Education & Scientific Attitude

We need to develop a viable approach to education which would produce adequate number of trained scientists willing to undertake research projects and contribute to the economic and social growth of the country.

by Prof. Sultan Mahmood Niazi

Iqbal genuinely bemoaned the ruthless carnage at the hands of the educational instructors when they suppressed the trend of asking question by their pupils and insisted on the blind acceptance of whatever was taught to them at madrasahs. Our teachers gradually adopted the same attitude in respect of provision of education at schools and colleges, because it allowed them to continue vomiting out in classes the trite pieces of information they themselves were forced to cram as students.

Such authoritarian attitude made their job easy, because they didn’t have to defend their knowledge in finding answers to the students’ queries. Anyone daring to ask questions was branded as insolent and brash.

Gala tou ghoont diya ahle madrash ne tera

Kahan se aaye sada La Ilaha Illallah.

(Allama Iqbal)

The school authorities have managed to stifle

the element of curiosity in seeking knowledge.

How do you expect the students to raise their

voices in order to find the truth?

The main stake-holders i.e. the young children, are all born-scientists. Every child is gifted with the inquisitive urge – the urge to know. Inquisitiveness is the chief trait of all scientists, because Science is defined as ‘The systematic study of the universal phenomena with the intent of finding the truth.’ All children are known to pestering the elders with incessant rain of questions about the happenings around them. What goes wrong when, our children, born with the faculty of asking non-stop questions, become dumb and docile acceptors of what the teachers pass on to them in the form of education? We, in Pakistan, are not producing scientists and scientific knowledge that can help us meet the challenges of the present time with success.

Obviously, there is something wrong with our system of education. The traditional approach of passing on to the students, the information gained by the teachers is not yielding the desired results. The teachers expect their students to docilely accept whatever information is passed on to them. As a result, rote- learning finds fertile ground to flourish. Very industrious and hard-working students adopt the habit of memorizing the contents of text-books and jotting down the major points of the teacher’s lectures in classes, without realizing that they are academically getting nowhere.

They need to acquire the scientific approach which basically calls for serious and thorough observation on the part of the learners. They should be trained to observe things realistically and rationally. Only then they would be able to embark upon the next phase of scientific behavior which comprises the stage of pondering over the findings of their observations. The scientists are able to see possibilities with their mind’s eye and judge each possibility as rationally as possible. This phase, in scientific jargon, is the phase of calculation, though not necessarily restricted to the application of mathematical functions alone. Scientific contemplation is the basic ingredient. Scientifically minded people think and think over what they see and discover during the phase of observation. They probe into various possibilities presented by their observations. They analyze their findings and finally draw inferences which are the most satisfying. The three stages of the scientific approach i.e. observation, calculation and inference open the way for knowledge generation and liberate the students from the shackles of blind acceptance of information provided by the teachers.

We need to develop a viable approach to education which would produce adequate number of trained scientists willing to undertake research projects and contribute to the economic and social growth of the country. Such scientists would be groomed to raise questions with the intent of furthering the boundaries of knowledge. They would not be disheartened by their initial failures in finding logical and valid answers to the questions raised by them. They would be proving their doggedness of pursuit in the face of setbacks, discouragement and thoughtless criticism.

When we sit down to analyze the factors responsible for the present state of affairs in the field of science and research in the country, it is revealed that indifference on the part of the government, lack of social interest in research aptitude building, and inadequate infra-structure conducive to whole-hearted engagement in research activities are responsible for the present situation. All such factors result in half-hearted periodical attempts at righting the wrong which has permeated into the fabric of our educational system.

Resultantly, even when our students are asked to write an essay on ‘My Best Friend’, they invariably start writing about a student who, in addition to being the son of a doctor, is the most brilliant student, the most successful athlete, the best orator and the most talented performer. In reality, their best friend may be the most notorious laggard who is more interested in stealing apples from the neighboring orchard than in getting positions in class examinations and field competitions. It is so because they have been forced to cram up the description of ‘My Best Friend’ from the test-paper, instead of being trained to come up with realistic descriptions.

This trend is to be rejected, if we expect our students to adopt the habit of scientific thinking. It is a question of building up the research attitude which prompts the individual student to observe things minutely, ponder over them and to infer rational and logical inferences.

In addition to the dearth of financial resources and lack of research facilities, there hasn’t been sufficient stress on the part of the government and on the part of the educational institution to promoting research aptitude overall. A scientist cannot be produced in isolation. He/she has to be gradually groomed up through intellectual stimulations provided by the colleagues and the general atmosphere of providing incentives through discussions and sharing of experiences. Parents also contribute to inculcating rational thinking and the environment provides some role models which ensure the students’ familiarization with scientific method.

The need of well-designed curricula that can promote free critical thinking cannot be over emphasized. The age-old curricula at vogue in our schools and colleges have lost their relevance to the modern times. The curricula prescribed by the government needs to be constantly updated in the light of new developments in each field of study. Curricula developed by renowned universities and colleges in the world are available on the internet. We can select items compatible to our context for prompt and ready updating of our own curricula.

There is no dearth of talent in Pakistan. We, as a nation, need only to nurture the existing talent in order to rise up to the level of global recognition. The hurdles like inadequate financial investment in education or non-availability of infrastructure conducive to meaningful and yielding research can be overcome through committed efforts on the part of the government and on the part of educational institutions. Government must realize the need of allocating at least 10% of the National GDP to education and divert at least 40% of budgetary allocation to Science Education and research. Some three decades ago, educational cess at the rate of 5% was imposed on all imports with the intent of generating funds for the education sector, but, unfortunately, that revenue has never been spent by the government on education. There are various other venues of resource generation which have not been tapped so far.

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