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Science and sensibility

india Updated: May 31, 2007 19:51 IST

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It is heartening to see a record number of Class X students scoring over 90 per cent marks in the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) examinations — a remarkable 32 per cent increase as compared to last year. Education authorities seem to believe that this has much to do with the 20 marks given for internal evaluation in mathematics and social science, and the restructuring of the science and technology papers. But at the same time, we shouldn’t ignore the statistical fine print that also tells the disturbing story of science students falling well short of expectations. The figures speak for themselves: while 936 students scored a 100 per cent in science last year, only 250 achieved the feat this year.

From all accounts, this dismal showing owes to the practical component that was recently introduced to assess the hands-on knowledge of students. This is not surprising in an education system that encourages learning by rote rather than inspiring students, so that they prefer to ‘parrot’ answers instead of ‘doing’ science. Taught by rote and assessed by tests and exams that require them to merely reproduce facts, students are prompted to aim for a pass in the exams, without necessarily learning much. As a result, many intelligent students become outriders in the race for success, leaving those equipped with little more than a sharp memory to top the lists.

This highlights the need for improving science education in India, half of whose population will be below 30 years of age by 2020. It’s unfortunate that while there’s a consensus in the country on the importance of education, there’s no comparable agreement on what should be taught, and how. It is time teachers, students, peers and parents shared the responsibility for deciding issues of instruction, and that of curriculum and content. Reforms must be introduced in the education system to tune it towards continuously assessing students’ capabilities, rather than teaching them to be hurdlers in a marks-oriented exam system. Perhaps a good way to begin would be to make science instruction less textbook-centred and encourage students to use scientific methods to solve problems relevant to their perception of the world.