A fellow Redditor recently posted this video which made me laugh a little and weep a lot
This by no means is a scientific survey but it does follow expectations. There have been very few assessments of science literacy in India, but a notable one in 2004 found that India lagged behind the US in almost all basic scientific questions asked. The survey also found that 65% of the respondents get their science-related information from television and only ~10% read about it in newspaper/books/magazines (Internet was not ubiquitously available back in 2004). This trend is different from that in the US – where people get their science dose from magazines and books. Not surprisingly, most people prefer entertainment, sports, politics and news while only 2% of the people preferred/actively sought out science-related information. Very few people know about existence of science fairs, scientific research institutes, planetariums etc. in their communities.
Sadly, the study points out that at middle-school level, just 22% of the students preferred going into science-related fields. This proportion dropped down to 13% at 11th and 12th standard. This drop corresponds to an equivalent increase in students wanting to pursue commerce and arts. The 11th and 12th standard students say that the primary reason for them not pursuing science is that “they are just not interested”. When asked why they were not interested, they said it was because “they didnt feel motivated enough” or “they didn’t understand the matter being taught”
Not surprisingly, in an international test of assessment of school children’s reading, math and science skills, India ranked 73rd out of 74 countries (74th was Kyrgyzstan). On an average, 8th standard students in India (TN and HP participated, but results can be generalized I think) were comparable to 3rd standard students in Korea in terms of their math skills. Even the best of our students (top 5% of all tested students) were 100 points behind an average child in Singapore and 250 points behind the best of all students tested. On an average, 40 points correspond to one grade (one standard of school years). This means our best students are almost eight standards behind the best students in the world!!! (More about PISA here: Arvind’s World)
All of these indicators suggest that we need to go a long, long way to increase scientific awareness in India. Most people are not interested in science. If this is the attitude, our country can have little innovation.
However, there is a glimmer of hope. Almost 80% of Indians feel that science is really important, it is critical for human progress and that we need to invest more in science. More educated a person, the more likely is he to say that science is important. We need to take advantage of this fact and make sure that our young citizens are being inculcated with scientific values and principles right from their early school years!
The School Kit Donation Drive is an interesting and innovative initiative by the people at Seva Sahayog, an NGO based in Mumbai and Pune. Many NGOs are small in size and do not have sufficient manpower or experience in fundraising. However, they do really important work, which, if it becomes more well-known, can surely attract funding from big donors. Seva Sahayog works towards connecting such smaller NGOs to corporate institutions of similar interests. Beneficiaries of Seva Sahayog’s activities include NGOs like Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Pratishthan, which is working for development of nomadic tribes in interior Maharashtra and Chaitanya Mahila Mandal, which is working for bettering the lives of sex workers in Pune.
One of Seva Sahayog’s biggest initiative is the School Kit Donation Drive. In India, almost 300 million people live on <$1/day. The density of the poor is higher in bigger cities due to the massive amount of poor, migrant labor, much of which lives in slums and poorly managed neighborhoods. Children who live in such neighborhoods rarely get access to education. One of the frequent complaints is that, despite all the government subsidies, education is too expensive. Buying uniforms, buying school books, investing time towards studies, lack of a quiet place for studying are all barriers that children from slums face. It is not surprising then, that the drop out rate in primary schools in India is 20%. 1 in 5 children just cannot afford even primary level education!
There are several NGOs working towards tacking these problems. For example, Swaroop Wardinee is an NGO based in Pune working towards identifying talent in slums. There are NGOs based in Mumbai working towards educating children who live on railway platforms and bus stations. Astitva Pratishthan, for example, runs educational programs for children of laborers who work in Sugarcane plantations in Marathwada district of Maharashtra.
Since 2008, Seva Sahayog started this initiative of distribution of school kits to children targeted by such institutions. Each school kit includes a school bag, some notebooks, a geometry compass and a drawing book. Volunteers of Seva Sahayog approach various corporate bodies as well as collect donations from individuals. Only 250 rupees can give one needy child a school kit and ensure his education for one more year. In 2011, more than 25,000 school kits were donated to children in Mumbai and Pune.
All of you reading this post have been fortunate enough to be educated. We understand the value of education and its importance not only in our own personal development but also in the development of our country. I hope you will click the link below and donate as much as you can towards making this initiative successful and helping it reach out to more children.
