Thursday, May 11, 2017


or in science for that matter

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any person in possession of a mind should not be wanting in education. There is a lot that is beyond sight and comprehension, a lot that exists and is waiting to be understood and discovered. To an ignorant mind however, the unseen does not exist, and it takes education and specifically science, that systematic study of the world through observation and experiment to achieve understanding and discovery, to change our day to day life.
To the common man in this country that is how it is; for him the unseen does not exist. Most people do not believe in germs, and certainly not vaccinations. A man setting up a biogas plant on his farm was mocked by his workers for his ‘silly foreign ideas’, for thinking that cow dung would light up homes and work pumps. But when the dung water slurry started generating electricity the men lined up for connections. It takes someone willing to reach over ignorance and act in ways that are informed by education, to show in practical terms that yes, such and such thing exists and works, thereby facilitating progress.
But at least these people who do not believe in what they cannot see have the excuse of being illiterate and uninformed. What excuse does the President of the United States, a man apparently educated in one of the most expensive universities in the country, have for his attitude when a few years ago for example he tweeted – as he does – that ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.’ Really? So who is going to reach over the President of the United States and his colleagues who have been handpicked by him, who share his attitude, people at the pinnacle of a great nation – to support science? That is what they are doing all those men and woman carrying some very interesting signs, participating in rallies all around the world, supporting science in an attempt to reach over those ignorant minds to protest against the proposed cut of billions of dollars in funding for scientific research.
People have discovered the power of numbers. Women marched on Washington earlier this year to protest against the new administrations attitude towards women. The rally was a resounding success, with many politicians, academics and celebrities also taking part. Since then similar rallies supporting the same cause have taken place around the world. At an estimate more than 4,000,000 people participated in the US and up to 5 million worldwide. If there is one thing that mobilises politicians it is the prospect of losing votes.
So what excuse does the Pakistani leadership have for not promoting educating, for not providing even a decent level of science in schools in this country? And is it time to threaten to pull votes if this neglect does not end? How many of us, after all, believe in germs?
I have mentioned this before but in my class of students learning spoken English, only one had ever seen a magnifying glass. The one exception again was the only one to have heard of the equator or the poles. Except for two none could say where in relation to Pakistan India was located, and none knew the name of the major river that runs the length of Pakistan. These girls were students of Intermediate to Bachelors, some of them studying science.
It may sound astounding, but the common man in the US is not much better informed. Unfortunately given the level of scientific research in the US, if funding to science is cut off there, the rest of the world will feel the impact. Not funding science in Pakistan, as it is not funded now, impacts upon us and us alone. This does not make the fact any less tragic, it is mentioned only to highlight how little important research is done in this country. As reported in an English daily newspaper, ‘Pakistan was ranked at 131 out of 141 countries in the 2015 report of the Global Innovation Index — which explores the impact of innovation-oriented policies on economic growth and development. This, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology is because of a 1) Low percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for science and development, and 2) low standards of science education in our educational institutions.’
This, in spite of the fact that Pakistan possesses a large number of researchers and Academic Doctors.
It isn’t PhDs we need as much as young students with a strong sense of curiosity, who have been taught to find answers to simple questions by means of observation and research. For this Pakistan needs basic practical teaching of science in schools by teachers who, for want of a better analogy once again, believe in germs themselves.

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