult to get intellectually sound and motivated students to take up new challenges. This trend has to be changed if one wants to ensure that there is constant supply of qualified scientists to carry out basic research in different disciplines of science. Fensham (2004) identifies four social purposes of science for citizenship: Personal well being, Democratic well being, Socio-economic well being and Science disciplinary well being. These aspects are to be interwoven into science and technology education to create knowledgeable citizens capable of taking informed decisions in the new millennium. Scientists have a major role to play in these areas.

Hodson (2003) warns us that this is time for action. Action needs to be taken to establish organic links between educational institutions and research organizations. This collaboration should be on an institutional basis so that a direct contact between scientists and students is established. This linkage should aim at exposing students to scientific research in their formative years.

Teaching is a profession that requires manifold skills like communication, management, investigation, etc. These need to be developed through deliberate inputs offered through pre and in-service training courses. As the present practice goes teacher training attempts to provide inputs in educational psychology with some exposure to classroom teaching. The faculty is usually drawn from education department. It might prove useful to get a visiting faculty from the research institute. They would be able to provide different but useful inputs for the professional development of teachers.

Epilogue 

Subject teaching is witnessing paradigm shift and teachers in the 21st century have to fulfill a variety of expectations and demands placed by the society, the school system and their peers (Cheng, et al, 2002 ). In order to meet this challenge practicing teachers must be provided with opportunities for continued professional development. A long term interaction of teachers with practicing scientists, teacher educators, researchers in science and technology education, curriculum framers, etc. would, hopefully, prepare the teachers to cope with ever changing demands placed on them. Planning such an interaction should be the priority for the future course of action.

References

Cheng, Y. C, et al. ( (2002). Searching for paradigm shift in subject teaching and teacher education, in Y.C.Cheng, K.T.Tsui, K.W Chow and M. Mok (Eds.) Subject Teaching and Teacher Education in the New Century, 3-30, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic publishers.

Fensham, Peter (2004). Increasing the relevance of science and technology education for all in the 21st century, Science Education International, 15(1), 7-26.

Hodson, Derek (2003). Time for action: science education for an alternative future, International Journal of Science Education, 25(2), 645-666.

Related Article: Empower your curious child to explore & truly understand Science 

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