While India invested 0.88 per cent of its GDP in science research, the US invested 7-8 per cent, and South Korea 3-4 per cent.
The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) report titled “Whither Science Education in Indian Colleges?” shows that India, with one of the lowest R&D spend-to-GDP ratios, is also expending resources on areas that have a weak connection to industry, thereby missing out on opportunities for economic growth.
“More than a quarter of (India’s) R&D investment goes towards basic research, against 5 per cent in China and 17 per cent in the United States,” the report states.
There are other fundamental reasons, too, why science is ailing. ORF chairman Sudheendra Kulkarni said the “tight equation between a degree certificate and education has created several distortions, both in society and in the system of education itself”. He said it has placed a disproportionate emphasis on standardized examinations and students’ ability to score well in them.
“Memorization of facts and formulae has triumphed over mastery of concepts, independent and creative thinking, integrative thinking that connects understanding of different subjects, and ability to apply that understanding to solve practical problems of society.”
Science has also been solitary; ancient India did not erect a wall between science and art, or between science and spirituality. But science curricula at the undergraduate level tends to be highly theoretical and very dense in content. This poses two problems. “Theory is prioritized over application and time constraints do not allow teachers to explore all concepts, in depth.
As a consequence, students are frequently exposed to many concepts but fail to understand them in depth and explore their application. This structure results in ‘teach more and learn less’, when ideally it should be the other way around,” the report said.
The authors — Catarina Correia, Leena Chandran-Wadia, Radha Viswanathan and Adithi Muralidhar — conclude that India is facing two kinds of disconnect: a formal science education pedagogy in colleges that is too theory-based and is disconnected from the practical world; and a large workforce in the informal sector of the economy whose practice is disconnected from science education.
Despite a large tertiary student population, India has not been able to increase the number of PhDs in science and engineering significantly (from 54 per 10 million in 1983 to 70 in 2004). China, which lagged India until a decade ago, now has 174 science and engineering PhDs per 10 million.
The SAC-PM Vision Document (2010) that lays the roadmap for India to become the “global leader in science” calls for a target of producing 30,000 per year by 2025, as against 8,286 PhDs (S&T, agriculture, medicine, veterinary) produced in 2013.