More Voices from India: The Challenge for Indian Science Museums

 In my last post  I published the comments of five students on their motivations for entering the museum profession. I’m in Kolkata, India, teaching “Science Learning in Non Formal Settings” with my colleague Karen Lee as part of the MS in Science Communication program run by the National Council of Science Museums.  This post features the responses of five other students, who answered the question:

What do you think are the greatest challenges for Indian
 science museums and science centers today?

From left to right:  Anoop, Dhruba, Hemlet, Sahitya, Basudev

Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay is Education Officer at the North Bengal Science Centre, Siliguri (NCSM)

The National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) is the pioneer in Science museum movement in Asia under which 27 Science Centres are working. More than 800 dedicated staff of this organization are trying their best to percolate the essence of science in this world’s
largest democratic country where more than 1.2 billion people are living. Still NCSM has to face a lot of difficulties. Some of those are really  alarming and may threaten the very existence of the council in near future. Here I would like to discuss those challenges:

Declining trend in Basic Science Learning
Lack of dedicated and trained staff
Lack of professional course
Government’s Policy
Fund generation
Socio-Economic condition of the country
Competition with Modern Shopping Mall and other Entertaining Medias

As a museum professional I am optimist enough to think that Science Museum
Movement run by National Council of Science Museum, India will overcome
these problems very soon and march forward for the benefit of common
people of this country.

Anoop Saxena is an MS Fellow at Regional Science City, Lucknow (NCSM)
In India we need to customise Science Museums/Centres as per the literacy rate of different states. For this we need to do a lot of research in understanding the visitors’ thinking from different regions, and then after we need to design exhibits for that particular region.

In urban areas visitors don’t want to come to Science Centres because they are getting good
information from social media with comfort of home.  People prefer to go multiplexes and malls in free time because they get good infrastructure without paying any money. So it is also a great challenge for us to give good infrastructure so that visitors can stay in Science Centres for a long time.

To write a good exhibit text is also a very big challenge for us because the level of understanding is very different even in the same region, and people of India don’t like to read the text. So we need to develop some new technology which gives an aesthetic touch to the text so that visitors can read about the exhibit.

An important challenge of science museums/Centres is to train its staff about new technology so that they can do much better in the digitalized environment. To develop user friendly design of science exhibits and their maintenance is also a big challenge for science museums and Centres.

Hemlet Guria is a Curator and Electrical Engineer with the National Council of Science Museums (Headquarter) Kolkata

In my opinion the biggest challenge for Indian Science Museums/Centres is the competition with the shopping mall and amusement park. In the present scenario of social life common people have no time. So whenever they get time they want to enjoy that time to the fullest. Often they choose Amusement Park/Shopping Mall instead of Science Centre. They are ready to spend more money instead of gaining some knowledge. These amusement parks are very hi-tech and provide thrills to visitors. Due to the attractive look and modern architectural concept, shopping malls succeed in inviting people within their walls. Their interiors are also very fascinating. Often they are world class facilities with attractive illumination. The welcoming nature of their employees seems far better than that of Science Centres.

Science Centres are not changing according to the time and life style of modern era. Most of the Indian Science Museums are outdated, and exhibits are not changed for a long period. After visiting these Centres, people get bored and never think to visit again. There is a lack of advancement and new inventions of galleries. Most of the Indian Museums are not fully accessible to all the visitors, regardless of size, age, ability or other personal factors. Indian Museums are not designed to fulfill flexible use for both able and specially-abled visitors. Levels of exhibits are very lengthy and not well defined in most cases. In most of the Science Centres, visitors do not not feel comfortable when their visiting purposes are for mental relaxation or to have meaningful experience with their children, grand children, and great grand children. Since most Science Museums are not air conditioned, visitors hesitate to go there during most of the seasons except winter. Media is also not very much interested to give priority to Science Centres so most of the people are unaware of them.

Illumination effects, immersive experiences, comfort of visitors, comfortable seating arrangements, good canteen facilities – in one word  the WOW factor is always missing in Science Centres. The outer look of most of the Science Centres is very ordinary and common. Out of order exhibits and hot and uncomfortable gallery designs make visitors very tired, anxious and unsatisfied.

It is very necessary for the entire museum profession to come forward to change the look of museums both internally and externally to encourage more people to come to museums. It is becoming a necessity for museum professionals to treat each visitor as an ambassador of the museum so that they will bring more visitors to Science Centres. In fact it is a duty of all museum professionals to study the behavior of ordinary people and bring overall change accordingly.

