We all might have heard about these notable scientists: Max Theiler, the South African virologist who won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for developing yellow fever vaccines; Abdus Salam (1926–1996), from Pakistan, who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for the unification hypothesis that incorporated electromagnetic and weak interactions between atomic particles; Indian-born Venkatraman Ramakrishna, along with others, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for uncovering the structure of the ribosome. The one thing that separates them from other Nobel laureates is the fact that they were born in developing countries but completed a significant part of their education from developed countries. The above mentioned scientists are just a few to name, there are innumerable brilliant scientists who have achieved milestones despite the lack of scientific opportunities in their home countries. The above facts highlight that there is a significant gap in scientific opportunities in developing countries because of which most of such talented scientists are produced from universities in developed countries, instead of their countries of origin.
Causes of low performance of developing countries in the scientific arena
The major cause of low quality of scientific education in developing countries is the lack of funding by the government. As per the latest statistics, in India, nearly 0.7% of the Gross Domestic Product was spent on R&D, as compared to 3% in the US. This not only results in direct problems such as weak educational and scientific infrastructure, but also tensions and conflicts among students, staff, university authorities, and government. Such an academic environment does not provide a supportive surrounding for science to flourish. The scientific success of any country is measured by its publications in leading science journals. The lack of proper infrastructure and grants results in few articles getting published in leading international journals. Another important cause is shortage of Qualified Teachers. A dearth of qualified teachers results in students losing interest in sciences and this results in very few students taking up advanced courses in sciences and engineering. Moreover, inadequate teaching and learning methods result in a lack of scientific temperament and creativity in students. Hands-on science education seems to be in short supply and wherever it is taught, it is majorly based on textbooks, with no room for creativity and new questions. This in turn causes a lack of adequate practical exposure because children are not well equipped with skills that they need for carrying out experiments and practicals. Another important aspect is a dearth in efforts to popularize science. In most of the developing countries, there are no major campaigns being run with an aim to produce excitement regarding science. This causes a lack of understanding of people towards scientific research and possible careers related to it. This further reduces the possibility of students opting science and engineering courses. One of the most important factors which results in a dip in scientific productivity of developing nations is their testing systems. Their education systems are based on a marks driven model, which promotes limited thinking. Most of the students tend to stick to only the textbook knowledge and are not encouraged to think outside the box because ultimately textbook based knowledge is what they will be evaluated on.
What holds developing countries back from investing in Scientific education?
Science breakthroughs are long and time consuming and investment in science education might not produce immediate gains in terms of boost in economy or national pride or honor. Also, there is a mindset prevalent in the people and government of developing countries that science education and research is the exclusive right of rich and developed countries because of its capital intensive nature. Moreover, the new technologies that result from scientific research in developed countries are easily mass produced in developing countries at cheap labor costs. Thus, to them it seems that there is no specific need for science related investment.
Why should developing countries consider increasing investment in scientific education and related endeavours?
Despite the capital intensive and time consuming nature of scientific education, investment in this area has always yielded returns in terms of boost in economy and social development as a whole. Another important aspect associated with science education is climate change research. In today’s world most, if not all, developing countries are facing ecological and climate change crises. If investment is made in climate and atmospheric sciences, then this can produce huge benefits to these countries by providing a pool of research and data necessary to fight this global issue. There are numerous countries who have invested wisely in science education and have enjoyed the economic returns from these investments. Also, with pandemics such as COVID-19 engulfing the world, increased investment in areas such as Virology, Immunology and Microbiology makes even more sense now.
Steps that can be taken to tackle this issue
A collaborative research effort between developed and developing nations can reduce the burden of capital investment on developing nations. The problem of low publication in international journals can be solved by a double-blind review by an ethnically and culturally diverse team of reviewers. This could remove the perpetual criticism of bias that follows a rejection or multiple corrections. A good education system is a prerequisite for technological advancement. Thus, there is a need to update and redesign science curriculum to make it more hands-on, practical and market oriented so that it becomes capable of producing creative and skilled thinkers instead of individuals with limited thinking. Also, the government should take action to form committees and plans to popularize science. This can be done by opening new museums, catalyzing the publishing of books that excite people about science and designing plans that integrate fun science learning into regular school curriculum. In conclusion, a fundamental change in mindset is needed so that the people at high positions become aware of the need to invest in scientific education and research.
Nearly 0.7 pc of GDP spent on R&D, strengthening of S&T infra from 2014-15 to 2018-19: Govt (The Economic Times)
New Data Says U.S. R&D Has Topped 3% of GDP For the First Time Ever (aaas.org)
The Challenges Facing Science Education in Developing Countries and the Way Forward
(Hamidu Musa Yoldere, Mohammed Adamu)
(International Journal of Scientific Engineering and Research)
Does Science Education in Developing Countries Really Count?
(Emmanuel T. Tyokumber, Ecology and Environmental Biology Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Ibadan, Nigeria)