Science is the study of ourselves, our surroundings, and the relationship between the two. When we do science, we “observe” as well as “experiment”. Those events in nature that we cannot control are studied through observation, while those that can be brought under our control are studied through experiments.
We can share our observations and the results of our experiments with others, who can then repeat and verify our findings. If all such results are shown to be in accord, they become the basis for our common understanding of the “natural laws”.
In this method, we assume the existence of two separate entities: first, the “I” (which refers to me, you, and all human beings); and second, the outside world (made up of all other living as well as non-living things). But do we, can “I”, just keep observing and experimenting with the outside world? Probably not, because I also have to earn a living.
The outside world has elements that are useful as well as harmful to our survival. Science, in a way, teaches us how to survive. It shows us the uses of those elements that are useful, that can be used to make our lives easier and happier, and to neutralise or reduce the harmful effects of those things that are harmful, as much as possible.
Survival alone cannot, however, be humanity ‘s sole aim. We also have a natural curiosity to understand the world around us. This leads us to ask questions like, why so? And how so? These questions are the beginning of science. Even the earliest humans wondered what causes lightning, or why darkness falls after the sun sets. It is precisely such questions that have led to human progress over millions of years.
The world around us, and our own existence, are puzzles. A scientific outlook is one that tries to solve this puzzle as well as possible, with the help of rational thinking. It is only through such a scientific approach that we can hope to unravel the mysteries of life, and begin to comprehend the relationship between humans and nature, And therein lies the need for science.
I am aware that these are fairly complex notions, and you may well ask if science too is taught in this manner. To such a question, my answer would be “No”. A good science teacher can begin with the simplest observations. Then, by encouraging her students to ask the whys and the hows of these, she can help them become more curious, and enthusiastic about finding the answers.
The road leading to these answers is not difficult at all – in fact the curves are gentle and the rise gradual. Each step in the path of scientific knowledge is a small one. It is only after we have taken several such steps that we realise we come a long way, and that the view at every stage is panoramic. We realise how the journey itself has been a learning experience.
We “learn” science throughout our lives, as it is so much a part of everyday living. At the school level, a proper study of science instills certain special qualities in students. These include honesty, an open mind, flexible thinking, patience, cooperation, a respect for knowledge, a balanced and unbiased outlook.
The story goes that after Michael Faraday, an Englishman, had invented the electric motor and dynamo, the Finance Minister of the time visited his laboratory. Looking at both inventions, which were in a rudimentary state then, he asked sarcastically, “All this is very amusing, but what is its use?” Faraday was unruffled. He replied, “Sir, of what use is a newborn baby? It is only after it grows that can we see what he or she is capable of achieving. Similarly, I’m sure 25-30 years from now you will be levying hefty taxes on devices manufactured according to these very principles.” Those were prophetic words. It was from that time that the concept of applicability of scientific principles gained importance.
However, I believe that it is dangerous to use applicability as the main criterion. It is possible that an aspect that seems of no use today may turn out to be extremely useful in future. It is necessary to keep doing science, making observations and conducting experiments. It is also important to interest students in pure science – but for this, the teacher must have the conceptual clarity needed. She should be able to inculcate in students the belief that science can help solve problems.
Science encourages a person to venture out on new roads, but before this can happen it is necessary to do some hard work. The person has to learn to think for herself, and not blindly follow what others say. Science teaches students to think independently. Which means letting them ask questions, and encouraging them to seek answers to their questions rather than spoonfeeding them the answers. Let their brains be exercised, because that is when they will discover the joy of learning
It is not at all necessary to have expensive resources or use complicated terms. Science can be simplified, but for this we need to think and look afresh, out of the box, beyond the textbook. Allow students to experiment. They are brimming with new ideas. Encourage their curiosity about nature. Give them practical work, ask them to do simple experiments and observations. Children get bored with textbooks and diagrams. Their interest in the subject increases by doing practical work. Be open to teaching science and maths in ways that are different from traditional methods. Such new approaches might well bring forth new generations of scientists.
Here is a poem from Uttarakhand, written for schoolchildren. The poem underlines how being curious about everything and solving each mystery through logical thinking is the way to scientific knowledge:
How did our Earth come into being?
Our sun, moon and stars?
Wind and water, all these
Living creatures and plants?
Where do our foods come from?
What keeps us fit?
How are our homes built
And our clothes made?
How do plants feed us?
How does air sustain?
How do our forests keep us
Robust and long-lived?
How do we weigh and measure?
What are speed and motion?
And how, without any visible link
Do we send and get information?
What makes electric bulbs light up?
What makes cars and trains go?
How does solar energy cook food
Without electricity or oil?
Why do clouds burst in the sky
And how does lightning come?
Why does the earth quake
And the land slide down?
To these questions galore
Using step-by-step logic –
That’s what science is for!
Blog: Jayant Phalke, Vidnyanvahini, Pune
translation and editing: samata.shiksha team.
Vidnyanvahini is an organsation that works to spread scientific awareness and knowledge among children in rural areas. For more information contact: 020- 24222127.
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