The thesis in all has six chapters.
Chapter I- Introduction gives the background of the study, discusses the
Nature of science and its relevance to the society, the rationale for
Communicating science, agencies of science communication, brief history of museum and their roles, science communication model and the relevant learning and communication theories, a brief profile of Nehru Science Centre and its activities need for the study, statement of the problem, operational definitions, aims and objectives of the study, its scope and limitations and significance of the study.
Chapter II- Review of the related literature contains a synthesis of essays, articles and books on museums ,their roles ,science communication, research studies on science centres and science communication, an overview of the current scenario both at the national and international level and the gaps in research on science communication leading to the formulation of the present study.
Chapter III- Research Design elaborates the methodology used for the study highlighting the steps involved in case study approach, data collection and method of analysis.
Chapter IV- Nehru Science Centre is devoted to profiling of the centre. It traces the historical background of the centre, enumerates its objectives, gives a brief description of its location , layout, administrative setup, resources both human and material and discusses in detail the various programmes and activities conducted by the centre.
Chapter V- is Data analysis in which the various programmes and activities of Nehru Science Centre for the period 1986-2005 are described and discussed vis-à-vis the identified roles of the museum and analysed with reference to the proposed science communication model using the science communication index developed by the researcher.
Chapter VI- Summary condenses the contents of the first five chapters and reports the major findings of the study with conclusions and gives recommendations and suggestions for further study.
Science with its impartial investigative methods and objectivity in results
is the most reliable and unbiased body of knowledge about the physical world. But scientists who pursue science are men and women who are themselves social beings sharing socio cultural attitudes and beliefs with the other members. This puts the pursuit of science in a socio cultural context.
Now if science is a social endeavour the question then arises whether the society is equipped to cope up with the rapid advances in sciences. Although technology has become part of our culture, science behind it is not. Science as practised by the scientists and as perceived by the public is increasingly becoming asymptotic. To survive in this modern world basic science literacy is a must. After school, exposure to science as a subject of study is almost nil for most of the populace. So it is imperative today to facilitate scientific knowledge to seep into the public consciousness.
But science has the potential to be either beneficial or harmful. 20th century history is replete with examples of this dual nature of science. In the democratic polity the bizarre consequences of science misapplied can be checked only by the public, which always bears the brunt of it. So public has to be infused with scientific knowledge on the one hand and on the other hand they also have to be empowered with the capacity to weigh the pros and cons and make judgment tempered with wisdom which calls for deliberation. This conviction forms the rationale for communicating science.
Scientific knowledge is complex and communication of science is not easy. Science, with a language of its own, is intelligible only to its privileged practitioners and the society at large is unable to decipher it. Hence the importance of science communication which is the process of conveying simplified scientific information to the public using various means and media. There are various agencies involved in communicating science like the print media like-news papers and journals, audio visual media like television, videos etc., interactive media like museum, exhibition, fairs etc. Of primary importance for the study is the museum as a means of communicating science to the public.
The study attempts to identify the role of museums and the programmes aimed at communicating science to the public with reference to Nehru Science Centre, Worli, Bombay, through the science communication model developed by the researcher.
Aim of the study
The aim of the research endeavor is to study the role of science museums in Science Communication with special reference to the programmes conducted by Nehru Science Centre, Bombay, for the period 1986-2006.
Objectives of the study
- To trace the historical development of Nehru Science Centre (NSC).
- To identify the objectives of NSC.
- To identify the perceived roles of science centres (NSC).
- To identify the various dimensions of science communication.
- To develop a model for science communication.
- To develop an arbitrary index for science communication to facilitate analysis of the programmes.
- To list the activities/programmes of NSC conducted during the period 1986-2006,
- for general visitors
- for students
- for teachers
- for in-house staff
- To describe the above programmes in detail.
- To analyse the various programmes during the period 1986-2006 vis-à-vis the perceived roles of NSC.
- To analyse the above programmes in terms of the perceived dimensions of science communication for the period 1986-2006.
For the present study the researcher has chosen the descriptive qualitative method using the case study approach. As the focus is on Nehru Science Centre, an institution, a single case and its activities, the case study method was deemed to be appropriate. The study is an exploratory one as it attempts to identify the various roles of museum in communicating science vis-à-vis its programmes and activities. It is also historical as it traces the development of Nehru Science Centre over two decades (1986-2006). It is also partly quantitative as the researcher has developed an index for science communication. Hence the methodology used for the present study is the descriptive exploratory historical case study with some amount of quantification of data for the purpose of analysis.
The theoretical perspective used for the study is drawn from individual theories as the science communication model proposed by the researcher is informed by learning theories, is organizational as it focuses on the structure and functions of Nehru Science Centre and social as it involves visitors to the museum which is also a cultural institution.
The case under consideration is Nehru Science Centre performing its roles through various programmes. The focus of the study is on the programmes and activities of Nehru Science Centre for science communication conducted within the premises of the Centre. The period chosen is the time slot 1986 to 2006 spanning two decades. Thus, in the present study the ‘case’ is social, spatial as well as temporal. The present study profiles the growth of Nehru Science Centre during the period 1986-2006and attempts to describe the various activities of the centre in terms of its roles and relate them to the identified dimensions of science communication.
