09 August, 2008

Teachers - You are Important

9 Aug 2008, 0511 hrs IST, Ashish Tripathi,TNN

LUCKNOW: For R A Mashelkar, the man who played a pivotal role in framing India's science and technology policy in the post liberalisation era as director general of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), shortage of teachers in educational institutions is the biggest crisis the country is facing today.

"India takes pride in having the youngest population in the world, which it expects will make the country most advanced in the world by 2020. But, this demographic advantage will become a liability if we fail to address the fundamental issue of creating committed teachers to convert this huge human resource into a skilled manpower to drive the engine of the growth," he said.

In the city to take part in the Lucknow Management Association's programme in which he would be addressing students on "shaping their minds", Mashelkar, in an exclusive talk with TOI on Friday evening admitted that there is an acute shortage of qualified and dedicated teachers in schools and colleges who can inspire and act as role models for the young generation.

"Whatever I have achieved today, it is because of my teacher," he said recalling his school days. "I came from a poor family and went to a poor school. One day our school principal Bhawe, who was also our science teacher showed us how a piece of paper can be burnt by converging Sun rays through a convex lens. "After the experiment, he told me that anything can be achieved by focusing our energies on a point," he said adding "that day I learnt the philosophy of life and decided that I have to become a scientist."

But the next moment his smiling face turned grim... "but Bhawes are nowhere to be found today," he said.

Mashelkar lauded government for expanding education facilities in the country but said "simultaneously we also need to create teachers". "Of course, this would require making teaching profession more attractive. But money is not the only criterion. One lifetime achievement award to one teacher among thousands is not enough. We need to address their psychological and professional needs. Give them opportunity to enhance their knowledge and bring them at the frontier," he said.

When asked if he had any specific suggestions, Mashelkar said that apart from providing good living conditions to the teachers, we need to provide them support system such as connectivity, computers, research material and trips abroad for attending conferences among other things for effective teaching. However, he said, the irony is that teaching profession is no longer being given its due respect in the society.

Mashelkar said that India has three Ds - democracy, demography and diversity -which provide it an edge over other countries, particularly China. "Democracy provides necessary environment for innovation, demography (55% per cent population below 25% years) has given us work force required to take the country forward and diversity (culturally and geographically) nourishes creativity through exchange of ideas and mixing of cultures," he said.

The former CSIR director general was also of the view that apart from teaching, Indian universities also needs to excel in research. "Teaching without research is of little use," he said pointing out that India is not producing required number of PhD scholars. However, he also had a solution. "We need close association between all national labs with universities. This will not only help in teaching but also help us create more research scholars," he said adding "Over 5000 scientists working in CSIR labs today can produce at least 2000 PhDs in an year." He also expressed satisfaction over the fact that the move of granting deemed university status to CSIR labs, the proposal mooted by him few years back, has now been revived by the University Grants Commission.

Mashelkar said that India has achieved a lot in the field of information technology (IT) but the areas like biotechnology, which has huge potential in the country because of rich bio and genetic diversity, needed to be pursued vigorously. "The biotechnology sector is growing at the rate of 40% in the world and this year it is expected to cross 2.5 billion dollar mark," he said.

Mashelkar as director general of the CSIR labs not only created a national movement on intellectual property rights but his efforts also led to recognition of the role of traditional knowledge systems and integrating them with modern knowledge systems. He successfully spearheaded the campaigns for revocation of the US patents on wound healing properties of turmeric and Basmati rice.

Reacting to the general perception that innovations and discoveries made in national labs do not produce commercial gains, Mashelkar said that it is a misconception that every idea gets commercialised.

"World over on an average one of over 300 ideas is commercialised," he said adding "IBM created 2,000 patterns last year, of which only one or two got commercialised."

Regarding development of scientific and technological sector in the country, Mashelkar said that PPP model (public-private-partnership) is the key to future growth. He pointed out that the PPP model today contributes 70% of research in the world. "The new tuberculosis drug on trials at present which is expected to reduce the treatment period to two months, the bio-refinery which produces material from sugarcane waste, mobile computers at affordable prices are few success stories of PPP model in India," he said.