An international survey ranks premier science institutions in the country way below at 250. The HRD ministry gets into damage-control mode

KA Shaji/New Delhi
Two years after an international survey on universities relegated the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISC) and Indian iits to the bottom of the list in science education, alarm bells are ringing in the country’s scientific establishment.
Following the study, a background paper on the status of science education in the country was presented at the latest meeting of consultative committee attached to the ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). According to it, nearly 1.6 million students finish their BSC every year, but only a few pursue careers in science.
The paper confirms that science education suffered from lack of experimental facilities, absence of quality teachers, inadequacies in curricula and lack of flexible subjects and course combinations. HRD Minister Arjun Singh also pointed out that the erosion of quality in fact begins at the school-level. “Classroom demonstrations are very rare and teaching tends to be exam-oriented,” he added.
The academic survey conducted by Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University had shocked the scientific establishment because of India’s claim that it constitutes the second largest pool of scientists and technologists in the world. The only Indians institutions which figured in the list —headed by Harvard and Stanford universities and the California Institute of Technology — were the IISC, ranked in the 251-300 slot, and the iits of Delhi and Kharagpur in the 451-500 slot.
According to scientist and Rajya Sabha mp K. Kasturirangan, who was in the consultative committee, the government’s immediate attention must be directed to the fact that many students are opting for professional courses rather than pure science. He proposed a total revamp of the university system and the immediate filling up of vacancies of science teachers. “I have told in a meeting that financial support from industry to improve science education continues to remain very marginal in India and efforts must be undertaken with immediate effect to seek this support in a big way,” he said.
The background paper cites poor quality of science education at graduate and postgraduate levels and the general perception about lack of opportunities for those who take up careers in science as reasons for the lack of interest. “Attracting young, brilliant minds to study the sciences and choosing science related careers as their first preference appears to be one of the major challenges before the nation,” the document suggested. It added that was imperative to find methods by which brilliant scientific minds are inspired to take up science-related careers.According to ministry insiders, the country spends a huge quantum of money on science though it is not getting adequate results. In the case of IISC the annual budget would come around Rs 120 crore and the government spends about Rs 30,000 on each science graduate student during each year of study. However, a undp human development report says the percentage of school leavers entering the science stream in India comes around 1.7 while it’s 23 percent in South Korea, 13.9 percent in the US and 5.9 percent in China.
According to Higher Education Secretary RP Agrawal, India still lags behind developed world and even China in terms of quality of science education. “Though Indian scientists have made their mark in the world, on parameters like scientists per million populations, number of publications, expenditure on research and development per capita, number of patents etc., India lags behind,” he said.
The human resource development ministry is now taking utmost efforts to revamp science education in universities, he said. “The recommendations of the task force set up for this purpose under the chairmanship of Professor MM Sharma have been accepted and the University Grants Commission is in the process of implementing them,” Agrawal said.
(Tehelka, Jan 20 , 2007)

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