Science Education: Is It What You Think It Is?

What is your response when you hear or read the phrase .

If you’re woozy with excitement and your body straightens with pride and inspiration, you’re in a good place, and this piece of writing will agree with you. If you scrunch up your nose and feel mildly anxious or disinterested, I still urge you to read on.

We have become accustomed to fostering our pre-set notions of science as an area of study that can be daunting and unequivocally complex. But have you ever thought of the source of these beliefs that are so strongly held on to? What is it about this term that has given birth to such extreme reactions and opinions?

Where's The Problem?

Back in school, we learnt to categorize Science into 3 very specific and contextually common subjects – Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. Our understanding of science was limited to these 3 words, and their presence was constantly reinforced by the numerous assessments that we were put through to ‘score well’. Many of us also sat through lectures that were uninteresting (these were made more difficult by ‘surprise tests’ and mugged up concepts!) 

 remember I had a professor in school whose first task upon entering class was to pick random students to stand up and recite the first 20 elements of the periodic table. While there was a sense of achievement that followed this memorisation and regurgitation, I recall the atmosphere of pure tension that would fill the room as those who hadn’t learnt the sequence stared hard at the floor, hoping their name wouldn’t be called, because ‘What if I go wrong?’

Passing through that 10-minute threshold unscathed was an award-winning feat for us.  The whole incident seems funny now, but when you think of how much mental pressure a student must be undergoing in those few moments of uncertainty, it’s a sad thing to witness.

The Magic of Everyday Occurrences

Not everyone has an appetite for science, and that’s ok. But just for a few minutes, let us set aside our existing opinions and try to look at Science in a fresh light.

If you break the word down to its everyday relevance and see it as a part of daily occurrences, you get an entire universe of possibilities that go beyond equations and nomenclature. You begin to see science in the little aspects of life; in the turning of milk to curd, in the blooming of a flower, in the way current flows through the charger to your mobile phone, and in the rainbow that follows a downpour.

These are phenomena that are individually interesting. When you dig deeper in an attempt to know how they occur, you automatically begin to explore the field of science.  This is exactly our aim; to permutate the hard set prejudices against science by introducing it in a manner that is simple and engaging, and targeting concepts as a progression rather than throwing in a string of terms that mean nothing without a basic understanding.  For instance, if I had been taught trajectory and gravitation under a blanket of stars with a telescope to look through, I definitely would’ve paid a lot more attention, and instead of a worn-out screen of half-remembered textbook material, there would be a whole visual skyscape studded in my memory. 

Getting to the Root

When one talks about science education, what, in your opinion, are the fundamentals of science education?  

“Our current science education is still biased to jobs. When you hear about STEM or STEAM education it is still about engineering, technology or applied sciences with a trajectory leading to a job which may or may not exist in the future. Whereas, curiosity-driven science education with interdisciplinary learning creates a new generation of problem solvers who are able to think from a more holistic perspective, and will make them invent new jobs in the future” says Educator Obuli Chandran.  He continues by saying, “Currently, science is being looked at as just a collection of facts and their applications. The scientific method, for the most part, is ignored. Science is nothing but a method of arriving at the facts. It is the understanding of this method that is most fundamental to science education. When I learnt about evolution in school, I only remember the sentence ‘survival of the fittest’ which in itself is a vague statement for me. What should have been taught is the ‘theory of evolution’ itself, which is a consequence of applying the scientific method. Kids should be trained to be sceptical, and at the same time embrace empirical evidence.”

The Parent Sciences

The vision for science education needs to be directed beyond the PCB structure. But to move from this trident approach to a wider horizon, the first step so is to become aware of the difference between Fundamental & Applied Sciences. 

Let’s break this down.

Fundamental Science involves studying about nature, or something specific, to understand a certain phenomenon with no application in mind. For eg – a researcher may study about neutrinos, its nature, & properties to understand it at a fundamental level without focusing on usage. It may evolve and have the potential for future application, but at that point in time, it’s just a study, done purely out of love for and understanding of a particular concept.  Once sufficient knowledge has been acquired on how something works, you then move on to see how it can be applied in the scientific space, which translates to Applied Science. 

Under these umbrella spheres, there is a multitude of domains to choose from, a few of them being Earth Science, Life Science, Biological Science, Space Science, etc.  If we map the journey of every individual who has achieved something in science, we will not find a single person who claims success on the first attempt. Discoveries happen when there is freedom to explore.  All I’m trying to say is, don’t let a child’s learning be limited by mere categorizations, because once these terminologies come into play, there’s no saying how the child may go on to feel about the subject.

We believe that the power to choose what to learn must lie with the child. This manifests a learning space where a particular ‘subject’ doesn’t create a block in the child’s mind with success and failure becoming the only two roads traversable. There is a path where the two converge, and on this middle ground, learning is the primary goal. The idea is to be able to process and understand through observation of things around you and questioning anything that raises doubt. Once this is done, application becomes a natural part of the learning process, and of course, the big words will eventually find their place!

All in all, sometimes, the disintegration of an existing structure is necessary to build something stronger and more inclusive. Change is, after all, the only constant.

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