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Volume 6 | Issue 09 | September 2012 |


Original Forum

The Blunder Game
-- Shakhawat Liton
Why Police are more Equal in Bangladesh
-- Rifat Munim
Do we have an Independent Judiciary?
-- Dr. Zahidul Islam Biswas
The Grameen Saga: A Nation's Bank of Pride
-- Reaz Ahmad
The Rail Solution
-- Asjadul Kibria

Photo Feature

In a Different World

Popularising Science Education
-- Mohammad Kaykobad

Enabling Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

-- Susan Davis

Rape in 1971 -- an Act of Genocide

-- Buddhadeb Halder

The Madness that is Cinema
-- Kajalie Shehreen Islam
When country overwhelms city
-- Seema Nusrat Amin
Chile 1973, End of a Dream
-- Syed Badrul Ahsan


Forum Home

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Popularising Science Education

MOHAMMAD KAYKOBAD stresses the need for reinvigorating science education and seeks out ways to make it more popular amongst students as well as guardians.

Scientists and engineers have played significant roles in creating the civilization of the present day from those of ancient times when human beings could not establish their superiority over other species. Nevertheless, it does not appear that our society is yet ready to recognise the hard work that knowledge workers put together to create a better world for us. Ease of life and societal recognition do not appear to be enjoyed by those who work so hard to discover the truth of Nature and utilise it to the benefit of mankind. Even then, each branch of science and technology is fathomed, new branches are created by the scientists and engineers that are not as much recognised as workers of other fields. Yet, we need many dedicated brilliant souls to work in many different fields and in their still greater number of intersections. Never before did human civilisation face a situation where it needed more knowledge workers than now. But unfortunately leaders of civilisation do not seem to be appreciative of the need of development of science and technology for the civilisation to prosper. This era has become too much market oriented with commitment and dedication being replaced by market economy. Our bright students with praiseworthy aptitude in physics, chemistry, mathematics and other branches of science and technology are opting for education in other branches only because now opportunities in those branches have broadened too much for them to take their eyes away and stick to the field they have proven their aptitude in. The society seems to have lost its grip to ensure its own survival and enrichment. However, responsibility of this self-destruction should not only be borne by the leaders of the society, it will also lie on the shoulders of knowledge workers who are failing to convince the society of their usefulness for the survival of the civilisation.

We know sports and entertainment are very popular in our society of homo sapiens, be it very brutal like wrestling, boxing or Spanish style bull fighting (corrida de toros), although we are supposed to excel in other capacities especially in our brain power and not necessarily in our brutal power or strength. A sportsman of the highest order of popularity, say in football, is appreciated and awarded by our society with a sum of some 100 million euros at the age of thirty, whereas a grey haired knowledge seeker is appreciated with an award of million dollars at the age of 60 or later!!! Can this difference in recognition be logically established? There are hundreds of the highest achievers in science and technology who are recognised for their achievement by Nobel prizes at a much later stage of their life, when these earthly awards could hardly be enjoyable. Commitment of science workers/educationists can be hardly exaggerated although they remain sufficiently ignored by the society. Dr Haim Ginott once rightly phrased, “Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times, they accomplish this impossible task.” And recognition of these committed efforts by the society has been well spelled out by Evan Esar in the following statement, “America believes in education: the average professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in a whole week.” While ordinary people may fail to appreciate the achievements in science and technology, should the leaders follow the footprint of the popular trends or come forward to save humanity by appreciating the scientific feats and encourage others in the field?

What is wrong?
In no case should popularity be the only consideration for degree of appreciation or recognition. The need of civilization, its priority should also be addressed for our survival. However, at the same time academicians have immeasurably failed to play their role in motivating due appreciation of the society for knowledge works. In fact, can we confidently say that science is popular among science students and science workers? Could we be confident that the best student in physics would prefer association of a Nobel laureate in physics to that of a well-known entertainer? If the words physics and scientist are replaced by corresponding entities of entertainment or sports, would there be any doubt in the answer to this question? So we have to address the problem of making science events popular among science students and scientists, at least as popular as entertainment or sports. So far we have failed to do so. This has resulted in making it difficult to organise science events due to the absence of sponsorship even from technology-driven companies who would prefer spending their money in areas other than science.


Science exhibitions and science week events appear much more thrilling for students with the presence of an entertainer or sportsman and not with the presence of a scientist. Students and young people, who will be earning their livelihood in the name of science, find sports people and entertainers more attractive than people who excelled in this area. This has resulted not because these young people have wrong attitude, but because the whole society has been ignoring science workers to a level that it is extremely difficult to imagine that knowledge workers could be role model for young people. Scientists are often recognised at the national level with medals that possibly may not have any monetary value, although we do not fail to recognise best cooks or even pickle makers with sizable cash prizes, as we do to accomplishments in non-academic fields. It seems society feels scientists are priests, and should be happy with occasionally receiving flowers without fragrance and do not have any earthly needs to fulfill whereas achievers of any other field should be worshipped with flowers of fragrance.

