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India - Changing Face Of Science Education: Emphasis On "Hands On Learning" Now!
By:ScienceUtsav <anandscienceutsav@gmail.com>

Science, all along has been about facts of natural phenomena and innovations. In most of the school and college curriculum the same has been dealt through theoretical explanations with very little experimentation. This has also depended a lot on the knowledge base of the faculty and whether they could answer all the curious queries posed by the students. Many of the abstract concepts were taken for granted with very little scope for students to try out and see for themselves. Thus the curious exploring mind of a preschool student developed a disconnect as years rolled by. To retain the zest for science concepts and keep the curious, critical thinking minds ticking hands on learning is a sure bet. In many countries the lack of sufficient high caliber scientists and science faculty could be attributed to not enough exposure to “Hands On Learning”. The situation is changing today.

What is “Hands On Learning?” There are many definitions for this. But the closest would probably be this – Learning concepts by doing something specific. Doing something specific would imply in depth investigation or experiments with materials, phenomena, concepts, processes and drawing conclusions. This surely needs critical thinking and finally,understanding something from the investigations.

Process of “Hands On Learning”

The process is as follows. To start with you should be clear on the concept or hypothesis you intend to try out. Secondly you should have the knowledge of steps that are required to test the concept. Then, you need to see the end of the test or investigation. Finally you have to analyze the results or observations.

To aid this process, in today’s digital age we have a number of tools and aids. One could use materials, toys, computer applications, instruments and digital meters to try out the investigation. There are a number of Web sites too which address this. Science concepts are explained along with step by step procedure of how to apply the same in real life. Thus with information explosion around, students could learn “Hands On” not just in schools and colleges but outside the premises too. In some cases Field trips, visits to museums also aid in observation of some of the phenomena.

Benefits of “Hands On Learning”

“Hands On Learning” is becoming popular today mainly because of the benefits it provides. Some of them are listed below.

• Brings in focus and increases the engagement levels of the students. To do something, implies that more of our senses are at work than just plain listening or reading. Thus with multitasking of the brain, concepts and information get ingrained in us.

• It brings out the teaching skills in you. When you do experiments and need to explain the results of the same to others clearly and legibly you need to have good communication and language skills.

• It helps in improvement of critical thinking skills. When you do an experiment and do not get the intended results it makes you think and analyze. You will need to explain to yourself the whys of phenomena.

• Learning is much more fun when you do things and see the concepts blossom. This is true to the saying “Seeing is Believing”.

• When “Hands On Learning” is a team exercise it makes you learn to approach a problem together. It encourages collaborative learning and one can learn from others too.

“Hands On Learning” facilitators

People who can really make the difference to science education in the country are the science faculty. The teachers at the elementary school level need to inspire the students and should have a sound knowledge of science. This is where the interest of various subjects blossom and the way things are taught and conveyed can get children hooked on to or dislike a subject. Unfortunately not many teachers are trained well enough to provide an inquiring approach.Now many schools are subject to new standards of science where hands-on is integrated along with text book learning.

This combination works like this. The text books address the theory, instructions, working and process of concepts. While trying out the same concepts as investigations or experiments reinforces the concepts. Thus the students could correlate to what is in the textbooks, classroom teaching, discussions and experiments. This kind of learning is much more fun than rote learning and helps in getting concepts into one’s mind quickly. To support this concept the text books should include both the theory and the hands on experimental details. This would include the materials required for the experiment, step by step instruction and the expected observations. Going one step ahead, before a concept is taught the material for the hands on can be given to students so that they can study about it and come back with more curious questions exercising their creative grey cells.

As the students move to middle and high school adequate laboratory exposure is complemented with classroom teaching of concepts which would go a long way in retaining their interest and inquisitive bent of mind. This is true because at this level students are expected to conduct experiments alone and explore things for themselves. We all are also aware that everything is getting digitized now and so internet education to kids has also become a prime necessity.

Associations of science teachers like National Teacher’s Science Congress have given them opportunities to explore better and innovative methods of teaching science to students at school level. The good ideas are selected and imbibed in the school curriculum.

The science education scenario in our country is not as good as in the developed countries. Though the private schools are better off in terms of “Hands On Learning” and innovative teaching methods the Government schools are still lagging behind. For which the Government needs to play a major role as a facilitator. Facilities in terms of adequate infrastructure should be provided in Government schools to enable science experiments. Also the teachers should be imparted with the requisite training to bring in new methods of teaching from time to time. The great Indian scientist C.N.R Rao also says that we have to encourage our students to think unique and be curious and innovative from the beginning.

Finally parents also play a major role in the student’s life today. The urban parents today try to keep the inquiry bent of mind of their children active. They are exposing them to ample opportunities to pursue their interest in science.

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