Revival of science subjects

Though the education environment is getting improved in the country, courtesy the classified institutions, yet the students interest towards science subjects is comparatively below the required mark. Surveys show that school students in India see science as the most prestigious and glamorous career to pursue. For them Einstein, Stephen Hawking, black holes and genes is the way to go. Although most students eventually opt for more normal professions, yet sufficient numbers persist and some eventually rank among the worlds better scientists; which has been key to Indias emergence as a rising state. A good part of the answer comes from looking at our locally-authored science textbooks. Although a dysfunctional exams system and unskilled science teachers are also blameworthy, poor textbooks are especially debilitating in a culture where the written word is considered virtually unchallengeable. It has been observed that Urdu titles are even more unattractive than their English counterparts. All were produced by the Punjab and Sindh textbook boards. In fact, the books reflect an attitude that science is to be taught no differently from geography or history. The weakest parts of the books are the chapter-end questions and exercises as this is a useless memory-recall drill. The authors do not know that the essence of science is problem-solving, and that good scientific training builds a students capacity to internalize newly-learnt principles by applying them to problems whose answers are yet unknown. In contrast, foreign-authored O-level books – used only by a tiny sliver of upscale Pakistani schools – usually do have good questions. As a good step, there are newer textbooks that have lesser conceptual and spelling mistakes. Also, with time, better printing and use of colour illustrations are more common. But, as before, a jumble of facts bundled together cannot spark the imagination of young minds. As a solution we need to adopt and use good science books. Elite O-level schools use books chosen from the most successful ones published internationally. Surely matric-level schools can be made to do the same after the books are properly adapted. Quality alone should matter, not where the author comes from. Pakistanis must admit that locally written textbooks are nowhere as good as foreign ones, and decide to use the very best ones available anywhere. The argument against their import holds no ground as we use medicines and computers invented by outsiders, fly in their planes, and use their mobile phones. False pride and misplaced beliefs must be set aside. Eating humble pie is never easy, but surely this is a small price to pay for having scientifically smart nation in the future.

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