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The Hindu reports the full text of the Prime Minister’s address to the Indian Science Congress. Excerpts:

I am delighted that the theme of the 98th Science Congress is “Quality Education and Excellence in Science Research in Indian Universities.” I have always believed that a university is the vital link in the chain of science teaching and research. We must never forget that. Unless we strengthen the base of our educational system, we can never hope to extend the height of the pyramid of excellence. We also need to create an innovation eco-system so that innovation becomes a way of life in our knowledge institutions.

As a former university teacher, I am happy that our government in the last six years has tried to pay special attention to the growth and development of our university system. We have sanctioned funds for the creation of new universities and increased the capacity of existing ones. In the past 5 years, the Government has established eight new IITs and five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research to provide high quality education and carry out research in frontier areas of science and technology. An Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research which seeks to produce more than 1,000 doctoral and post graduate fellows every year is being established. I urge our teaching community to strengthen both the teaching and research sides of our University system.

We have to make a concerted effort at building and motivating a new generation of scientific talent. To this end we had launched the INSPIRE or Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research programme and I am very happy that this programme is doing very well. More than 3.5 lakh students in the age group 10-27 years have received awards and scholarships under this innovative scheme.

Whenever I travel abroad I meet bright young people from India doing good science who tell me they look forward to the day they can continue their work back home in India. How do we draw on this talent pool? How do we make our Universities more open to such talent, including for those who seek temporary affiliation? I hope you will deliberate on these issues.

Children are turned off science in school. If you want scientists then improve science teaching in school. How blind must an ex-teacher be to not understand this?

Since I went to college the population of India has more than doubled. Since I sat for my JEE, the number of seats in IIT remained constant until the past three years. This late catching up is what the prime minister is so proud of. The new IITs are still looking for faculty and not finding them. They are looking for quality students and finding only those who learn by rote how to pass the joint entrance exam.

The total number of college and university seats has not increased proportionally with the population. As a result, the fraction of the population which actually goes into university has decreased by a factor of about 2.5. Science departments in universities have shrunk. So the proportion of students doing university level science has probably fallen by a factor of 3.5. Along with bad school teaching, this is killing science in India.

Mr. Singh, build Inspire programs if you wish to grand-stand. But do not claim good governance if you do not train school teachers or increase the number of seats and positions in colleges and universities at least in proportion to the population. As an economist you will ask for the baseline: take the baseline as that midnight when we made our tryst with destiny. The population was then 349 million. Today it is 1170 million. Has the number of seats in colleges, government schools and the total number of teachers risen by a factor of 3.35?

If not, do not come and preach to us, Mr. Prime Minister.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

January 3, 2011 at 5:27 pm

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