An exclusive interview with Padma Bhushan, Dr Pushpa M Bhargava, on the importance of logical and rational thinking for children.
By Christine Machado and Gokul Chandrasekar
It is the duty of every Indian citizen ‘to develop scientific temper’, according to the Constitution of India.
What is scientific temper? And why is it important for parents and educationists to teach children this concept?
Scientific temper refers to an attitude of logical and rational thinking. An individual is considered to have scientific temper if he employs a scientific method of decision-making in everyday life. The term was coined by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in his book 'The Discovery of India'.
Nehru believed that scientific temper would play a crucial role in the nation’s socio-economic development. The government at that period adopted various measures to inculcate scientific temper in a society ridden with superstitions and social evils like female infanticide and sati.
As India observes National Science Day on 28 February, ParentCircle caught up with eminent scientist and Padma Bhushan award winner, Dr Pushpa M Bhargava, to discuss the importance of inculcating scientific temper in children. Dr Bhargava is the Founder-Director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad, and Chairman of the Southern Regional Centre of the Council for Social Development.
PC: You were one of the founders of the Society for Scientific Temper. What is the current scene regarding scientific temper in our country?
PMB: It looks very poor. According to Article 51 (A) sub section-H of the Indian Constitution, every citizen is obligated to develop scientific temper; but this is not put into practice. Not just the general public, even the scientists and the government have ignored this concept. In the medical sector, for example, there are a large number of irrational systems. Homeopathy, which thousands of people believe in, is completely unscientific and irrational!
PC: What do you think can be done to improve scientific temper in our country?
PMB: We must make people understand the method that science uses to acquire knowledge. Superstitions and irrational beliefs are widespread in India and can be removed only by creating awareness among children about the lack of logic and reason in such beliefs. The process of creating such awareness should begin at home and continue in school. Unfortunately, this does not happen in India.
As a result we see many illogical decisions being taken. For instance, in Hyderabad, the Chief Minister wanted to move to a new secretariat for reasons pertaining to Vaastu and numerology. I think it is a tremendous waste of public money! So, as I said, we need to fight these superstitions and irrational beliefs at all levels.
PC: How can we try to inculcate scientific beliefs and rationality in children?
PMB: Right from the very beginning they should be educated to avoid superstitions and irrational beliefs. They should be taught to analyse and deal with superstition on a scientific basis.
In my family, my parents were not superstitious; therefore, none of us siblings is superstitious. Teaching scientific methods of thinking doesn’t take much time and should be a part of the school curriculum.
PC: Do you think a future generation of higher rational thought and scientific temper is possible? How do we achieve that?
PMB: In some ways, it is happening. There are organisations like the Karnataka Rajya Vijnana Parishat and the Jana Vignana Vedika in Andhra Pradesh which have hundreds of thousands of members spreading scientific temper. There are organisations all over the country like the Paschim Banga Vigyan Mancha and Marathi Vidnyan Parishad which are doing very well. They are making every effort to spread scientific temper. Being connected with all these organisations, I can say with confidence that they are doing very good work.
PC: What are the challenges that these organisations face?
PMB: People question them. They have to give convincing answers that are reasonable and logical. For example, people argue about the importance of Vaastu which figures in the ancient Indian texts. But the fact remains that what is written in books is not always the truth. So these organisations spread awareness about the fact that though concepts like Vaastu are followed around the world, there is no proof of how these concepts make people happy.
PC: Has the government been supportive of science education and research over the years?
PMB: All governments, irrespective of the ruling party, have supported science education in some way or the other. The present government has shown support in areas like space research and biotechnology.
PC: What reforms would you recommend in the field of science education in India?
PMB: As I said, children must be taught the 'method of science' which hasn't happened though it has been debated about for the last 20 years.
Also, we need to change our school system and have a common system of education like in the USA. Education in all developed countries is funded by the government with minimal privatisation. In India, there are a large number of schools that are purely commercial in nature. That’s the problem. Education, in our country, is unfortunately an item to be sold. It is not so elsewhere.
Note: The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the interviewee.
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