For this purpose the researcher has developed a model for science communication .
The model views the museum as an informal learning setting influenced by the various and relevant theories of learning and communication. As education is one of the main roles of museum, this model is informed by various learning theories like constructivism of Piaget, social learning theory of Vygotsky, multiple intelligences theory of Howard Gardener, David Golman’s theory of emotional intelligence and Blooms Taxonomy of educational objectives and mass communication theories.
As a public institution in this socio cultural milieu museum performs the three roles of Entertainment, Education and Evolving through the variety of programmes that it offers to the public.
Role of museums has been operationalised as perceived functions of the entertaining role, educating role and evolving role.
♣ Entertainment role implies disseminating knowledge in a fun filled joyous manner to create awareness and interest in science.
♣ Education role involves explaining, clarifying concepts, instilling a spirit of inquiry, fostering creative talent and inculcating scientific temper.
♣ Evolving role entails improvement and development through research, innovation and evaluation.
Also through these programmes the museum endeavours to communicate science.
In the proposed model science communication is perceived as having four dimensions:
i) Knowledge dissemination ii) Comprehension
iii) Participation iv) Deliberation
In order to facilitate analysis the researcher has developed an arbitrary index for science communication.
Science communication index ( SCmn I) has been defined here as the ratio of the individual score of the dimension and the maximum score
( SCmn I) = Individual score of the dimension
It is assumed that acquisition of knowledge is a continuous process and is hierarchical. Hence the process of science communication is also continuous and hierarchical. If a programme has reached the 2nd dimension it follows that it has already reached the 1st dimension. Similarly if a programme has reached the 3rd dimension it follows that it has already reached the 1st and 2nd dimensions and if a programme has reached the 4th dimension it follows that it has already reached the 1st ,2nd and 3rd dimensions. So score for the 1st dimension is 1, the 2nd is 1+1=2, 3rd is 2+1=3 and 4th is 3+1=4. The maximum score a programme can get is 4.
Science Communication Index( SCmn I1) = 1/4 = 0.25
Science Communication Index( SCmn I2) = 2/4 = 0.50
Science Communication Index( SCmn I3) = 3/4 = 0.75
Science Communication Index( SCmn I4) = 4/4= 1.00
Theoretically it is possible that a programme may not even reach the 1st dimension. Hence theoretically the range of Science Communication Index can vary from 0 to 1.00 on a continuum.
0≤ SCmn I ≤1
This study has relied entirely on the annual reports and newsletters published by Nehru Science Centre as the main source of data coupled with observation and personal interaction of the researcher with the visitors and the key personnel of the centre.
Descriptive analysis has been used to sketch a detailed profile of the activities of Nehru Science Centre in terms of its roles. Science communication index developed by the researcher has been used to examine the extent to which the activities fit into the model proposed by the researcher.
Significance of the study
The study is significant as an attempt has been made by the researcher to identify and relate the various dimensions of science communication to the existing science centre programmes vis-à-vis their identified roles.
The study gains significance in light of the fact that the S&T Policy of Government of India’s Five Year Plans reiteratingly emphasise the importance of public communication of science and technology and identify museums and science centres as vital agencies of communication.
The study may help the museum personnel to identify the lacunae in their science communication programmes and to modify them in relation to the various dimensions of the process of science communication.
Nehru Science Centre in its present form was formally inaugurated in 1985. But its humble origins began in 1977 with two semi permanent exhibition galleries followed by the opening of science park in 1979 , the International Year of the Child. This science park is touted to be the first of its kind in the world. With the aim of communicating science to enthuse, entertain, initiate, excite and explain, Nehru Science Centre incorporates innovative ways to bring the developments of science & technology to the doorstep of common people to create awareness and interest. The centre attempts to enhance public understanding of science and spread scientific literacy through its various programmes and activities.
The following are the major findings of the study.
i) The number of people visiting the Nehru Science Centre has grown
from a few thousands in 1986 to nearly 6 lakhs in the year 2006.
ii) The various galleries with vividly colourful and interactive exhibits are aimed at enthralling the visitors. The few exit surveys conducted by the centre reveal a positive feedback from visitors. The centre scores 100% on the entertainment front.
iii) All the programmes for education are aimed at school students and teachers with the objective of inculcating a spirit of inquiry and nurturing creative talent. The creative science workshops conducted during vacations are well appreciated by the students and parents as well. The teacher training programmes are viewed appreciatively by both teachers and teacher trainees. Thus the NSC is playing the education role with commendable success.
iv) The centre has introduced a lot of innovative programmes over the years especially since the late 90’s. But as far as the training of in-house staff is concerned there are very few for the academic staff.
v) Very few in house researches have been conducted over the past two decades. The academic staff is not involved in any hardcore research either at the personal level or in collaboration with colleagues. A notable exception may be some of the studies conducted at the directorial level. Also there have been few sporadic attempts like evaluating gallery exhibits through worksheets. But the researcher was given to understand that the evaluation of these sheets was not done .The NCSM has initiated a study on the personal and social impact of science museums nationwide. But the findings are yet to be published. Thus the centre is found wanting as far as the evolving role is concerned.
