|Volume 6 | Issue 09 | September 2012 ||
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?
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
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
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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