We recently had a debate in college on “the study of science leads to better career opportunities” and our students spoke for and against the motion. The usual arguments about the tried and tested professions of doctors and engineers needing a science background, and Mathematics and Statistics having entered every field of importance the view that the study of science was important for a fruitful career was endorsed by many. I have been a science student all along and it is but natural that I too support this view. Even otherwise plumbing, masonry, a technician in the pathological lab all need to know basic science even if they discontinue at a later stage. So even if one does not aspire to become an astronaut knowledge of basic science is of help in any career. The scientific temperament of logically analyzing a situation and managerial skills of making maximum use of available resources are useful not only for a career but also to run a family. But why then is the study of science taking a back seat and why do we not have good science teachers any more? The motivation to study science is diminishing by the day and it pains me to see science being studied and taught in the most unscientific manner in our schools and colleges.
As a student of class six I was excited when I verified the upward thrust of air pressure through a simple experiment. I had the time to take a cigarette tin, punch a single hole on top and several hole in the bottom, fill it with water and demonstrate to my younger sister that blocking the hole on top prevents water from flowing out from the bottom holes. I remember learning the Botanical names of ladies finger and sweet potato and using them to baffle my mother when I came home on vacation. We had fun at the expense of our friend, a simpleton, by giving her an unidentified plant material and telling her that it was called Roadorum sidorum which literally meant road side in Tamil and she was naïve enough to believe us. During my preparation for my M. Sc. Exams I was so much into it that my husband knew the answers to the oft discussed topics and my son who was in standard two was able to draw the chemical structure of Gibberalin, a plant growth hormone, of course without understanding it. Today we have students who have to be literally coaxed or threatened to contribute to the science day celebrations that are going on in our college.
“We’re having a seminar on Global Warming” I’d announce “I’ll be taking attendance after that. I want each one of you to be there.”
Or, “How many of you have given your names for the science quiz? If I see you contributing towards the program in some way or other I’ll sign your record work. Those who don’t can submit your record work without my signature in the examination.”
I am not happy doing this but this is the only way to get students to participate. Twenty years have gone by since I completed my post graduation and students have changed their attitude and approach beyond recognition. Of course it is unfortunate that the best and the next best group have left Jharkhand for places like Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Maharashtra. Even middle class families are paying through their nose to see to it that their wards get good education. A career for their children is a must these days and there is nothing wrong in it. Entrance exams are a nightmare and a sixteen year old kid cannot afford to enjoy the process of learning by experimentation the way I did. She/he has to attend coaching classes, complete assignments that he doesn’t even have time to deliberate upon and unless I threaten them of dire consequences my final year students would prefer to attend computer classes or MBA coaching centers and prepare for competitive exams rather than sit through a science seminar on ‘Global warming’. And do I have the right to find fault with them? They may not have gone outside Jamshedpur to study but they do want a good career for themselves like anyone else. The day is not far off when students would tell me to my face that they have better things to do and may complain to the student union that I was trying to threaten them, never mind what my intentions were. I think I must learn to retreat while there is time. Or we may soon have the brothers shouting slogans against teachers like me.
Under the circumstances is it any wonder that a career that fetches a good pay packet is the only career that interests students? The good ones will not work as teachers in private school so those that come from school do not have a strong base. Entrance exams are a series of ticks and crosses and in depth studies are outmoded.
A group of three students would attend only practical classes and skip theory. They were brilliant in their own way. I asked them how they would tackle final year portions in applied biology, genetics etc. Pat came the reply-
“We’ve covered all that in plus two and we have the notes”
The three not only passed out with a first division but also did their MBA from one of the best institutes in the country. It was then that I realized that they had set their priorities and worked towards it. The complex theories of inheritance do not interest since they were not keen on research work! I was perhaps able to enjoy an in depth study of my subject because I already had a comfortable job and did not have to answer entrance exams.
So I come back to the topic of my debate. A successful career needs an analytical mind and the right attitude. If science lays claim to these qualities – so be it. But I am afraid that these cannot be claimed by science alone. Diligence is required in all fields and proper application of knowledge is the key to success whether one is an officer in the bank, a professionally qualified person or a house maid/keeper.