Prime Minister of India’s clarion call to embrace science




On 28th February 2018, India celebrated National Science Day, a day on which the much revered, Sir C V Raman, discovered the Raman Effect in 1928, for which he was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930.

Wishing the whole nation on this occasion in his monthly address through ‘Mann ki Baat’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clarion call to inculcate scientific temper in our daily lives, to seek truth and knowledge through scientific inquiry and utilize it in the service of the poor and the underprivileged.

India’s history of Science

India has always been a land of thinkers and observers. Even when the world outside was still arguing whether the Sun revolves around the Earth and that our planet was flat, Indian astronomer Aryabhata put forth the Heliocentric model of our Solar system and also proved the Elliptical Planetary motion around the Sun. Another Indian mathematician, Brahmagupta, laid the foundations of two major fields of Indian Mathematics- Pati-Ganita and Bija-Ganita, which we now know as Arithmetic and Algebra respectively. His successor, as the Head of Astronomical Observatory at Ujjain, was Bhaskaracharya, who was the first to understand the concept of ‘division by zero’ or ‘Infinity’.     

India as a nation has come a long way since this golden age of scientific discoveries and innovations. As a colony of the British for over two centuries, India was forced to finance the Industrial Revolution in Britain at the expense of its own crumbling industry. It is important to note that at the beginning of the 18th century, India’s share of the world economy was 23% which unfortunately dropped to just 3% by the time the British departed in 1947 (An era of darkness, 2016). This slow down of economy perhaps has contributed significantly towards the decline of India in science.

India still prevailed!

Even after decades of stagnation, India is back on track. In 2014, ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), popularly known as Mangalyaan, created history as it entered the orbit of the red planet in its first attempt! Following this, in 2017, ISRO’s PSLV C-37 launched 104 satellites in a single flight. These satellites belonged to many countries, including the USA and Germany.While such stories indeed are significant achievements for India, there’s still a long way to go.

The landscape of science education in India is uneven. While the science students in top universities conduct world-class research, publishing in leading journals and boosting the global reputation of India, the cash-starved universities funded by state governments lack even bare, minimal and sustainable funds for teaching, let alone research. The problem is that these state-funded universities account for the majority of India’s science undergraduates.

World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)’s latest statistics prove the decline in quality of science education in India. The report shows that during 2014, India registered only 33 patents per a million population in comparison to 4,206 by Republic of Korea and 1,783 by the USA. Since 2000, India has quadrupled its scholarly output, but the scholarly impact is nearly 30% below the world average.

Yes, the lacunae in India’s university science education directly point fingers at the meager spending of the government on research and development i.e, 0.7% of GDP (since 2005) as against 2.8% by the USA and 2.1% by China, the real concern is the density of scientific workforce in India. With only 200,000 full-time researchers in a population of 1.3 billion, India ranks below countries like Chile and Kenya (UNESCO).

Kindle a spark of Science

The problem may look enormous. But in the end, it comes down to what the Prime Minister has recently called out for- to embrace science in our everyday lives. While an increase in the expenditure towards higher education or R&D is not in our hands, we can certainly kindle a spark of curiosity in children by encouraging them to ask the WHY, WHAT and HOW of everything they see, feel and hear. We must persuade children to take part in relevant Science spaces such as Science summer camps, exhibitions and workshops. Such opportunities not only allow children to express themselves creatively, to interact with peers and participate in decision making but also gives them an opportunity to view scenarios with a different perspective.

There will be times when children fail, but hasn’t almost every other scientist and/ or innovator failed before coming up with his/ her masterpiece? For instance, when asked about his invention of the electric bulb, Thomas Alva Edison said “I have discovered 10,000 ways of not making an electric bulb!”

The time is ripe. The summer is upon us. This year, let’s all take a pledge to teach ourselves a new skill – inculcating scientific temper perhaps and proudly be a part of India’s growth story.  


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