360° Analysis

India’s 21st Century Challenge: Scientific Education


June 01, 2013 07:09 EDT

Economists agree that a country with a knowledge-based economy will take global leadership in the future. However, will India participate in the global competition and be a serious contender?

The Indian economy, amid a global slowdown, is likely to grow by about 6% in 2013-14. However, if India wants to become a developed nation, it has to pursue scientific research.

Take the iPod for example, a product developed by Apple, an American company, but manufactured in China. The manufacturer in China receives about $4 out of the sales price of $299. The other $295 goes to component suppliers and product developers in the United States.

The country that holds patent-rights and develops global brands benefits most. If India wants to become a developed nation and compete with China and the United States, it must develop global brands. The first step in this direction is scientific research.

Indian Universities

Development in science and research is rooted in university-level science courses, such as physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology. Unfortunately, the educational practices in an average Indian university can be described as follows:

  • This is the syllabus, and these many theories are to be memorized. Please refer to the test papers from the last five years to get an idea of possible questions.
  • Reading material can be obtained from the seniors (however, some "helpful" faculty members will dictate notes to students in classrooms).
  • Drill and practice are the keys for success, so practice writing theories once, twice, thrice, and so on. Once you are able to reproduce theories as in the “reading material,” your first-class is confirmed, possibly with a gold medal.
  • If you perform below expectations, you failed to commit sufficient efforts, or wrongly played “the option” card. (University examinations often give optional questions with instructions such as, “Answer any 3 out of 5 questions.” So, it is possible that a student has not studied the entire syllabus and still gets high score. Students often strategize what not to study and leave out subject-content in “option”.)

This method may efficiently produce trainers (who identify themselves as “teachers”), who can pass on their memorization techniques to the younger generation, but it cannot produce scientists and researchers. The reason exceptions exist in India is either students’ strong intrinsic motivation for learning or the presence of a dedicated faculty member. Given the absence of a research culture, it is not surprising that Indian universities hardly appear on the list of the top 500 universities of the world. In consequence of this educational practice, India has not yet participated in the global competition of science and research.

According to UNESCO’s 2012 Science Report, India’s contribution to world research publications is only 3.7 percent, whereas China’s contribution is 10.6 percent and the United States’ is  27.7 percent. India’s share of global patents is only 0.5 percent (USPTO patents) and 0.2 percent (Triadic patents), whereas China’s share is 4.7 percent (USPTO) and 0.5 percent (Triadic) and the US’ share is 52.2 percent (USPTO) and 41.8 percent (Triadic). Though India almost doubled its research publications between 2002 and 2008, its progress is overshadowed by China, whose publications nearly tripled.

Table 1: Scientific Publications in India and China

Resource: UNESCO Science Report 2010

Almost 16 percent of the world’s population resides in India. However, only about 2 percent of the world’s scientific researchers are Indian citizens. In addition, India has only 137 scientific researchers per million people, compared to 1,070 in China, 4,663 in the US and 5,573 in Japan.

Indian policymakers ought to finalize the aims of science education at the university level. If Indian students are expected to matriculate to research centers upon completion of their graduate studies and  contribute to research projects, they must have had opportunities to develop required knowledge and skills at university. Graduate studies must nurture scientific thinking and working patterns.

Economists agree that a country with a knowledge-based economy will take global leadership in the future. The heart of “Knowledge Economy” is progress in science and research. The US, EU, and East Asia are far ahead and still firmly marching forward in that direction. Will India participate in the global competition and be a serious contender?

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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