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The High School Science Programme

Bal Vaigyanik – an entirely activity based Science curriculum for middle school (classes VI, VII & VIII) – was developed in the 70's with a view to improving the teaching of Science in schools. Almost since the beginning of this project, people had been thinking of extending this approach to high school (classes IX & X) too. The main reason for this being that general education is till class X, children choosing different streams in class XI. So, it was felt that we need to have a holistic Science curriculum which would form the nucleus of what everyone needs to know about not just Science, but its method, nature, history and philosophy too.

When Eklavya got down to this work in 2007, the impetus was provided by the formulation of NCF-2005 and the subsequent text-book writing exercise in NCERT. Though the NCF-2005 and the syllabi and text-books associated with it mark a sea-change in the way school education was perceived and approached in our country, it was still felt that there was considerable room for improvement in the Science syllabus and text-books, especially in high school. At this level, the pressure to include the ‘facts’ of Science combined with an ignorance of the latest research in Science Education resulted in an approach which was only a marginal improvement over the earlier attempts. So Eklavya decided to bring together its resource group once again to create an innovative Science curriculum for this level. This expects to prescribe what should be taught in Science and how it should be taught in classes VI to X, but it was decided to concentrate on the high school classes since no work has been done at that level.

From the beginning it was agreed that this would not be a ‘business as usual’ extension of the Bal Vaigyanik approach to high school. Two things guided this – one was the huge amount of research which had happened after Bal Vaigyanik had been developed in the 70’s and the other was a recognition that a qualitative difference in the mental abilities of the children of this age make it possible and imperative to bring in the formal frameworks of the various disciplines in Science. Bal Vaigyanik was working on developing specific skills among children – the ability to measure, tabulating the data in a meaningful manner, drawing inferences, generalizing, etc. The tacit assumption was that the exact content did not matter, the children could learn to be keen observers whether they were looking at the types of leaves, the effect of acids and bases on different coloured flowers or studying the life cycle of a frog. But a different set of considerations gave focus to the work in high school science.

For one thing, it was felt important to cover some fundamental concepts in Science. The rationale behind this was that most children would not elect to study science after class X, hence whatever they learn upto this stage has to empower them with some basic tools to understand the world around them. A key feature of Science is the process of model-building to explain the patterns and laws that are observed, this results in some very counter-intuitive concepts. Some of the concepts which have changed the manner in which we view the world around us are also important in that they convey the magic of the finding things out, of understanding what is going on; this too is important because we also need to inculcate in children a love for Science so that they are motivated to study pure sciences.

Secondly, we decided to let the latest research in Science Education inform our efforts. Since activity-based Science curricula were first tried out in the US and UK, innumerable studies have been carried out on what and how children learn. And an important point brought out by many of these studies is the fact that children do not unquestioningly imbibe the lessons in the Science class-room, they process all the new information on the basis of what ideas they have already learnt. Hence, they often do not ‘learn’ the concepts that we would like them to learn, and the alternate concepts that they do learn are very resistant to change. Various studies have been carried out on what approaches or methods could impact these alternate concepts and it was decided to try-out various methods to see what works best in each situation.

Thirdly, it was felt that the nature of Science as a method of enquiry and the philosophy of Science should also be conveyed to the students. The nihilism of post-modernism which seems to be taking over many aspects of life could be countered by a healthy dose of positivism! For this, there are many studies that have looked into using the history of Science as a guide to the sequence to be followed in developing various concepts. The aim is to take the history in its entirety, not merely a sanitized version which portrays scientists like Galileo, Newton and Einstein as superhuman beings. The historical approach is also thought to help in countering the alternate conceptions prevalent amongst children since many of the alternate concepts were once current scientific dogma.

With these points in mind, Eklavya’s extended resource group got down to work. The first task was to develop some exemplar material on some concepts. Instead of just critiquing the work done by other agencies, it was felt that we should be able to present alternate approaches which help children to learn better. With this end in view, the resource group selected some concepts which were felt to form the foundations of all modern Science and it was decided to develop stand-alone material for each of these concepts / topics in the form of modules. The topics selected for the first round of work were – Light (Optics), Evolution, The Cell Theory, The Atomic Theory, Motion & Force, Heat & Temperature and Electricity. Other topics like Nutrition and the Periodic Table were also considered, but have been shelved for the time being because of the lack of person-power.

The process of preparing these modules consisted of first circulating a concept note which would then be discussed before the first draft was written. This draft would be tried out during either a teacher training programme or in a workshop with children. The feedback from this would go into reworking the draft. This might be repeated when drastic changes are made in the sequence or approach. Various parts of the module, especially the experiments, would be tried out with students in either formal or informal situations. Testing was also carried out to learn what the children already knew and what their doubts or fallacies were. Once the drafts are finalized, a panel of subject experts would also be consulted as to the factual correctness of the contents.

Of the initial topics chosen, a module on the Cell Theory has been published (in Hindi) and four more (Nature of Matter (the Atomic Theory), Light, Heat & Temperature and Motion & Force Part 1) will be published shortly. Each of these modules takes a slightly different approach to the treatment of the subject matter as we are at this stage trying out various ideas. This is also an acknowledgement of the fact that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the issues in Science pedagogy.

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