Sahitya Sarkar is a Fellow at Central Research & Training Laboratory, Kolkata (NCSM)

At the beginning of 21st century we feel that we are very much globalised. Whatever
we want we can get by stretching our hands. Things are very easy to consume. We don’t think
how those things have come so easily. The environment does not encourage us to ask  many
questions. But now today, we have a number of technological upgraded mobiles containing
internet access, computer, laptop, banks providing online payment or via cards, even the Agni-
5 intercontinental ballistic missile. Today we have no time to go to market; we have a lot of
technology with lower prices. These things have a strong impact on the Science Centres.

Basically Science Centres are installed to take concentration of students, scholars, professors
and then the general common people of all ages. Basically the Science Centres communicate
the message that life is so simple with the increase of science, we need not  fear.
Science plays a vital role in our daily life – whatever we see that is made up different paradigms of science, we need to explore those things – actually these are the messages of Science Centres.

So the basic feature is to help people learn how to learn. This is the basic problem. The
Science Centres need to teach the process of learning – whatever they want to learn.
Another fact is that people are using emergence of technology convergence within a very short
time. When it is seen that everything is available on demand – why will they come to the
Science Centres? People need to see that Science Centres can provide more; are Science
Centres be able to provide those things? Whatever science we have learned till
now is not enough for our future generation – so ‘interested people’ have to take part and ‘be
involved’ to do something new that may look forward for future.

But there is a virus in the antidote. India is a versatile country having social and economic
differentiation. In my view, the education system is based on teaching institutions. Students in these institutions have some financial support, have enough access to internet and a good pocket money. But there is other hand that is not so financially strong, and cannot get much exposure to science. Science Centres have to bring both sides inside the centre, those  who have enough affordability of treasure and those who have nothing.

Here I should mention Science Centres are a non-formal system of education. According
to statistical data there are 116,820 secondary schools in India and the population of 14-18 age group children was estimated as 96.6 million by National Sample Survey Organization in 1996/97. The University Grants Commission (UGC) 2002-03 estimates states that there are 92, 27, 833 enrolments in various Universities & Colleges, out of which 36, 95,964 (40.05%) are women students.  India has many thousands of universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutes. 

My suggestion is let us built a small science museum in every school, college and university in India.  Simultaneously the Science Centres will achieve 101.3 million students. By this initiation we can reach to those students/people who have not enough exposure to science. Achieving this number is also a big challenge. It’s a lengthy project, and will take time, but to overcome all those social and economic differentiations I presume it is the best solution for those Science Centres.

Basudev Mandal is a Curator at Regional Science Centre, Guwahati (NCSM)

India’s glorious past in the tradition of science & technology is over 5000 years old.
India made a significant contribution in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, metallurgy, textiles, and medicines. Removal of poverty and achievement of economic self-sufficiency have been the main goal of most of the developing countries. India is one of them, having attained political independence from 200 years of colonial rule.

The first prime minister of independent India, Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru, realized that without
scientific and industrial development India would be unable to take its position in the front line of the global arena. He put his stress on various scientific research, and remarked that “Scientific institutions are temples of modern India, and play a key role in the gigantic task of national development and nation building.” It is recognized that the flow of science and technology in the country should be put to work. Another prime minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi said that “the role of science is not merely increased production through advanced technology, but it means changing the lives of individuals and of the nation ……… Only science is capable of solving the social problems of our era.”

Now the target is to develop science and technology in India. How to spread science and technology to the masses? But in a country like India where there is a huge shortage of primary schools, several decades may be required to establish an adequate number of schools to raise the minimum educational level in science. India has to wait for a long time to achieve its aim of spreading of science education in this manner.

The concept of non-formal science education in the science museums and Science Centres can unfold a new path towards the hand-on science learning for better understanding. After an
extensive study in the field of textual and non-formal education it is observed that there is a
long gap between this two. The main role of the Science Centres is to fill up the gap between the two. In this way the science in daily life and the vastness of knowledge in science and technology can be communicated easily to the general masses as well as the student community. For accomplishment of this target the National Council of Science museums, the pioneer of this particular field of education, has adopted a strategy for total experimental learning of science.

There are so many hurdles for propagation of science in non-formal way in India. Because, how
many Indian citizen are ready to accept this way of education? It is a question from experience.
Because, a major portion of the population in the country is below poverty line and illiterate. For achievement of rapid development in a developing country like India it is necessary to accustom our citizens with the nature, contribution, dangers and potential of science & technology. People have also to be convinced that science and technology can bring improvement to their living conditions, economic growth, and social welfare.

So it is a challenge to the Science Centres or museums to transmit scientific and technological
information in a meaningful manner to the society. The organization can promote all types of
individual activities such as science club, science camp, science fairs, film forums etc. through
which it can project the impact of science and technology on society. It is really a hard task but
not an impossible hilltop to reach.

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