Discard obsolete methods of teaching science, technology

By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
October 8, 2000

THERE is an urgent need for Caribbean nations, at this critical juncture of their development, to urgently review the way they teach science and technology. It is imperative that they modify their curricula to allow for greater numbers of graduates in these subject areas, and expand coverage and intensify the depth of their scientific research.

Unless these needs can be addressed urgently, "Citizens of the Caribbean will be condemned to languish on the periphery of world development, to dissipate their efforts in seeking special treatment, and begging for assistance from the industrialised world, as perhaps we now do."

This was the view expressed by Dr.Kenneth King, DSc., International Consultant and former Deputy Administrator, United Nations Development Programme. He said so in the feature address Friday, at the opening ceremony of the First General Assembly of CARISCIENCE.

The opening ceremony of the General Assembly, which runs from October 6 to 8, was held in the Rupununi Room of the Hotel Tower and attracted a large gathering of scientists from Guyana and around the Caribbean region.

Dr. King noted the attainment of Caribbean Society in the arts, social sciences, sports and entertainment, with pride, adding that: "The contributions which West Indians have made to the world in these fields of endeavour are impressive by any standard..."

His greatest regret, however, was that in the areas of science and technology, the Caribbean has not even begun to equal our contributions in the areas of arts.

Emphasising the need for training and educating greater numbers of scientists to meet the challenges and demands of the Region, Dr. King noted that: "We have not even begun to train and educate anywhere near the numbers of scientists we require in our various territories, if critical masses of scientific teams are to be produced to tackle the problems of the Region..."

Some of the reasons he listed as being responsible for the Caribbean's position with respect to science and technology are:

* The virtual absence in most of the territories, of science and technology policies;

* Relative poverty. He noted that the cost of undertaking research and teaching science and technology, are often very high. But if such teaching and research were properly conducted, the benefits which would accrue to societies at large, would by far outweigh the costs. He urged Caribbean Governments to understand and appreciate that it is in their interests, both now and in the future, to place a higher priority on such education and research.

* An apparent sense of 'inferiority' in the fields of science and technology among politicians and the people of the Caribbean.

Dr King posited the view that "there seems to be an unspoken belief that to acquire a knowledge of science and technology, requires a special genetic composition or a particular natural origin."

Dispelling that myth, he said there is great variety in scientific methodology, and that excellence in science does not require any particular natural attribute, except those of common sense and the capacity to learn.

Seeing scientific and technological research as an imperative, the Consultant said, that it is unfortunate that very often, scientists have not put forward this case in a sufficiently convincing manner so as to influence priority treatment where financial allocation is concerned.

He stressed that it was necessary for scientists to seek the assistance of economists and political scientists who might be better able to put forward a convincing case to the politicians.

Meanwhile, Dr. King noted that corporate entities in the Caribbean too, have not been giving the kind of support needed for scientific research programmes and projects. This has resulted in many scientific research activities relevant to their businesses, remaining under-funded, and few systematic relationships between scientific practice and technological application being established.

Dr King suggested that Caribbean Scientists must learn to marshal all the evidence in support of their strong case for more financing, and for being considered to be a high-priority sector, but more importantly, should present their arguments in a convincing manner.

In order to effectively do this, he said, the following corrective measures should be undertaken:

* Review the methods of teaching science, discarding the obsolete ones. Science teachers must continually refresh themselves in general science, areas of spatiality and teaching methodologies as well.

* Scientists and technologists in the region must adjust to the changes taking place globally.

* Caribbean scientific researchers in the 21st century, in order to become more effective, should work in teams and with partners.

* They should utilise and take advantage of the recent advances in Information Technology.

Dr. King, in his blue print for overcoming the obstacles reiterated: "If the Caribbean is to emerge quickly into the ranks of those countries with efficient agricultural and industrial sectors, it must piggy-back on the new knowledge bases that are being established, and must leapfrog our development."

Noting that this is already taking place in many developing countries, he warned that Caribbean countries should beware of being mere receivers and users of the scientific advances of others.

The guest speaker also urged that more organic linkages be established among all the scientific and technological practitioners in the Caribbean, not only to support ideas, but also to work together in science teaching, and in scientific and technological research.

He congratulated those who conceived the idea of CARISCIENCE. CARISCIENCE is a network of Research and Development (R & D) and Postgraduate programmes in the basic sciences in the Caribbean. It came into existence on June 1, 1999. Its main objectives are:

1) To promote academic excellence in postgraduate and R&D programmes, and in general to improve the quality of scientific research in the Caribbean

2) To strengthen theoretical and practical knowledge in the basic sciences in the Caribbean

3) To Contribute towards increasing the number of postgraduate and R&D programmes with the emphasis being on cooperation and integration.

4) To assist with the development of young researchers in the sciences in the Caribbean.

To achieve these objectives, CARISCIENCE will undertake the following activities:

* Exchange of teachers/researchers

* Exchange of students (fellowships, in-service training etc)

* Transmission of teaching experience and skills

* Joint graduate and post graduate training programmes

* Joint research projects

* Dissemination of publication and editing of joint publications

* Support towards the development of an evaluation and accreditation system of Postgraduate Programmes in the sciences.

To date, funding has been obtained for the following projects:

- Training of a Lab Technician for Guyana

- Waste Water Treatment (Jamaica)

- Internet Workshop (Trinidad).

Other speakers at the ceremony included Presidential Adviser on Science and Technology, Mr Navin Chandarpal; UNESCO Secretary-General, Mrs Carmen Jarvis; CARISCIENCE Executive Secretary, Professor Harold Ramkissoon; and Professor of Physics. U.W.I. Cave Hill Campus, Leo Moseley.

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