The 'Curious' Case of STEM education in Assam

Jahnabi Sarma State Consultant, Pedagogy & Quality Improvement, Samagra Siksha, Assam

"I am among one who thinks science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician; he is also a child place before natural phenomenon, which impress him like a fairy tale."
-By Marie Curie
Most children have a favourite question- "Why?" which encourages their inherent curiosity about the world and teaches them how to find answers for themselves and makes science engaging and exciting for them. After all, much of science is concerned with the question of "why”- What causes a caterpillar to transform into a chrysalis? Veins are found in leaves for a reason. Why do some paper planes fly higher and others lower?
Kids can hone their observation abilities and learn to formulate and test hypotheses to find answers, much like scientists. Everywhere we look, science is present. Everything you touch, feel, or see provides you with the opportunity to ask yourself questions like "why?" "how?" and "where?". This, in turn, encourages our children to be curious and seek out new information. Why is the world spherical? What is the purpose of time? What is the significance of death? We may not know the answers to these questions, but our child and we can figure it out together.
According to Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development, children go through four stages of mental growth. His theory is concerned with not only how children gain knowledge but also with the nature of intelligence. The stages of Piaget's development are as follows:

  1. Sensorimotor stage: from birth to age two
  2. Ages 2 to 7 are in the pre-operational stage.
  3. Ages 7 to 11 are the concrete operational stage.
  4. Ages 12 and up are considered formal operating stages.

