Of Mars, Robots and Protons

STEM education

[L-R: Moumita Dutta, Osama Manzar, Kumar Anurag Pratap, Nagarjuna G]

On March 1st, Asia Society India Centre hosted a panel discussion on the importance of STEM education in India, and how it can be reformed to allow for greater innovation and creativity. The panel featured Moumita Dutta, Space Scientist at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Osama Manzar, Founder at the Digital Empowerment Foundation, Kumar Anurag Pratap, Head-CSR at Capgemini India and Nagarjuna G, Professor at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR.

The programme began with each speaker sharing their thoughts on STEM education, and giving a brief look into the work they do. Professor Nagarjuna started things off by stressing how there is an immediate need to reform STEM education in India. He mentioned how in India, there is a focus on “reading science” over “doing science”, essentially conveying that there is more need for immersive learning in order to nurture creativity and innovation. Manzar argued why he doesn’t believe in the traditional system of education and the need for creating an ecosystem that enables lifelong learning. Digital and oral mediums have to be encouraged as methods of learning, instead of just sticking to the erstwhile system of written learning, as in schools. Pratap’s arguments differed from Nagarjuna and Manzar as he stressed on the importance of reforming the schooling system intrinsically by providing basic necessities and fixing infrastructure. Unlike Manzar’s strong focus on rethinking the entire schooling system, Pratap’s emphasis is on making government schools competitive with their private counterparts. Dutta shared her experiences working on some of the most exciting ISRO projects, including the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) to share how the recent successes of ISRO are igniting an interest in space science, engineering and robotics among the youth.

In the discussion that followed, all panellists agreed that the current system of STEM education has to be reformed, but differed in the methods to bring about the change. Manzar is in favour of rethinking schooling and putting into effect a system that nurtures learning through doing--such as Makers’ Spaces, and other such innovative approaches. Pratap stressed the importance of training teachers and improving the quality of education that is already provided. He further added that it is the process of schooling that has to be enriched in order to encourage creativity and innovation. By making then process more enjoyable, more students will find their interest in STEM fields. Our panellists also pointed out how a lot of the learning in professions happen on the job, and that such kind of training is crucial to learning, over just studying written material repeatedly.

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