Creating an ecosystem for science education and research

Special Correspondent
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Rewarding young talent:Chief Minister Oommen Chandy distributing the Prathibha scholarships instituted by the KSCSTE to promote talent in science among students.
Rewarding young talent:Chief Minister Oommen Chandy distributing the Prathibha scholarships instituted by the KSCSTE to promote talent in science among students.

The Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE) is preparing to scale up its efforts to improve the quality of science education and research in the State.

The two-pronged strategy evolved by the council involves a reorientation of the education network and the creation of new institutions, both aimed at bringing more students into the science stream.

Buoyed by the success of programmes like the Sasthraposhini scheme for strengthening high school science laboratories, Students Programme for Excellence in Experimental Design (SPEED), Sasthrasameeksha and Nurturing Excellence in Science Teaching (NEST), KSCSTE is now focusing on providing an environment for more students to move towards higher education and research in science.

“The quality of science education and research in Kerala will improve only when bright and meritorious students from the school education system take science subjects as their first option. Motivation and encouragement are required right from the middle school level at least to achieve this target”, says V. N. Rajasekharan Pillai, executive vice-president, KSCSTE and Principal Secretary, Science and Technology, Government of Kerala.

“The variety of opportunities available for higher education, research and employment in the various branches of sciences is not really known to the school children, teachers, parents and society at large,” Prof. Pillai says.

Over the last two years, KSCSTE has taken up several massive awareness programmes in schools to attract bright children to opt for science disciplines in higher education. The council has instituted a scholarship scheme for top- ranking students to study science in affiliated colleges in Kerala. It has also launched another scheme to promote young talents in science from among high school students.

Scaling up

“What is required is a scaling up of these approaches reaching the entire school education network. The collegiate and university science education systems also need a thorough revamping for improving the quality of science education and research,” Prof. Pillai says.

“The policy level interventions required for enhancing the quality and relevance of science education and scientific research are in restructuring the institutional mechanism, providing academic autonomy, faculty recruitment and adopting globally accepted parameters of scientific excellence,” he says.

The Council suggests moving away from the standardised curriculum offered by widely used science textbooks which is mostly designed to have students memorise several unrelated facts and do not require them to explore in depth, an integrated series of concepts and principles that cut across traditional disciplines. It advocates a science curriculum which is dynamic, flexible and locally meaningful.

The proposed changes are aimed at creating a more student-centred, hands-on, and experiential way of learning science. The council seeks to shift the focus to training, retraining and continuous capacity building of science teachers to achieve quality reform in science education. It also proposes linkage with the higher education system, and research and development sectors to create aspirations in science among school children.

“The science academies which focus generally on research accomplishments also need to create linkages with school education. School science education needs to be an integral component of university education. Science discipline-based pedagogy need to be developed for training subject-specific science teachers,” says Prof.Pillai.

Such interlinkages are expected to result in seamless integration of the concept and practice of different levels science learning, education, research and development. Creation of such ecosystems in very large numbers is very significant for the State, particularly in the context of nurturing human resources.

“The quality of our scientific research and development institutions will depend upon the quality of students we can attract into science, the freedom we give them in pursuing scientific research and the human resource policy we follow in building our institutions.

In an interconnected teaching, research, development and extension ecosystem, new paradigms of innovation emerge and the students and youth get a direct feel of the system. This will equip students and youth to innovate and create employment opportunities and find solutions to key issues,” Prof. Pillai says.

Institution building

KSCSTE is also in the process of establishing an institute that will identify technologies relevant to Kerala and adopt or adapt them to solve issues which are specific to the State. The Centre State Technology Transfer Institute will be a joint initiative of the Department of Science and technology, Government of India, and the KSCSTE.

It will support the development and demonstration of innovative and need-based technologies relevant to the State. Issues of drinking water, waste management, agricultural processing and modernisation/value addition to the traditional sector industries like cashew, coir and handloom are the prioritised areas of intervention by this institute.

The new institute will perfect the already available technologies, develop suitable adaptation strategies and to commercialise such technologies. The institutional capabilities and the expertise of the public and private sector research and development institutions in Kerala will be utilised for technology development, transfer and adaptation.

Two other new institutes, namely the Srinivasa Ramanujan Institute of Basic Sciences (SRIBS) and the Critical Minerals Research Institute (CMRI) are also being set up by the council as part of its perspective plan. Named after the great Indian Mathematical genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan, SRIBS focuses on capacity building, training and research in the various branches of natural sciences and mathematics.

Located in the campus of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology, Pampady, Kottayam, the institute has been conducting post-graduate and research level capacity building programmes utilising the expertise of internationally renowned scientists from premier institutions in the country and abroad. Over a dozen programmes have been conducted in collaboration with the universities and R & D institutions in the State. Summer Schools and Winter Schools in cutting edge and frontier areas of research in basic sciences are also being planned under the auspices of SRIBS.

The Critical Minerals Research Institute (CMRI)is proposed to undertake research and development activities related to the critical minerals and transition metals from the mineral sands of Kerala. Detailed project proposal for the institute is under preparation. The institute will be located in Thiruvananthapuram or Kollam district. A nine-member expert committee is working on the short and long term objectives of the CMRI .

Technology development

The Technology Development and Project Management Division (TDPMD) of KSCSTE is responsible for promoting qualitative research in the emerging areas of engineering and technology. It also promotes and supports rural technology and its upgradation for wider applications to generate employment and reduce the drudgery of rural households.

The Technology Development and Adaptation Programme (TDAP) of the division provides catalytic support for the development and demonstration of innovative and need-based technologies. The scheme is designed to perfect the technologies, develop suitable adaptation strategies and raise the technologies to the level of commercialisation.

TDPMD also provides assistance in the form of grants for popularisation of science in the State.

The Basic Science Division of KSCSTE offers fellowships for rank holders in M.Sc. and M.Tech to carry out research for their Ph.D programme. It also provides financial assistance to departments or colleges for science research or academic work with particular relevance to the economic or industrial development of the State. Grants are sanctioned for strengthening academic infrastructure in these institutions.



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