What is to be done
Sports organisers and people in entertainment are highly successful in popularising their events amongst the common mass. Undoubtedly these forms of entertainment are easily appreciated by people of all strata. Involvement of large sums of money also contributes to its popularity. If the football and cricket players had received 100 times less money than they are getting now, these events would have lost significant amount of its glamour, and possibly would not have received popularity of this degree. If winning Wimbledon title is a feat that can be recognised by giving a prize money of a million pounds, how much should the winning team of ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC)? Is the later a lesser feat than the former one? In cricket, even cracking a board placed out of the field by a flying ball is rewarded with monetary prizes. Organisers of games and entertainment programmes are very successful in attracting CEOs of large enterprises to perform their corporate social responsibilities through promoting and sponsoring their events.

Academic administrators should also be able to inspire and convince knowledgeable CEOs to invest their resources towards academic events like Olympiads, programming contests and other events that will sharpen and enrich the skills of young people. Personalities like Alfred Nobel (Nobel Prize) and John Charles Fields (Field's medal) have done it. When some problems remained unsolved, different scientific societies offered lucrative prizes. In the year 2000, Clay Mathematics Institute formulated Millennium problems and offered million dollars for a solution to each problem. Very soon the great Grigorii Perelman resolved one of those long standing problems named Poincare conjecture, although he was too discontented to accept the prize. In order to arouse interest in the common mass, events around these academic activities should be publicised in all possible media -- both electronic and printing. Moreover, interesting statistics related to these events should be made easily available to concerned people as sporting statistics are. Much publicised and well rewarded competitions go a long way to inspire youngsters achieve excellence in skills.

While universities of Bangladesh are unable to make their mark in any honourable list of best universities of the world, it is popular competition that has resulted in our students participating in ACM ICPC World Finals with BUET participating in 15 consecutive years with reasonable performance, where 50 to 100 teams from all over the world participate. Not only that, we have five more universities whose teams made it to the top 100 whereas our universities cannot make it into the list of top 1000. While there is no competition for excellence among our universities, there are regular programming contests that are inspiring the best of all universities. The same is true for our students participating in International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) for a decade. While we cannot proudly announce the excellence of our education system, young students are developing their analytical skill to do reasonably well in the level of IMO, earning medals every year. Also, in the highly publicised programming contests among university students in Bangladesh, we are giving birth to a school team every year. In 2005, a college team consisting of members from Notre Dame and Rajshahi New Degree Colleges beat all university teams although programming is not seriously taught at the pre-university level. This simply says how cost-effective a popular academic competition could be in developing skills among our young students. Moreover, in Bangladesh, these competitions have been popular among the common people too.

Events around academic activities
So if we want academic events to gain popularity, we must create events around it. For example, ICPC was first televised at Stockholm creating a lot of thrill. At first, the solution of a particular problem was awarded. In this way, the fastest solution time can also be awarded. Once upon a time it was difficult to believe that common people will be watching something as boring as mental sport, for example, chess. Fortunately, even this sport, with its insignificant body movements could be made popular by televising it. Academic competitions should be opened for public enjoyment without first taking it for granted that there will be no interest among common people. Olympiads and programming contests should be publicised in mass media to attract the attention of the common people so that they can appreciate commendable aptitudes of contestants in these events. International Olympiad in Informatics, International Physics Olympiad, International Mathematics Olympiad should be shown on TV to inspire young people and find out the heroes of these prestigious events. Achievements in this area should be duly recognised and rewarded to inspire young people's interest in aptitude and skill building. Leaders and enthusiasts of programming contests had to survive the ignorance of the results of International Olympiad in Informatics until IOI 2010 organisers decided to come in favour of spectators and made a scoreboard available for them in the same spirit as it is being done in ICPC World Finals. I am sure it was enjoyable for the well-wishers of programming contests. How can a game be played with both spectators and players without being informed of the results? We should begin to think how excellence in all our academic activities can be enjoyed, not only by people of the particular field but by people from all backgrounds.


We must find ways and means to bring academic competitions to the common people, arouse their interest in these competitions and possibly make all sorts of statistics available, especially to young people in order to create avenues for them to excel in their knowledge. Just as schools celebrate sports days every year, we can arrange annual co-curricular days in which we can find our math and computer wizards. We should look for support from the mass media so that information of academic events gain popularity, achievers get better visibility in our society and the future generation does not opt for other areas of activities whence they have the required aptitude. Leaders of our nations should be convinced of the usefulness of duly recognising scientific feats and adequately rewarding them so that science and technology are not thought of as neglected areas of human endeavour.

Mohammad Kaykobad is a professor of CSE Department at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and one of the pioneers who introduced Mathematics Olympiad, Informatics Olympiad and Science Olympiad in Bangladesh.

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