Innovating Science and Technology Education

In order to improve quality and achieve excellence in academics and research, there is need to innovate each and every sphere of our higher education sector holistically be it curriculum design, teaching pedagogies, research designs and methodologies, community outreach and extension activities, publishing practices, faculty improvement and enrichment programmes, student and teacher exchanges with foreign universities, performance linked incentives and career progression, student feedback mechanism, assessment and accreditation, national ranking criteria, skill enhancement practices, vocational training programmes,  green campus initiatives, student placement opportunities, deputation regulations, development plans and long-term strategies for progress and growth of our higher education institutions. Unless all these areas are addressed simultaneously on a war-footing basis through well-documented policies and procedures, it is hard to re-imagine, redeem and rediscover our universities as world class institutions. However through persistent brainstorming, policy-planning and timely execution of our mission statements it will not be unrealistic to think about converting most of our universities into future-ready higher education institutions of global standards within a span of next 10-20 years. All that we need to transform this dream into a reality is political will of the government, dynamic political and academic leadership, visionary governance and dedicated workforce of our higher education institutions.

Substantial progress in Science and Technology is the key to sustained development of any nation in the twenty first century. Keeping in view the contemporary developments in Science and Technology at the international level, Indian universities too need to enunciate a comprehensive policy framework to synergize science, technology and innovation in order to achieve faster, sustainable and inclusive growth and foster, promote, sustain cultivation of science, scientific temper and scientific research in all spheres with special emphasis on innovation that is the essential driver and sustainer of socio-economic transformation. There is need to promote science and technology education drastically in our universities in order to create favourable conditions and enabling environment for innovations to occur. Faculty development and capacity building in the area of science and technology assumes prime importance in fostering a scientific temper among the student community. A well equipped and skilled teacher alone can steer his students towards the inquisitive and fascinating world of science and technology.

It was with these very objectives that the Refresher Course in Science was organized by the UGC-Human Resource Development Centre, University of Kashmir from January 2 to 15, 2021 for college and university teachers in accordance with UGC norms. Idea was to enhance the knowledge, skills, competencies and understanding of teachers about various critical areas of modern science and technology. Course was inaugurated on January 2nd by Prof. Talat Ahmad, Vice-Chancellor, University of Kashmir in an impressive online session that was chaired by him as the Chief Guest whereas Registrar, University of Kashmir, Dr. Nisar Ahmad Mir was the Guest of Honour at this occasion. While emphasizing upon the importance of science and technology education Prof. Talat Ahmad underscored the need to update the knowledge-base and skill sets of teachers working in higher education sector in science and technology as the future belongs to this very discipline and we need to keep pace with the rapid developments taking place at the global level in this arena. 

A total of 76 college and university teachers both from within and outside J&K attended the course for a period of twelve days during which a total of 24 lead lectures were delivered by renowned resource persons in science besides a total of 76 participant presentations. All the sessions were highly interactive that generated a lot of debate on various issues of high importance. In spite of chilling winter, frequent power breakdowns due to heavy snowfall, slow internet speed this academic journey continued uninterrupted and this science festival of two weeks was successfully completed. At the valedictory session of the course that was held on January 15th, 2021, Prof. A. G. Ahangar, Director and EOSG, SKIMS, Srinagar was the Chief Guest whereas Prof. Mohi-Ud-Din Sangmi, Dean College Development Council, University of Kashmir was the Guest of Honour. Session was also attended by incharge Director, UGC-HRDC, University of Kashmir, Prof. Mushtaq Ahmad Darzi besides all the participants of the course.