vi) Regarding the dimensions of science communication it is found that all the activities meant for entertainment and education are aimed at disseminating knowledge and enhancing comprehension. Most of the educational programmes involve participation as well. But none of them are reaching the dimension of deliberation. .
vii) As far collaboration with other institutions goes, University of Mumbai is ill represented. There seems to be no tie-ups with university science departments. Even at the undergraduate level programmes are aimed at junior college students and not degree college students. This is a cause for woe as it is at the graduate and post graduate levels that the vocational aspirations of students are crystallized. Many a budding scientist may go unnoticed and even stifled in the rigid, examination oriented formal system of education. Nehru Science Centre can tap such talents and nurture them.
viii) While museums worldwide are debating the issue of social inclusion, it is interesting to note that Nehru Science Centre has been making provisions for children with special needs and other disadvantaged groups as well since its inception.
ix) Also keeping in line with the philosophy of lifelong learning through museums, the centre has introduced special computer awareness courses for senior citizens, housewives and family groups.
To sum up Nehru Science Centre has grown over the two decades both in quantity and quality of the programmes and activities. All the programmes are aimed at entertaining and educating the public, underpinning the centre’s commitment to these roles. Also in the process of science communication there is an evidential shift from mere dissemination of knowledge to more of participation. The Centre is found wanting in the areas of research and staff development. So if more emphasis is given for research and staff development, if programmes involving the public like citizen panels, public debates on health related issues perhaps the days are not far off when Nehru Science Centre will reach the deliberation mode which is the ultimate goal of science communication.
a) Recommandation to Nehru Science Centre
- Exhibition galleries are the chief attraction for the visitors to the centre. Most of the visitors are bus loads of tourists who come with a minimum of time at their disposal. It would be better if explainers are present in all the galleries.
- Though the educational programmes of the centre are interesting as well as popular, the number of students and teachers benefiting from these programmes appears to be miniscule in a metropolis like Mumbai where the population of students and teachers are very high. The centre needs to look into this matter and ensure that maximum number of students and teachers take advantage of these programmes.
3) The school visits seem to be totally unstructured with children running around here and there and handling the interactive exhibits in a wanton manner and in the process rendering them non- working. This can be avoided if the school teachers take children into confidence, prepare them before the visit, guide them during it and have a post-visit discussion to ensure that students gain maximum from these visits. The science centre should insist on a pre visit preparation by the schools. The educational staff and the curator can guide the teachers to that effect.
4) The academic staff of the centre does not have any training in teaching either in formal or informal settings. This according to the researcher is a serious problem considering the fact that they interact with school children most of the times. Also education being one of the main missions of museums it behooves well for the science centre to have a mandatory training in teaching for the academic staff. NCSM can incorporate training as a prerequisite for appointment to these posts.
5) Although new galleries are being opened at the Centre and the existing ones are renovated there appears to be no research or evaluation done at the beginning of the process. This is one stage where the centre can invite the public, ask for their suggestions and try to incorporate them.
6) Also the bulk of the visitors are adults. It will be worthwhile to have programmes like public debates, citizen forum and seminars on health issues and risk communication to enable the adults to express their opinion on these issues. This is essential if NSC has to reach the deliberation mode of science communication.
7) Nature study camps conducted by the centre are very few. Even in a concrete jungle like Mumbai, there are few patches of greenery still around. NSC can conduct camps in collaboration with such places. This will go a long way in creating environmental awareness among the children.
8) Nehru Science Centre can adopt the conventional existing educational and outreach programmes to promote deliberative dialogue about public issue through exhibits centred around a common theme. But this is not an easy task. It requires co-ordination and collaboration both internal and external among the educational and curatorial staff with support from the administrative staff of the centre.
9) NSC should insist that media should be more responsible in covering news items about Nehru science centre. Even after a quarter of a century of existence in many news items Nehru science Centre appears synonymously with Nehru planetarium.!
b) Recommandations to National Council of Science Museums
- Science centre may be charging a nominal entry fee but travel in metropolis like Mumbai is both costly and time consuming. NCSM can set up science centres in the suburbs so that many children can be benefited.
- The National Council of Science Museums has started a post graduate course in science communication .This is no doubt a laudable effort. But the council also should introduce short term courses in teaching methodology, communication technology and other essential aspects of museology for its academic staff in collaboration with teacher training colleges, the University Department of Education and other post graduate departments.
- NCSM can organize staff development programmes across all the science museums under its umbrella.
- If science centres are to evolve continuously they should engage in research. So it would be advantageous for NCSM to set up Research Departments at the national level science centres like NSC in Mumbai. This will not only boost the research profile of the individual centres but also strengthen the research base of NCSM as well.
And finally, implementing these recommendations calls for an increase in human resources and financial resources. To put it simply more staff strength is required and more finances have to be forthcoming. As the NCSM comes under the Department of Culture the final recommendation is for the Department. It has to ensure that necessary help is given to the National Council of Science Museums and its science centres to strive for excellence in all areas.
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