The ‘Science’ That India Is Waiting For

Posted on February 12, 2013 in Education

By Ranjeet Kumar:

As 100th session of the Indian Science Congress concluded last month, the nation still awaits a clear roadmap for science, technology and innovation to unleash the potential and leverage up on the demographic dividend. Here is my take.

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Science is not only about the textbooks and experimental pursuits within the closed confines of laboratories but its boundaries transcends far beyond that. Science is a systematic approach to problem solving and reaching to logical conclusions. The way science education is imparted needs a paradigm shift in India. This can be achieved by encouraging youngsters to connect to the environment. The entire purpose of the classroom exercises leads to uniformity of the thought process in the students, in such a way that the naïve creativity of individual minds and the urge to innovate is lost. One has to imbibe the fact that every human being is unique and needs freedom to walk in to the territory of creative consciousness. In the words of Albert Einstein ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it’. The products of such a system can become good scholars with solid foundation in the field of science but when it comes to problem solving they lack the skill. In a time where India stands firmly to actualize its demographic dividend, science and technology will be the saviour.

Donald E Stokes in his book ‘Pasteur Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation’ 1997 describes Quadrant model of scientific research explaining that the inspiration behind research can be either a quest for fundamental understanding or considerations of use. Using examples like the scientific expeditions of Bhor, Pasteur and Edison. It is important to note that the common people fall in the bottom left as they do not have anything to do with the research. But interestingly interpreting this graph in terms of policy maker’s point of view and the money that goes in scientific research in India will be interesting. Further where are we in terms of scientific pursuit when it comes to relevance for immediate applications?

India currently faces problems like malnutrition, drinking water, health (which includes both non infectious diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disorders and incurable infectious diseases like malaria, kala azar, tuberculosis), massive mining, deforestation, soil erosion and salinity, energy crisis and waste management to name a few. The policies and budget to meet these challenges are centralized as such it leaves little scope for holistic development. Therefore an urgent out of box vision and road map is needed to move on the path of inclusive growth and sustainable development.

In our conventional thought process we think that people who have been deprived of formal education have nothing much to contribute. The government boasts that these people are at least getting to work through the government employment schemes like NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). What should be understood that is that minds at the margins are not marginal minds and there is a creative facet to these individuals too. Innovation is not the sole proprietary of people with paper qualifications (Degrees). Local problems need indigenous solution and in this scenario a ‘think global act local’ policy seems quite valid. On the other hand it has been quite inspiring that people have found solutions of their own when they are confronted with problem.

The urge to innovate has many successful stories that further reinforce the basic idea that the niche from which solutions can come lies beyond the qualifications earned. Mansukhbhai Prajapati’s ‘MittiCool’ refrigerators are an example of user inspired breakthrough. A terracotta pottery maker by profession designed a refrigerator that runs without electricity made from unique blending of mud found in the area. The story goes that when there was earthquake in Gujarat way back in 2001 some reporter reported the scene at a pottery makers’ village. A poor man whose fridge was broken, was ignited to design a prototype that has a look of a refrigerator. What was born was mitticool a low cost cooling device with indigenous home grown technology. The barefoot college of Tilonia in Rajasthan is other example where innovation and creativity is lifestyle. They have demystified science at the grass root level bringing sustainability. The Vigyan Ashram at Pabal in Maharashtra is yet another model where science has been demystified and brought to the people. The dropouts of the current educational system find their way in and their rendezvous with Vigyan Ashram turns them to entrepreneurs. Anita and Salabh Ahuja innovation of turning waste polyethylene bags which creates chaos all around in Delhi by up cycling it to fashion accessories is another example where technology has come to the rescue. There are many more examples where individuals and organizations have innovated and have been able not only to address their problem but also have been able to bring back the self-esteem dignity and courage back to the people.

It is important how we register our presence in the ‘quadrant’. India needs to position itself by focusing more on applied research. Our problems are unique and thus solutions cannot be outsourced. The graduates who are a part of the current education system lack employability. How are we going to use this huge resource is challenging. How are we going to build a progressive and sustainable network with our current strength and weaknesses that can have impressive impact is yet to be answered. I believe that the time is ripe to rise beyond prejudices and expand boundaries beyond the four walls of a lab. A transformation is needed to streamline the drug discovery process from bench to bed so as to give it a logical conclusion. It is also important to bridge the gap between science and society for inclusive growth if we are to emerge as a scientific society and knowledge based economic power. We have followed the Nehru model of ‘top down’ while neglecting Gandhian ‘bottom up’ approach. It’s high time we come up with a holistic model of development, which is based on green technology that can enunciate sustainable future.

Photo Credit: net_efekt via Compfight cc

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