Progress made in science and technology is the hallmark of a dynamic and vibrant society as twenty first century belongs to the science and technology and any nation that fails to keep pace with latest trends and recent advances made at the global level in this sector will draw a flak and eventually be despised as an unenterprising and regressive nation. Such a nation will also face a lot of difficulties in meeting with the needs, demands and challenges thrown by the potential threats and dangers of the twenty first century including human existential threats, food, water and fuel scarcity threats, cyber security and climate change threats, threats posed by lab designed viruses and bacteria and nuclear threats. Therefore there is need to prepare vision documents and perspective plans at the national as well as regional level in which long range targets are set in advance for a period of 10, 20 or 25 years for making some tangible and time bound progress in the field of science and technology while at the same time promoting innovations and inventions.
Progress made in science and technology by any nation at present can be assessed by the quantum of adoption of innovations and inventions made at the global level, degree of innovations and inventions contributed by that nation to the world and the level and quality of education and awareness among its citizens regarding some of the most burning and contemporary issues in science and technology. Former Principal Scientific Advisor to the Govt. of India R Chidambaram has in his Current Science article added one more dimension to this kind of evaluation by writing that “scientific research publications are one of the quantitative measures for the basic research activity in a country” and that “the root cause for stagnancy in the number of research publications from India seems related to the fact that talented and bright young students have not been opting for careers in science in recent years”. In another article he has emphasized that “the science and technology foresight involves forecasting of possible futures, taking into account existent as well as emerging technologies, with the objective of achieving the maximum economic, social and security benefits”.
In order to stay relevant and be counted in the modern world any nation has to strike a fine and delicate balance between being a producer and a consumer of the fruits of science and technology. Nations that are only good at consuming and reaping the benefits of science and technology and are not performing fairly well at producing the innovative products for others will ultimately be thrown out of the race towards scientific progress and development and they will have to bear with little or no opportunities to earn sizeable revenue from the global markets. This will relegate them to the back benches and they will eventually lose all their influence as well as opportunities of emerging as global leaders. In order to avoid any such situation developing nations will have to undertake a major overhaul of their S&T curriculum, training, innovation incubation, entrepreneurship development and the whole education system at school, secondary and higher education levels.
Education and awareness about emerging areas in S&T
Creating awareness and imparting education about emerging areas in science and technology is the first step towards planting a seed that will eventually grow into a tree and bear sweet fruits for all to relish. Education and awareness needs to be enhanced about contemporary emerging areas in science and technology including artificial intelligence, cloud computing, data analytics, robotics, space technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology and molecular biology, stem cell technology, gene therapy, 3D printing, quantum computing, biodiversity and ecology, point-of-care testing, nuclear and bio-physics, internet-of-things, micro-electrical mechanical systems, crypto currencies, cancer vaccines, genetically modified foods, cell culture and in-vitro fertilization etc. There is a need to enhance the knowledge-base, training, skills, competencies, expertise, interest and familiarization in these areas among the youth. Once they are sensitized about all important aspects of these areas they can pursue higher education in them and acquire sufficient academic acumen and technical prowess to forge innovative solutions in these areas. This will help generate a technically competent workforce ready to venture into these areas and produce tangible results. Curricular updation at a large scale at school, college and university levels shall be required for meeting this challenge of change.
Adopting global innovations in our day-to-day life
Adopting global innovations and inventions in our day-to-day life is as important as knowing about them. Apart from knowledge, data is going to be the new capital in the twenty first century. World is heading towards a mad and bitter race for data in the coming years. We need to march ahead in tandem with rest of the world lest we shall lag behind and be overstepped by other nations in this race. It is said that burgeoning consumerism leads to a faster adoption of the breakthrough innovations. As per William Pollard, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand; the arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow”. Greek philosopher, Hiraclitus says, “The only constant in life is change”. Change calls for innovation and innovation leads to progress. “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable”, William Pollard has said. Political will of the government for adopting global innovations is of key importance. Unless there is political will no tangible innovation and progress in S&T is practically possible. As per Bill Gates, “Governments will always play a huge part in solving big problems. They set public policy and are uniquely able to provide the resources to make sure solutions reach everyone who needs them. They also fund basic research, which is a crucial component of the innovation that improves life for everyone”.
Contributing our bit of innovations and inventions
While it is important to gain sufficient knowledge and know-how about innovations and inventions made globally and also to adopt them to every possible extent in our day-to-day life, it is equally important to keep contributing our share of innovations and inventions on persistent basis with a view to stay technologically relevant as well as reliable in the international arena. Our academic and research institutions need to innovate themselves first in order to be capable and competent to contribute innovations and inventions that are acceptable and buyable in the global markets. Peace and stability as well as unity and economic strength of a nation assumes utmost importance in being able to come up with innovative solutions to the problems and challenges thrown by twenty first century. Nations facing internal strife, discord and distress socially, politically and economically will find it increasingly difficult to compete in the global innovations market. A creative mindset and liberal ideology as well as academic freedom alone can spur innovations in the curriculum that in turn will churn out graduates with innovative ideas and ultimately result in substantial noteworthy scientific innovations and inventions.
Global scientific community can work in tandem across cultures and nations, bridging political divides to encourage innovations and engineer inventions all across the world. In order to promote science education and scientific temper among our progeny at school, college and university levels, we need to have students eager to investigate the wonders of the natural world, teachers steeped in scientific knowledge and masterful at guiding students’ investigations, parents and school administrators who value, expect and support standards-based science education, leaders in business and government who understand the importance of science education for all citizens. Scientific temper is considered to be the best answer to ignorance, superstition and arrogance. A citizen without scientific literacy can have no basis for discerning the valuable from the worthless. One who is scientific literate is able to critically interpret, analyze and evaluate claims and not just believe the hearsay or go by the common public perception. He knows how to research relevant data, examine evidence and draw appropriate conclusions because theories are judged by results. Sincere, dedicated and collective efforts alone on part of all these stake-holders can get us rid of the ills that are plaguing our understanding of, adoption and contributions to science and technology.
Coronavirus disease outbreak has exposed many chinks in our armour. It has virtually caught the whole world napping in terms of our preparedness to combat a crisis of this magnitude and mange its consequences well. Higher educational and health institutions as well as research centres in developing countries like India have not come out with sufficient and substantial new knowledge, guidance, resources, policy papers or blueprints to counter the economic, sociological, psychological, medical, commercial, humanitarian and health-related challenges posed by the pandemic. We have turned into consumers of knowledge and resources emerging from rest of the developed world necessary for tackling its fall-outs. Therefore we need to learn this bitter lesson from the ongoing crisis and prepare for more such challenges and other possible, similar disasters in the coming decades. Road to our preparedness towards such unprecedented situations leads through an impressive progress in Science and Technology alone.
(Author teaches at the Dept. of Pharmaceutical Sciences and is Coordinator, UGC-HRDC, University of Kashmir)