Though the effect of science and technology is experienced in every day life of each and every person, there appears to be a very big gap between scientifically literate and the common person on the road on acquiring scientific attitude and awareness. Even in the elite and highly educated group, it is doubtful how many of them have scientific attitude in correct sense. Though the constitution stipulates the spread of scientific attitude and temperament as one of the foremost duties of every citizen in India, the pace at which this duty is being fulfilled is at snail’s speed and sometimes in reverse direction due to vested interests at certain levels. While planning to inculcate scientific attitude in the society, which will certainly eradicate superstitions, it became necessary to concentrate our efforts among school going children who generally acquire the traditions and rituals followed blindly by their parents. If it is possible to inculcate scientific awareness at that tender age by some means, the young will be aware of the importance of scientific attitude throughout their life. Formal education as planned by our educationists for primary and secondary education is just not sufficient to inculcate scientific attitude. As such Maharashtra Andhasraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) planned to educate students informally by appealing to the interested students to study superstitions and scientific reasoning behind the so-called miracles.
Curriculum for Science Awareness program
We have realized that just delivering lectures and performing demonstrations would not be adequate enough specially when audience is full of students. It was also learnt that the assimilation of knowledge is generally through listening to the lectures, self study, discussions with teachers and friends and appearing for examination to evaluate comprehension. To implement the scheme effectively, it became necessary that teachers should be the nodal point. As such a curriculum was formulated to include various related topics and for various age groups and accordingly programs were planned to train teachers so that they in turn can teach the subjects related to scientific attitude during extra hours and on holidays. Teachers were also entrusted the task of conducting the examination to assess assimilating abilities of students and successful candidates were awarded certificates.
The course has been divided into three levels:
Vaidnanik Janiva Parichay (Introduction to Awareness of Science) for students studying in fourth to seventh class. This is an introductory course, which enables students to get acquainted with fundamentals of superstitions and of scientific temper.
Vaidnanik Janiva Shodh (Search of Awareness in Science) is for students studying in eighth to tenth class. During this course, in-depth study of various subjects will be completed.
Satya Shodh Prabodh (Awareness and Search of Truth) is for college going students. It includes the study of theoretical topics like rationalism, secularism, mental disorders etc.
The syllabus has been arranged in such a way that it can be covered in about 10 periods of 30 minute each. If a special camp is arranged the syllabus can be completed within a day. Generally 20 minutes are spent on explanation of the topic assigned and 10 minute for question – answer and discussions. The subjects covered during these courses are as under:
• Scientific Attitude
• Faith and Blind faith
• Mental disorder and possible remedies
• Astronomy and Astrology
• Study of snakes and remedies on snakebites
• Scientific explanations about miracles, poltergeist and hypnotism
• Exposure of God men, Babas Matajis etc.
• Poltergeist (Bhanamati)
• Works of social reformers
For example the subject ‘scientific attitude’ includes following topics:
• Necessity of the removal of blind belief
• The distinguishing factors between scientific literacy and scientific attitude
• Methodology to check evidence
• Scientific thinking that includes freedom, fearlessness and humbleness
• Dangers of glorification of great persons.
• The origins and meaning of prevailing customs, traditions and rituals.
• Moral values and scientific attitude.
Teachers Training Camps
We arranges teachers training camps with the due permission of concerned educational officer in all district place and major towns. Teachers can avail the opportunity and attendance of training camp is considered as working day for teachers. MANS activists and experts in the field will outline the methodology of conducting the course and examinations, use of course material etc. Teachers participate in post lecture discussions and clarifications are sought. In fact ANS has compiled the questions that are generally being asked by the audience, which is also applicable to students also. These training camps benefit teachers and in fact some of them serve as activists and/or contact persons for MANS. We have trained more than 50,000 teachers and more than 500,000 students have undergone various courses.
Changes in the Attitude
We have observed marked change in the students attending the course. A question like “mention three superstitions followed in house” may trigger their inquisitiveness. Children are never passive in this regard. After realization they go out of their way to protest and are not afraid of expressing their displeasure frankly and openly. This in turn influences parents to take corrective measures. As the saying goes “ there are no problematic children but there are problematic parents’. ANS can cite hundred of examples where children protested against illogical and unscientific behavior of their parents; thanks to the courses undergone by students. During the euphoria of milk drinking by Ganesh on 21 Sept. 95, it was the students in Maharashtra who protested vehemently about the whole episode. Similar protest was observed even during the eclipse. The girls who had attended the course start protesting against rituals, which encourage gender discrimination. It is not only students who are benefited by this course but also the teachers who conduct them. Age-old practice of observing fast, believing in astrological predictions, expensive, outdated and irrelevant ceremonies were abandoned by most of the teachers.
To sum up we have noticed the following changes:
• Influence of Babas, Matas etc is reduced
• Children started showing keen interest in measures of reform
• Participation of students in exposing witchcraft, haunting and casting of spells
• Girls are becoming bold enough to question rituals of gender inequality
• Course material is used as a reference guide during discussions with staunch believers of superstitions
• Students advice their juniors and friends to undergo the course
• Students show keen interest in the activities and events happening in the surroundings
• Students want more material to enhance their knowledge
• Training one child in a family is equivalent to training the full family and its neighborhood.
Science and Technology at your doorsteps
MANS has followed the principle of “Science and Technology at your doorsteps” rather than making students come to a centralized urban place as has been done in many of the `not so successful’ projects. This is one example, which has a potential to replicate all over India instead of confining to Marathi speaking area. In fact MANS is ready to extend its assistance to any dedicated team from other states that is prepared to come forward and work hard to conduct such program. This will hasten the process of inculcating scientific attitude among millions of our students.