INTERVIEW WITH KAMAL DUTTA*
Science Teaching and Research and the New Education Policy
Kamal Dutta: It is a widely held view that there have been major failings in the teaching of science and that the quality of scientific output has declined in the last forty years in our country. The hope that the people of this country during the freedom struggle had a flowering of scientific activity of high quality following Independence, has not in fact occurred-neither in terms of quantity nor quality, though primarily in terms of the latter. To cite the instance of Physics, we have not produced any single work of such outstanding merit as to find a place in any subsequent history of the discipline. In contrast to the preceding forty years when the volume of activity was lower and the number of people involved in the teaching of science and scientific research smaller—and yet a number of seminal discoveries reported— post Independence India has not produced any landmark work. There is then some justification in reviewing the failings of the education system in contributing to this lack of achievement.
The remedies suggested by the New Education Policy are unlikely to make a dent, and may possibly worsen the situation. To start at the basic level of school education, the New Education Policy document rightly observes that the kind of science education we now have in schools has largely become a process of rote learning. In fact it is generally accepted that the kind of teaching done even in the best of schools is unlikely to encourage students to study science . The fundamental problem is that the volume of material to be grasped by students has increased enormously, not because the disciplines themselves have increased in volume, but because the education administrators have decided that it is necessary for students to be acquainted with very wide areas. By broadening the base of knowledge imparted, the administrators have created a situation where from very early on science both for the teachers and students in schools, becomes a process of memorising facts. It is of course true that in every discipline of science there is a certain body of knowledge that is basic and which any scientist accepts to a considerable degree, unques-tioningly. From early on in life, the student is taught that it is more important to be acquainted at any ordinary level with facts, rather
* Dept. of Physics, Delhi University, Delhi.