Symposium on “Teaching of Sciences in Higher Education”: a report

Highlights from the two-day symposium on higher education-related issues organised by Department of Physics, Bangalore University on 27-28 May 2016.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at .

This was an interesting discussion meeting. As was discussed, teaching does not mean providing only new information to the students. It should primarily let the srudents ask more questions about what they still do not know. The class-room lectures, therefore, should excite students to do some “research” on their own. More important, however, in science -teaching is what the students do in the laboratory. The current practice of letting them do routine experiments, which, while necessary to some extent, do not excite them In the absence of inspiring teachers and enough facilities and time, such laboratory exercises get reduced to copying the lab-records of previous years. This puts a death-nail in the process of creating excitement and curiosity. It is in this context that the idea of “research” at UG level has often been mooted. As Prof. Watve stated at this meeting, why not use research as a tool for pursuing undergraduate education? This is a good idea. However, this approach may have a serious risk of generating pseudo-research, especially in the very large number of colleges with limited numbers of teachers, who by themseleves are often not excited enough to pass on the excitement to their pupils. Consequently, the present directive from UGC to compulsorily include a research project at UG and PG levels is actually having a negative impact. We need to understand that every student at UG or PG level is not competent or interested to become an academician who would teach and/or undertake research. A majority of them are unfortunately just thrown into such courses without their liking or choice. Therefore, I think research at UG level has to be included in curriculum with great care and in a selective manner. For colleges with larger numbers of students and limited facilities, we may include “research” at UG/PG class-rooms as open-ended experiments in which the students learn the methods but also remain curious about the results since they remain unknown to them till they have gone through the exercise of experimenting and data collection. This would require teachers with imagination and enthusiasm. An important task, therefore, is to teach and train the trainers in appropriate methods. Of course no one method can be suitable for all.Our common tendency to homogenize the course contents across the country does a great damage in multiple ways. The net result is that the students do not get in-sync with their own surroundings and issues.

The 2-Day Meet threw up some interesting discussion on several aspects around the topic of science education in universities, ranging from ways in which to make teaching more effective, student receptivity and learning habits, new directions in pedagogy, the use of multimedia and devices as supportive tools, to issues of social inclusion and diversity of social and cultural backgrounds in university environments. Being a 2-Day meet with several panel discussions and sessions covering these issues, the meet was intense and the discussions that followed the sessions inevitably exceeded the allotted time, making many feel that perhaps an extra day would have been good. This was also an attempt towards getting “straight to the point” and introspecting on the rapid deterioration of quality teaching and research in most of our universities. In my opinion, there needs to be many such discussions across the country and in diverse fora. While there is much talk around “new education policy”, the rot that has set in in our institutions of higher learning, leading to their rapid decline and perceptions of our citizenry and policy makers alike, that such institutions have become irrelevant in shaping our futures, necessitates that we introspect and act, towards reversing this trend. It is specially important that we need to work towards strengthening public institutions that cater to ensure the reach of higher education to poorer and underprivileged sections of our society and thereby increase the GER of the country. Merely increasing privatization of such institutions, isn’t going to achieve this, as privatization in our country often amounts to unscrupulous commercialization.

A detailed Report on the 2-Day Meet is to appear elsewhere.