Why Are We Failing in Science Education?

Contributed by Muhammad Bashir Baloch

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Mark Twain, a renowned American writer, once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” Same is the case with our education system today. We are producing a generation who is misinformed and has a very little knowledge of truth. Our educated and uneducated people both seem to think on same lines and in some cases so called educated people appear more dogmatic, more illogical and even prone to extremism in their thinking. For example: most of the professors try to get credit by invoking science in Holy Scriptures and students consider them to be competent. It is mainly because they do not know their subject in reality. There is no conflict in it that we have failed in science education. There is an utter darkness which is spread over centuries. Some people may prove themselves to be members of science by quoting old Muslim scientists. No doubt they were great but their credit can never be transferred to our account because they were product of a system which was entirely different than us. We have no role in making them some of great men in history of science. Professor Salaam is perhaps the only person who knew science, but again he was product of a British university, not of a Pakistani university.

No doubt we are failing to invent any sort of new knowledge and we are far behind in science. Our graduates in physics can’t even explain Newton’s laws properly. Once I asked a question from a PhD student about vectors and he asked where was it in the book? I responded it’s nowhere and that I had made this hypothesis myself. He called me an idiot, and advised me to focus on my course, instead of asking irrelevant questions.May be he was right because here we are supposed to get only marks which can be achieved just by memorizing text. Even if you give time to your subject and ponder on it, as a result you will most probably fail in some other subject. Let me tell you one thing, in Pakistan if you want to be a good Doctor or Physicist, you must be excellent in memorizing the bulk of unnecessary information, like dates of old events.. I can quote hundreds of such examples where teachers reprimand students for asking questions. If we do not ask questions,  then how can any research be done in such an unscientific and counter innovative environment? Since such curious students exist only in small numbers, they can easily be threatened. Our teachers are always in search of pseudo-science and that is because we are very primitive in thinking and we still like odd things rather than innovative things. And we believe in our teachers rather than being skeptic. This is happening even in our top ranked institutions.

We must know the purpose of education which, in Mark Twain terms, is to replace an empty mind with an open one.

Let’s search for the causes of such utter darkness and our failure in science education. The first and foremost cause of failure to me is that our teachers do not understand their subject. They simply go to universities, get degrees and start teaching as a career. I do not consider our universities to be educating rather students go there to get some notes and memorize them. It is reality that our graduates can’t even properly answer questions of 5th grade books. Teachers do not teach students how to think and how to develop an idea rather they just transfer that information they memorized. And then the same set of information will be asked in the exam. If this is the case, then  why waste time to think about how Einstein in reality came to the conclusion that space gets curved in the presence of matter. The stronger your memorization is, the higher marks you will get and that is a primary flaw in our examination system. Good grades mean the student is good hafiz of that subject. Teachers do not encourage students to enjoy science rather they also consider it to be a boring thing, and hence, they try to avoid it. We must know the purpose of education which, in Mark Twain terms, is to replace an empty mind with an open one. We are not here to fill stuff in them rather we are here to tell them how to see things happening around and how to see natural phenomenon in terms of cause and effect.  Science could be as enjoyable as playing cricket. But we have to learn to enjoy science.

The second reason is the ill quality of our books and irrelevant syllabus. I am here talking about only science education. Our authors plagiarise from foreign authors and sadly they do not even have good training of plagiarising. They mix up things and make circular arguments. Things are mostly ill defined and no specific meaning can be comprehended from definition provided. Students don’t have a practice of thinking for themselves, so they waste time while memorizing stuff that got nothing to do with science. Teachers do not encourage them to connect their knowledge with the world they live in. Authors of books don’t mention how a particular theory was developed. Consider an example. We study Bohr’s atomic model and Rutherford’s atomic model. Whenever I ask questions about them they say that they were later proved wrong. And sometime we use them to draw conclusions. Once I asked a teacher which part of Bohr model was okay even with modern research and she was unable to respond. Book is same like the teachers. It does not have specifications how Bohr model was enhanced.

The other problem is burden of so many subjects. Tell me how a student can think about his own subject round the day when he has to do English, Pak study, Urdu and Islamyat. He gets so much exhausted that his brain stops working and he can’t think about his subject. Research demands time and peace of mind which unfortunately our system and our society do not give to a person. We have not developed a system of education which can encourage research and such enthusiasm. We must decrease number of subjects to be taught. We are in a wrong race of knowing everything but in reality end up knowing nothing. Instead of teaching our students wrong things, we should use books by foreign authors at basic level. They will teach students how theories are developed.

If we believe in superstitions even in the presence of overwhelming evidence, it ruins not only science but the entire society.

Another hurdle to science education in our society are mullahs. They always try to exclude science from good education and discourage it. They give rise to superstitions and tell students to follow irrational methodology. If we believe in superstitions even in the presence of overwhelming evidence, it ruins not only science but the entire society. Students prefer to believe dogmatic explanations for earthquakes rather than considering it natural phenomena and consulting physics. Students do not have trust on science. There is also no respect for academics in science and they are regularly criticised by mullahs through sword of religion. Academics lack freedom of speech and mostly keep silent. Academics should be respected, although we have a small fraction of them like Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, and they should be invited to speak at public forums to address real causes and solutions. It’s only because of Dr. Hoodbhoy’s efforts that a small fraction of people have turned to think in a refined way.

There are also some general causes of failure like corruption, poverty, may be lack of scientific apparatus. Some say there is language issue but science has only one language and it can never be transferred to other language. Other languages do not even have has such words which have very specific use in science.

Whenever we try to make new projects of science, we do not give importance to real problems. Our universities do have facilities like budget, apparatus, buildings, libraries and laboratories. There are all facilities but and the only thing which is missing is adequate scientific environment and scientific thought. There may be some people who can do well in this regard, but sadly they have been tortured again and again.

We must give respect to our academics, we should use good books, every person should be secured in his thinking. The major cause of European science was Renaissance and it gave Europe the gift of free speech. It was the freedom of expression and freedom of speech which helped Europe to rise in science.  We too need Renaissance. We must take some major steps to ensure it. For instance, government must taken help of competent people like Dr. Hoodbhoy in order to set up a system that could facilitate and encourage youth coming to science.

As an American theoretical physicist Brian Greene says, “When kids look up to great scientists the way they do to great musicians and actors, civilization will jump to the next level,” we must create such a healthy scientific environment.

About the Author:

The writer is doing F.Sc (Pre-Engineering). He has a deep enthusiasm for physics and mathematics. He is also a member of Science Talent Farming Scheme (STFS) of Pakistan science foundation (PSF).

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