Some of the most burning issues that were discussed at length during the course by renowned resource persons of science include COVID-19 vaccination, particulate pollution in the Kashmir valley, ecology and long-term ecological research, nanoscience, artificial intelligence; fundamentals, objectives and ordeals of research, research methodology and research ethics, antimicrobial resistance, importance of patents, innovation incubation and technopreneurship development, greatest feats of organized science, language of the universe, rise of Himalayas, lifestyle disorders, responsible use of medicines; chemistry, clinicians and cure; climate change-issues and challenges; gender Audit, gender equality and gender mainstreaming; Nobel prize controversies, importance of mental health amid COVID-19 pandemic, vocationalization of education and centrality of proof in Mathematics. Main idea was to refresh the knowledge of participants about fundamentals of research and research methodology, importance of patents, scientific publishing, ethics in research and scientific publishing, significance of start-ups, innovation incubation and technopreneurship besides many other contemporary issues of global significance.

Eminent resource persons who delivered their lead lectures during the course include Prof. Talat Ahmad, Prof. Mushtaq A. Siddiqi, Prof. M. S. Khuroo, Prof. Devesh Kumar Sinha, Prof. Anil Kumar Mishra, Prof. Parvaiz A. Koul, Prof. Shakil A. Romshoo, Prof. Nilofer Khan, Prof. M. Amin Sofi, Prof. Zafar A. Reshi, Prof. G. Mohiuddin Bhat, Prof. Farooq A. Masoodi, Prof. Syed Ziaur Rehman, Prof. Shariq R. Masoodi, Prof. M. Ashraf Ganie, Prof. Manzoor A. Malik, Prof. M. Ashraf Shah, Prof. S.M. Salim Khan, Prof. Arshad Hussain, Prof. M. A. Chisti, Prof. Fozia Qazi, Prof. Manjiri S. Gharat, Dr. Manzoor A. Shah and Dr. Manzoor A. Chachoo.

Many other issues were covered during participant presentations some of which include bio-orthogonal chemistry, high temperature electrical transport and optical studies of nanoparticles, nanovaccines and COVID-19, dietary management of diabetes mellitus, molecular machines, carbon nanotubes in medicine and biology, economic importance of bacteria, aquatic macrophyte treatment systems, environmental impact of riverbed mining, ethno-medicinal uses of some wild plants of Kashmir Himalayas, geothermal energy, mobile technology with special emphasis on 5G technology network, gene therapy, tackling drug resistant tuberculosis, global solidarity, pollen allergy, ICT tools for teachers, global cooling and climate change, statistical physics, e-waste management, paleoclimate, wild life conservation efforts in J&K, scientific and research misconduct, cryosphere changes in J&K, whistlers and VLF waves, chemistry of snow flakes, genetically modified foods, environmental issues in an unequal world, e-resources, CRISPR/CAS editing of plants, depletion of ozone layer, disaster proneness of J&K etc.

Several existential threats seem to be looming large on the human race and gaining momentum with each passing year in the twenty first century, some of whom include catastrophic climate change and collapse of ecosystems, artificial super-intelligence and the rise of robots, alarming threat of a nuclear warfare, threat of super-volcanic eruptions and devastating earthquakes, impacts of huge asteroids hitting hard upon the earth, biological and chemical warfare, pandemics, anti-microbial resistance and the emergence of incurable diseases. This is doubly aggravated by the threat of man-made disasters like manufactured, bio-engineered, bio-hazardous super-viruses and bacteria, nuclear terrorism, cyber crime, forest fires, satellite junk and outer-space warfare, water wars clubbed with alarming environmental break-down caused by a spike in carbon emissions, rapid melting of arctic ice, steady rise of global temperatures, erratic and extreme storms assailing coastlines etc. Under these evolving and challenging circumstances sufficient knowledge about these potential threats among educators could help explore sustainable solutions and armour to tackle them in their right earnest. Furthermore only a strong, collective, pooled and united effort at the global level could help us find solutions to these emerging threats to the existence of mankind on the face of earth.

As per the world economic forum “world stands on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society”. This lays direct focus upon the innovation and upgradation of our science and technology education incorporating and embracing modern technological breakthroughs like artificial intelligence, robotics, big data analytics, the Internet-of-Things, block chain revolution, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing. It is high time that we upgrade our curricula in sciences with a view to catch up with the global challenges.

Author teaches at the Dept. of Pharmaceutical Sciences and is Coordinator, UGC-HRDC, University of Kashmir