On National Science Day, teachers tell Subha J Rao that the subject has to be linked to everyday life. Only then will children develop a fascination for it

Want to know about science? Learn it from a crisp dosa. Do you know why the dosa batter bubbles up the minute it is poured on the hot griddle? Because heated carbon-dioxide and water molecules shoot out through the batter.

Such everyday science is what will inculcate a love for the subject among children, say experts and teachers. Instead, children are forced to learn formulae, conduct experiments that have no bearing on their life and read by rote and reproduce it on paper, says Arvind Gupta of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune. Arvind, a science innovator, makes toys from trash to teach science and inculcate a love for the subject among children.

T. Kanchana has taught chemistry for 34 years. All through, she has striven to make the chemistry laboratory and class a place where children can imagine, experiment and learn. Which is why, years after they passed out of school, her students (now scientists and researchers) still make that trip to the lab to do the ‘brown ring test’ (nitrate test) or the golden yellow spangles test (confirmation for lead). “I always called the lead test Mackenna’s Gold, and that stuck in their minds. As you watch the golden spangles float up, it so reminds you of the film,” she says. This approach is why one of her students wrote to her saying that his dream was to lead a life of research with chemicals all around him, and discover an element!”

Before introducing a topic in the text book, it is very important to connect it with everyday life, believes science teacher Devasena Chakkaravarthy.

“For instance, children will never fathom the miracle of germination unless they see it for themselves. A handful of soaked green gram is all it takes to get them involved,” she says. Another way is to actively discourage them from learning textbook answers by rote. “They will only reproduce verbatim without understanding the meaning. Instead, teachers must frame questions from the book and from the discussions in class. That will help students recall the lesson,” she says. Devasena also tells her children to write answers that contain facts, but in their own style. “Are we not curbing creativity by asking everyone to write the same answer?”

That attitude will win brownie points from Arvind. “Right now, children merely mug up. Where’s the joy ?” he asks. His dream is a country where science is not just another subject, but a way of life. “We can solve so many life issues (sanitation, potable water…) using science. But, have we allowed children to imagine?” he wonders.

“Science is not just about equations and theorems and lab work. It is about life. It is about providing solutions to day-to-day challenges. Cooking is all about science. How many know that?” he says.

The day theory and practice merge, says Arvind, it will lead students towards a higher science — one that benefits all.

(National Science Day is celebrated on February 28 every year to mark the discovery of the Raman Effect by Indian physicist Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman in 1928.)