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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Science Education

Teaching science should be made more fun, because when learning is fun kids and youngsters learn better.  Today one sad aspect of school based teaching is that students study for marks rather than knowledge. In India it is very common to see kids repeating paragraphs like a parrot, whether they understand what's written in them or not is another matter. 

As a youngster I found "The Special Theory of Relativity" of Albert Einstein fascinating. It so happened that I chanced upon my cousin's book on fundamental physics that was published by Mir Publishers. Three years earlier when I was in the 9th standard(for global readers 9th grade) there was a chapter on Albert Einstein in English. It was titled "Albert Einstein : A study in simplicity ". 

That particular chapter gave insights into the life and personality of the great physicist and then it also mentioned the "The Theory of Relativity" to be the most important document of our times. Naturally that awoke a curiosity about the "The Theory of Relativity" and when I chanced upon this book and saw in the index Special Theory of Relativity, I engrossed myself into studying that. 

For any newbie the Special Theory of Relativity would be awe inspiring since for the first time he would realize that time passes differently in different places. That a body flying near the speeds of light would contract. Also an object will become more massive as it travels at the speed of light through space. The study of the subject left me dumbstruck. In fact I had dreams of spaceships passing through space near the speeds of lights observing the same beam light which appeared to them having the same speed but had different frequencies.

Now when the same topic was taught in my year of Engineering. It was taught in such a boring fashion that one would feel like throwing up. The essence of the subject was lost. The teacher just left it to deducing a few equations and telling us , note them down this are likely to come in the exams.

India has seriously lagged behind in science research after it became independent. The straightforward reason for that happening is the system of education that we have and in spite of this rotten system we have produced world class scientists and engineers, who are doing well in other parts of the globe. 

TV channels like Discovery, Discovery Science, National Geographic etc and played an excellent role in increasing the popularity of science among the masses and Internet has given excellent access to scientific information to people across the globe. The Internet indeed can become a major source of education and knowledge.

What I have mentioned earlier was during the days when computers were expensive and Internet access was slow and expensive as well. With time the prices of computers have gone down also smartphones which cost much less have come into existence along with access to fast , affordable Internet.  Now students are able to see video demonstration of various scientific, mathematical and biological concepts via videos on Youtube. 

Video Demonstration and animation make learning much faster than mere book reading. Also students have access to Wikipedia a free encyclopedia that is available in various languages. The articles in Wikipedia are written, maintained and proofread by users and it has been a very successful experiment. Wikipedia is definitely one of the best things to have happened to the Internet. 

This is how technological innovations aid learning and make them more interesting. Manu Prakash of Stanford University and his team have come out with a 50 cent (INR Rs 30) microscope. Now this microscope is a projection microscope that the team aims to send everywhere where a pencil is used. 
They have named the product foldscope and it is really awesome. 

Traditional microscope are bulky, difficult to use and difficult to transport. They are expensive preventing normal users from using them. However foldscope because of its price and ease of use can actually be in the hands of every kid in the world within a few years. Direct observation of micro-organisms, plants, blood , food particles etc is bound increase the scientific curiosity in the kids. 

We need more innovations like them to come. Science Education should be most happiest thing in the world. This would produce more and more scientists and engineers who would change the world. 

The following video shows how foldscope works. 

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