Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
The science -art education models of India and the US - A study related to science advancement and communication:
They say the grass will always be greener on the other side of the fence. I feel this is true whenever I come across the debate on STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and STEAM ( add arts for A) models of education. Want to know why? Read on....
In recent times science-art promoters in the West, especially in the US, are stressing the need for changing their education models from STEM to STEAM (1, 11). Their argument is :
The innovative practices of art and design play an essential role in improving STEM education and advancing STEM research; art and design provide real solutions for our everyday lives; artists and designers can effectively communicate complex data and scientific information; the tools and methods of design offer new models for creative problem-solving and interdisciplinary partnerships in a changing world; artists and designers are playing an integral role in the development of modern technology; artists and designers are playing a key role in manufacturing ( Let me emphasize here that research to support this claim may be hard to substantiate, if in fact it is at all possible because several factors come into play while deciding what advances scientific research and makes creative technologies possible. It is this ambiguity the STEAM supporters are making use of to push forward their agenda. However, one can study the models that already exists to understand the merits and pitfalls of such models. And I am trying here to do just that.)
When I read these statements of STEAM supporters, the education model of my own country and to some extent that of Asia comes to my mind. Because in India, this STEAM model already exists. So I feel it is important to compare the results of the different education models of the US and India.
In India, especially in my home state Andhra Pradesh, some marks will be allotted to picture presentation of scientific theories, ideas and specimens you see in labs both while studying and writing exams from class one to your PG level. You have to draw pictures or present them in the form of graphs etc. with your own hands. So the education system here knows the importance of presenting scientific material in the form of pictures. The better you present , the higher marks you get. Therefore, we learn how to connect both art ( in the form of science illustration ) and science throughout our education career. In fact because of this system we usually don't see art and science as different subjects. Visualization of scientific data is not at all new to us. Even in our Ph.D. theses and research papers, we show more pictures and photographs. Presenting data in the form of graphs etc. derived from our observations and conclusions is very important here while showing our research results. Till 10th (and sometimes 12th) class, we have drawing, crafts and art and sciences combined syllabus too unlike in the US ( according to my friends in the US ). So art and creativity along with science education (STEAM) become a part of the student life here. Moreover, some subjects in humanities along with sciences and languages ( we learn at least three languages - our mother tongues, our National language and English in our schools) form an integral part of school education systems here. The nearly 15 subject courses are becoming a heavy burden on the students here with the result that students who migrate to other parts of the world usually refuse to come back to this difficult system of education. Teachers and parents here say it is not correct to put so much stress on students' minds.
But did this Indian model of science-art combination help in the scientific research? The miniscule amount of contribution of Indian scientists to the world of science tells a very sad story. This despite the evidence that India has large number of scientifically and technically skilled persons (8,9). Even the well funded research institutions here are not yielding good results. During the discussions on this problem experts here are saying that this situation is due to the result of India not giving importance to applied sciences where scientific creativity plays a major role in the progress and advancement of science and development of societies. However, the fact that Indians are more tolerant towards science and actually respect science than people from other parts of the world tells this art plus science education here helped in better communication than better research! ( I am aware that the success in research and applied sciences are influenced by several other factors too like the availability of funds, equipment, skilled persons (4) , opportunities, business mindedness of the people involved etc. to invent something based on necessities etc. and patent them and these have to be taken into consideration too for a balanced view and it is a complex web on which these assumptions are not based. Moreover, collaboration between scientists of various countries have brought several benefits, such as the ability to share different skills and areas of specialist knowledge in sciences. It is thought in the scientific circles that the more countries there are involved in science the more innovations we will have and the better off we shall be (5, 10,12,13).)
On the contrary, the education system in the US which concentrated on just STEM model till now has an advanced scientific research program with enviable results. In fact the US is one of the most advanced countries in the world in scientific research (6) and applied sciences (5)! But people there are not very tolerant towards science and science education and this is a known fact (2,7)! So it looks like their model didn't help much in science communication!
This is funny. STEM people think STEAM is better and STEAM people feel STEM is the best system! So which one is actually good? Which side is more greener? I think removing the fence makes one see a good picture.
I want to emphasize here that the way science-art movement is going in the present times which is not stressing on scientific creativity but is concentrating on on just science illustration type of work ( Indian Model) and artistic creativity which doesn't contribute much to scientific research (3). It only helps in science communication.
However, in recent times, after observing the results in the US, people in India too started using computer generated pictures of science like in the West and stressing the need for going towards applied sciences based on the US STEM model. I don't think this is the right way to go too.
I think placing importance on the combination of scientific creativity and applied sciences and coupling it with better science communication mechanisms are more essential than just blindly following the Indian or the US models.