Interview | Thanu Padmanabhan Kochi

Invest heavily at school level to improve science education: astrophysicist

Emphasises need to pay competitive high level salary to teachers

Education in pure sciences could be improved by investing heavily at the school level and paying good salary to talented teachers, says Thanu Padmanabhan, internationally-renowned astrophysicist. A distinguished professor at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, Mr. Padmanabhan was in Kochi to deliver the inaugural talk at the regional meet of astronomers in South India scheduled at the Cochin University of Science and Technology on Friday. In a chat with The Hindu on Thursday, Mr. Padmanabhan gave valuable insights on a wide range of topics related to science education in the country.

On tapping talent at the school-level

In pure science, tapping of talent starts at the school level. We should be pouring money without worrying too much about quality. It’s the quantity that we should strengthen. As you go up in the pyramid, we should concentrate more on the quality. We should invest very heavily at the school level, which we are not doing.

Secondly, we need to pay competitive high-level salary for teachers in at least a select set of government schools. Unless you pay them good salary, talented people will not come.

Then we need regular faculty improvement programmes for school teachers. As far as I know, that does not happen systematically. Many of us will be happy to go and lecture in those sessions.

If you start the school student programme now, in five years time we will have excellent school students all ready to come to the Plus Two-level. At that time you have programmes like IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research), where they can go in. Then you start pouring money into the PhDs and over a period of 20 years you will improve the situation.

A Kerala-specific issue in postgraduate science education

Women in Kerala who are very talented and go up to M.Sc do not want to do PhD anywhere outside the State saying that they won’t get permission from the families. We find it very strange. We don’t see this problem anywhere else in the country. This seems to be a Kerala-specific problem where girls do not go outside Kerala to do PhD. That is cutting out 50% of the talent.

Faculty selection in higher education

What is needed is that the selection panel should be fair and they should actually look at the candidate and decide. Ultimately, you need someone to inspire the students. Teachers should be motivated and should have a feeling for the subject.

Exciting opportunities in astrophysics

For the next five to ten years, astrophysics is a growth area both in India and abroad. We need huge manpower for the Thirty-Metre Telescope project for which IUCAA and other Indian institutions are partners.

We are looking for at least 200 qualified optical astronomers. We do not have even a fraction of it. Actually sky is the limit [for opportunities]. There are going to be other major projects coming up for which you need manpower. There is tremendous scope in the experimental, observational astronomy.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 12:43:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/invest-heavily-at-school-level-to-improve-science-education-astrophysicist/article26226689.ece

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