Background In terms of trained scientific and technological manpower India is said to occupy third position [from the top] in the world. At the same time there are more illiterates in India than in any other country of the world. This strange co-existence poses some unique challenges to Science Communicators and Popularizers of this country.

Objective The crucial task here is to choose an appropriate medium and format. Since the drive for scientific literacy must run parallel to the drive to eradicate illiteracy, the audiovisual medium has an obvious advantage over other (such as print) media in its ability to reach that section of the population which is illiterate or barely literate. TV broadcast can reach remote corners and can be watched by a large group at the same time using just one receiving set. More over, some studies have [1] shown that even for those who can read -learning through the audiovisual medium can be faster and better. For Science Communication, this medium becomes very effective when combined with low-cost and no-cost demonstration experiments which the viewers can, and are encouraged to, perform with their own hands. This is especially important in view of the fact that co-ordination between the hand and the brain has played a crucial role in human evolution since prehistoric times [2]. Also because it goes some way to correct the age-old imbalance in Indian society which always placed theoretical thinking above practical work and experimentation.

Method The effectiveness of this combination was demonstrated through a TV programme QUEST, which was the first nationally televised Science Quiz Programme in India. It was telecast in the ‘free to air’ nation wide channel-Doordarshan-once a month, for five years in a row (1983 -1988). The present author worked as one of the two anchors of the show for about one and a half-year of that tenure. The show became immensely popular and won a UNESCO award. Unlike the usual recall -from -memory type of quiz programmes, questions based on experiments done-on-the spot were asked in QUEST, which tested the analytical ability and conceptual grasp of the participants, and not the power of memorizing. More than 50% of the experiments were of simple, low -cost type and participants as well as viewers were encouraged to do them with their own hands. First hand, anecdotal account of how simple experiments sometimes produced unexpected results and how the understanding and eventual explanation evolved with time -often with the participation of the viewers-is discussed in the paper.

Result In QUEST central place was accorded to the scientific objectivity and content of the deliberations -hype about winning and losing was not there. Still there was no dearth of viewers, which shows that in India good science programmes on the TV do have takers. Though not glossy in finish, QUEST gave one a taste of the Methods of Science. That probably was its best achievement. Review of this experience is all the more important today when hundreds of cable channels have proliferated (mostly urban) Indian homes, but none of them seem to pay any attention to science or science communication [except international channels like Discovery / Nat Geo]. More over, Educational TV programmes produced by Government supported organizations like UGC or IGNOU have become invisible for most Indians, because they have been removed from their earlier slots in the ‘free to air’ channels and put in to a cable channel not accessible from villages/ small towns and also not carried by most cable operators in the metro cities. In the interest of Science Communication we should produce more indigenous science programmes like QUEST, enhance their quality and, last but not the least, demand their inclusion in the free to air channels so that an ordinary Indian can view them.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Communicating science to the masses
Audiovisual medium and low-cost experiments constitute the most effective combination for India

Partha Bandyopadhyay   City College

Background In terms of trained scientific and technological manpower India is said to occupy third position [from the top] in the world. At the same time there are more illiterates in India than in any other country of the world. This strange co-existence poses some unique challenges to Science Communicators and Popularizers of this country.

Objective The crucial task here is to choose an appropriate medium and format. Since the drive for scientific literacy must run parallel to the drive to eradicate illiteracy, the audiovisual medium has an obvious advantage over other (such as print) media in its ability to reach that section of the population which is illiterate or barely literate. TV broadcast can reach remote corners and can be watched by a large group at the same time using just one receiving set. More over, some studies have [1] shown that even for those who can read -learning through the audiovisual medium can be faster and better. For Science Communication, this medium becomes very effective when combined with low-cost and no-cost demonstration experiments which the viewers can, and are encouraged to, perform with their own hands. This is especially important in view of the fact that co-ordination between the hand and the brain has played a crucial role in human evolution since prehistoric times [2]. Also because it goes some way to correct the age-old imbalance in Indian society which always placed theoretical thinking above practical work and experimentation.

Method The effectiveness of this combination was demonstrated through a TV programme QUEST, which was the first nationally televised Science Quiz Programme in India. It was telecast in the ‘free to air’ nation wide channel-Doordarshan-once a month, for five years in a row (1983 -1988). The present author worked as one of the two anchors of the show for about one and a half-year of that tenure. The show became immensely popular and won a UNESCO award. Unlike the usual recall -from -memory type of quiz programmes, questions based on experiments done-on-the spot were asked in QUEST, which tested the analytical ability and conceptual grasp of the participants, and not the power of memorizing. More than 50% of the experiments were of simple, low -cost type and participants as well as viewers were encouraged to do them with their own hands. First hand, anecdotal account of how simple experiments sometimes produced unexpected results and how the understanding and eventual explanation evolved with time -often with the participation of the viewers-is discussed in the paper.

Result In QUEST central place was accorded to the scientific objectivity and content of the deliberations -hype about winning and losing was not there. Still there was no dearth of viewers, which shows that in India good science programmes on the TV do have takers. Though not glossy in finish, QUEST gave one a taste of the Methods of Science. That probably was its best achievement. Review of this experience is all the more important today when hundreds of cable channels have proliferated (mostly urban) Indian homes, but none of them seem to pay any attention to science or science communication [except international channels like Discovery / Nat Geo]. More over, Educational TV programmes produced by Government supported organizations like UGC or IGNOU have become invisible for most Indians, because they have been removed from their earlier slots in the ‘free to air’ channels and put in to a cable channel not accessible from villages/ small towns and also not carried by most cable operators in the metro cities. In the interest of Science Communication we should produce more indigenous science programmes like QUEST, enhance their quality and, last but not the least, demand their inclusion in the free to air channels so that an ordinary Indian can view them.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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