The latter two stages are more important for developing the scientific temperament of students.In the concrete operational stage (age 7 to 11 years), children begin to think logically about concrete experiences throughout this stage. This is the best stage to introduce science in their curriculum. They start to grasp the concept of conservation, such as the fact that the amount of liquid in a short, wide cup is equivalent to the amount in a tall, slender glass etc. Their reasoning grows more logical and ordered, but their thinking remains highly tangible. Inductive logic, or reason from specific knowledge to a general concept, is taught to children early.
In the Formal Operational Stage (age 12 and Up), the adolescent or young adult begins to reason about hypothetical situations and think abstractly. The concept of abstraction emerges. Teenagers start to consider moral, philosophical, ethical, social, and political issues that necessitate theoretical and abstract reasoning. Begin to apply deductive logic, which is the process of reasoning from a general concept to specific data.
Teachers as a facilitator
In the entire teaching-learning process, the teacher plays a crucial role. Despite the advent of new mechanical and electronic teaching tools and a greater emphasis on student-centred education, the teacher can still make education the most valuable human endeavour. Teachers play an essential societal role because they influence future adults' knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Teachers are required to fill various positions, divided into two categories.
1) A learning facilitator's role
2) The function of a learning organizer
Teacher as a facilitator of learning
A teacher can play the following roles to facilitate learning:
The teacher's role as a learning facilitator requires warmth, understanding, and self-control. They  must listen to and embrace the learners' feelings and closely study their responses. They  must pay close attention and accept the feelings and thoughts of the students. Encouraging students where required, asking questions, and in general sparking a curious mind. They must be responsible, systematic, flexible, and job-oriented in planning and execution and should also try to explain why he is condemning a student whenever he does so. During classroom transactions, they must be entertaining and imaginative. The teacher should encourage classroom discussion, panel discussions, and question-and-answer sessions to help students learn more effectively. The teacher must use examples to educate, demonstrate, and clarify concepts when necessary. They must foster the development of self-study habits in the students.
Giving support to those who lack confidence, assuring the timid, not rejecting but diverting an answer, assisting in the search for answers, allowing for the development of ideas and sharing personal experiences. Enhancing students' aspirations- demanding only that which a student is capable of or a little more to supply to push him, while holding sarcasm and ridicule, making the child aware of the positive aspects of his personality, and so on. Developing positive feelings entails demonstrating faith in the child, paying attention to him, embracing his ideas, helping them gain competence, and being sympathetic with students. Developing communication skills- seeking the students' opinion and experience, allowing him to use various communication media, providing books and other materials, seeking the child's expressive responses in written form and different expressions, inspiring non-verbal interaction of feelings and attitude.
A teacher as a learning organizer
A teacher's primarily professional function is too limited to offer the foundation for effective learning promotion. His numerous responsibilities, procedures, and difficulties that the teacher is accountable as a learning organizer play a range of psychologically oriented roles. The following are some of the critical responsibilities of a teacher as a learning organizer.
A teacher is someone who starts, directs, and evaluates learning. The instructor's role is a central role for some of the other support roles. The teacher acts as a crucial role model for pupils, exposing them to adult behaviours. If social learning through imitation is to occur, this exposure is required. When a teacher takes on the position of the social model, he acts as a representative of society, as the person responsible for imparting the community's and culture's norms and standards, and who is seen by students as expressing or embodying these ideals. Teachers need to cultivate students' sensitivity and feelings of unity in group works. They must work with dynamic, changing, complicated media such as human connections and make decisions based on overall goodness. As a subject-matter expert, the instructor must understand the teaching material to be covered. They should see themselves as leaders to the learning experiences and assist them during challenging phases of learning and recommend enriching activities for individuals who learn more quickly than others.
Further teacher as a disciplinarian- the teacher is responsible for ensuring that the classroom group and its members remain within the boundaries established by society, schools, and the group's requirements. Being a youth group worker- the line between academic and non-curricular activities blurs, the teacher's function as an organizer of learning in out-of-class activities is becoming increasingly crucial. Teachers are often looked forward to by children as parental figures. By providing the student with love, compassion, sympathy, care, security, direction, and inspiration, the teacher essentially acts as a part-time mom. As public Interpreter—teachers must interpret school programmes, national strategies, and educational policies to the general public. As a mental-hygiene worker—a good teacher should instill in their pupils the value of mental hygiene and how to practice it in their daily lives.
Science Education in Assam and NEP-2020
Science has, in fact, radically transformed the sophisticated environment of the citizens of the modern world. In this regard, the Indian Education Commission (1964-66) said, "science is liberating and enriching the mind and enlarging the human spirit. Science teaching at the secondary level is to make children understand the nature of science, its processes, methods, and scope to use the scientific form to solve their problems and develop a scientific attitude. About 80% of all jobs in the future will require some Science and Math skills. Digitization and Automation have changed how we work and live. The ongoing pandemic has already accelerated several trends that would have occurred several decades later. For instance, the economy is moving towards platform-based gig work. A green post-pandemic recovery will initiate a rise in the green sector economy, including science-based jobs in conservation, climate change, and waste management, among others. Skills like mathematical thinking, interpretation based thinking, seeking patterns, and analyzing data, are required across sectors.
But the fact is that in Assam, only 16.14 % of the students prefer to study science education after the 10th board examination. National Education Policy-2020 (NEP-2020) is trying to construct a flexible, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary approach to provide a holistic education for children. The lack of separation will ensure the unity and integrity of all knowledge. It will eliminate harmful hierarchies and silos between different areas of learning. This multidisciplinary approach to education across the sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities and sports will help create well-rounded citizens. The initiative of putting equal emphasis on Arts and Science subjects was the need of the hour. It will help students explore their interests with much more enthusiasm and give them a chance to actualize their capabilities. This is a step in the right direction. It encourages the development of creative and artistic, and scientific temperament. NEP-2020 also focuses on assessments of educational approaches in undergraduate education that integrate the humanities and arts with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have consistently shown positive learning outcomes, including increased creativity and innovation, critical thinking and higher-order thinking capacities, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, communication skills, more in-depth learning and mastery of curricula across fields, increases in social and moral awareness, etc., besides general engagement and enjoyment of learning.
The state government is trying to promote STEM education in Schools of Assam and assist our students in becoming creative and critical thinkers. Because of the changing nature of employment and crucial transformations in our economy and society, we must provide opportunities for children to participate in STEM education that fosters entrepreneurial skills, risk-taking, creativity, and a growth mentality, among other things.