According the 2011 Census, India’s population is 1.2 billion – one sixth of the world’s humanity. By 2050, India’s population will be 1.6 billion, surpassing that of China. Keeping these 1.6 billion people happy is a monumental challenge. If the unemployment rate in 2050 remains the same as today – at 10% – there will be 160 million unemployed people in India. That is more than the current population of Russia! To satisfy this ocean of humanity, India will have to not only create jobs in current sectors of the economy but also create new sectors, allow for development and propagation of new ideas and create social change that trickles down to the bottom of the pyramid. Now, people can throw in all sort of indices, talk about the rising GDP of India and increasing market capitalization to suggest that India is progressing. But all of this is unsustainable if the society becomes chaotic. The big question before the country is – how do we maintain peace and stability in the country 50 years from now?
The most fundamental solution to this conundrum is education for the masses. Successive governments in India have recognized this problem and that is why we have a National Literacy Mission and Sarvya Shiksha Abhiyan in place since 1988 and 2001 respectively. The Sarvya Shiksha Abhiyan is targeted towards primary education (6-14 age group) and intends to get the ~200 million children in India to go to some sort of a school. The aim of the NLM program is to impart functional literacy to all non-literate persons in 15-35 age group, where “functional literacy” is a key word. Functional literacy means being able to read, write and calculate and being aware of the civic society around. With this definition and through these initiatives, functional literacy in India has reached up to 74% – 65% for females and 82% for males – from 12% in 1947. NLM claims that 120 million people have been made literate since the program started. Innovative concepts like Ekal Vidyalayhave also contributed to children going to schools, especially in rural parts of India.
However, the question is, are these efforts sufficient? Despite spectacular progresses, India still has the largest population of illiterates in the world. Estimates suggest that the rate of growth of literacy is sluggish and that if the same rate continues, India will take another half a century to be fully functionally literate. Again, remember that all these statistics talk only about functional literacy. In a survey of 16,000 villages, an NGO found that 60% of the school going children were unable to perform simple division. The dropout rates even in primary school are high – around 20%. were Despite obtaining school-level education, studies indicate that more than 80% of the children do not go on to attend college. Of those that attend college, over 70% are unemployable. It is no surprise that Indian students perform poorly in nearly all international indicators of education quality.
In a few decades, the competition for resources in India will start getting more acute. There will arise individuals who will begin to take advantage of peoples’ pains and use them for electoral/monetary gains. Not that such individuals dont exist now, but the conflict will only grow in the coming decades. What we’d need is enlightened leaders – not just one or two but in hundreds of thousands. We’ll need leaders with vision and zeal. Creating such leaders is rarely possible without good education. So while the goals of the Sarvya Shiksha Abhiyan and NLM are noble and should be continued, it is absolutely important to create systems where the leaders of tomorrow will thrive and grow. We need an education system that not only educates the masses but also elevates the masses.
India has a rich cultural tradition extending back over three millenia. Given the multitude of species found in the nook and corners of the country, the Indian cultural tradition has a heavy dose of biodiversity deeply embedded in it. Examples of such associations abound – from Lord Ganesha having a mouse as his vehicle to basil being worshipped as Goddess Tulsi. Such stories are being forgotten and lost in the fast-paced world of today. The problem is more acute for the tablet-totting, television-hooked generation of today. Question is, in what way can we effectively deliver these stories to the children of today?
Muriel Kakani, a Belgian national living in India for the past 20 years, has been trying to do just that through her website Ecology for Childrenand a number of children’s books she has written. Muriel believes that the Indian lifestyle and cultural traditions are most well suited for environmental conservation. From maintaining agricultural biodiversity in fields through traditional farming methods to protecting trees by setting aside sacred trees and groves, Indians have been engaging in eco-friendly practices for the past several thousand years. Muriel tries to tell such stories through her books geared towards children.
In one of her stories, the The Honey Gatherers of Sunderbans, Muriel teaches the value of respecting Mother Nature while taking benefits from her. The story, told rather succinctly and in an engrossing manner, explains the pitfalls of exploiting Mother Nature while forgetting the need to do our bit towards its protection. Even though the story is told in a manner understandable to children, such stories hold valuable lessons for even the adults of today.
Muriel says on her website that “Love and empathic feelings are the greatest stimulant to the will…Feelings are more important than facts when talking about saving the Earth, preserving the environment and ecology.” I whole-heartedly agree with that approach. I also believe that feelings, coupled with knowledge, can be the most potent agent for change in this world!
For more information about Muriel’s work, check out the website and her project Ecology for Children.