We talked to Dr. Jayant Narlikar, popular Indian astrophysicist and founder of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) about the current status of scientific research in India, government policies regarding education, the role of IITs in leading the charge of India’s scientific development and more.
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Given that English is the primary language of scientific discourse, how does this affect Indian students in schools where English is not the medium of instruction? What can be done to stoke their interests further?
JN: See, my argument on this is that in the early stages, that is, the primary and middle school level, science should be taught in the mother tongue, but subsequently for higher standards, English should take over because a lot [of] literature is in English. But comprehension of basic issues, which is very important, should start with the mother tongue – that’s my feeling.[pullquote]At the primary and middle school level, science should be taught in the mother tongue, but subsequently for higher standards, English should take over because a lot of literature is in English.[/pullquote]
Since your writings have inspired us to take up science, how do you perceive India’s growth in scientific research and development over the next twenty years?
JN: I think that more young people should go towards science – there are plenty of opportunities so far. If that happens then I hope the picture will be different twenty years from now.
What policy changes do you think could lead to a more conducive environment for nurturing scientific talent in the country?
JN: I think the basic problem is that science is taught in a way which encourages rote learning rather than comprehension and free thinking. Unless we change this, I don’t expect any significant changes or significant effect. [pullquote]I think the basic problem is that science is taught in a way which encourages rote learning rather than comprehension and free thinking.[/pullquote]
With the great strides made by ISRO in the recent years, how do you see India’s future as a space-faring nation with regard to its competence?
JN: I think ISRO has shown that we can do a lot of things by learning by ourselves rather than copying something. So, I feel optimistic that it will continue in this way. [pullquote]I think ISRO has shown that we can do a lot of things by learning by ourselves rather than copying something.[/pullquote]
In the Indian research scene, there is a huge discord between academics and the industry, which has held us from achieving our potential. What are your views on the same?
JN: I think your question… we need more industrial… what you call – help, funding of science which you find in US for example, or Europe to some extent, so our industry should be encouraged to invest in science.
How do you see the current scenario and future scope of astrophysics in particular, as a field in India?
JN: I think astrophysics is getting popular, more popular in India; so with more participation in more international facilities like the Thirty Meter telescope, LIVO and others, I think there will be more scope for research in astrophysics.
What are your views on the role that institutions like IITs, IIScs, IISERs, TIFR, etc. have to play in leading the charge of India’s scientific development?
JN: Roles like IITs and IISERs and so on, they are the places where the intelligent and what you call bright minds are being trained, so I hope this trend will continue and will get more and more contribution from them. I think that they are doing well but there is lot of scope for doing better.
How important do you think it is to keep such institutions guarded from government interference?
JN: Well, institutions in my view should be free from government interference and bureaucratic – what you call – handling of various things, so there are many things that can happen. One should see this initiative come from scientists – unless scientists fight for it, they won’t get autonomy. [pullquote]Institutions in my view should be free from government interference and bureaucratic – what you call – handling of various things.[/pullquote]
In school, we had a story about colonising the moon; now we have SpaceX dedicated to the idea of inhabiting Mars. So, where do you think the motivation to conquer space comes from?
JN: Well, lot of science fiction sometimes gives times to real situations, maybe this might happen, who knows!