Active learning through Science Museums



Dr Seemin Rubab

Dr Seemin Rubab

Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru had once opined ‘In formative period of childhood and youth it is essential that people should come to museums and learn. Their minds will be affected by the objects which they see there. I should like this aspect of education through museums to be developed’. Pandit Nehru was a staunch promoter of learning science through museums and planetariums. He was instrumental in setting of several science museums. That is why Mumbai’s science centre is named after him.

Much of the science we read in book is hard to imagine. Imagining atomic structure, DNA structure, tetrahederal carbon molecules, nuclear reactors, volcanoes, earthquakes etc. requires very fertile and creative minds. Science museums and centres help in constructing complex ideas and explaining them through working models.

The first science museum was the Museo de Ciencias Naturales (Museum of Natural Science) in Madrid Spain. It was opened in 1752. Exhibits of science museums are unique resources for non formal education. Science museums generally display models related to physics, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, biology, health sciences, agriculture, geology, paleontology, Information technology, space technology, industry and industrial development etc. Generally the exhibits belong to three categories- passive, active and interactive. Passive exhibits include artifacts, graphics and other visuals. Active exhibits can be operated by visitors with mechanical drive. Interactive exhibits are those which are operated by visitors on their own choice involving multiplicity of options.

Nowadays science museums mostly try to develop interactive exhibits based on problem solving approach. The main aim of science museums is to popularize science. These days science museums have become centres of entertainment and amusement apart from being a place of learning. Many science centres have a big park with outdoor exhibits like multi cycle, swings and seesaw which children enjoy a lot. Many science centres organize summer camps for students and teachers. The centres often observe days like World Environment day, Earth day, National Science day. On these days they invite children from schools and organize popular talks and quizzes etc. Museum shops provide science instruments, science toys and books which the visitor can buy as memorabilia.

There are science museums in almost all state except Jammu and Kashmir. National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) is an autonomous scientific and research organization under Ministry of Culture. NCSM has established about more than two dozen science museums, science centres, science cities and Planetaria at various locations throughout country. Moreover it also operates 22 mobile science exhibition units. The galleries of all science museums are changed every two to three years. The NCSM also arranges mobile galleries moving from place to place and giving information about scientific inventions and discoveries.

Last month Science Express a specially designed train with 16 coaches full of science and technology exhibits reached Jammu station. The train had originated from Vikram A. Sarabhai Community science centre Ahmedabad. The response of common people and students was overwhelming. However the districts of the state which were not connected by railway missed this golden opportunity of learning with fun. NCSM could have arranged museobuses for Kashmir division.

NCSM has started a four semester M.S. course in Science Communication from 2005. NCSM’s MS course is meant for first class engineering graduates and science post graduates. Course contents include history and philosophy of science, mass communication, exhibit presentation and museum management. Course also includes the tools of Science Communication and writing scientific articles. The final content of the course is a dissertation. This program is conducted in joint collaboration of NCSM and BITS, Pilani on an off campus mode. The lectures and tutorials are held at NCSM, Kolkata. NCSM also offers a total of 5 fellowships of amount Rs 5000/- per month with annual book grant.

Jammu and Kashmir desperately needs science museums and science communicators. Government should open museums, science museums, energy and technology parks in all districts of the country. A lot of entrepreneurial opportunity exists in this field as demand of exhibits is growing. One can design and supply models and exhibits to upcoming science centres.

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