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Refresher Courses at the Indian Academy of Sciences

The Science Academies of India are involved in conducting programmes aimed at improving science education in
the country. These programmes are focused at three levels – college and university teaching, and research. One key
activity is the Refresher Course, mainly meant to help teachers improve their background knowledge and teaching skills.

Genesis of Refresher Courses Srinivasan and K. R. Rao. Both Sriniva- have had a beneficial impact across the
san and Rao were receptive to the idea country. This is supported by the fact
In July 1994, the Indian Academy of and searched for a young and committed that about 20 universities in southern
Sciences, Bangalore, under the Presi- person to help them conduct the course. India have included these experiments in
dentship of Roddam Narasimha consti- When Rao attended the annual meeting their M Sc syllabi1.
tuted a Panel to study the state of of the Academy in 2000 at the National Till 2006, these courses were not
university science education in the coun- Institute of Oceanography in Goa, he popular. In 2006, about 25 teachers
try1. This panel, chaired by N. Mukunda, came across K. R. S. Priolkar, a physics nominated by the Indian Association of
prepared a document that included sev- teacher at Goa University. The first Physics Teachers were invited for a three-
eral recommendations to improve the course in experimental physics was held day meeting at Bangalore, where the
quality of science education and teach- in Goa in 2001, with 20 participants experiments designed for the course were
ing, and to attract students to careers in selected from across India3. demonstrated and suggestions were sought
science. The panel, comprising 11 mem- The Refresher Courses in Experimen- from the teachers to get the experiments
bers, submitted to the Academy in tal Physics were aimed at improving accepted by colleges. The valuable feed-
December 1994, a document titled ‘Uni- laboratory programmes in physics at the back then stimulated Srinivasan and
versity education in science’2. Of the B Sc and M Sc levels4. In December others to think of a low-cost teaching aid
several significant recommendations 2010, the 25th Refresher Course in Ex- kit3. Ajay Sensors and Instruments of Ban-
made, one was the institution of sustained perimental Physics was held (Box 1) in a galore, involved in making scientific
teacher training programmes. To achieve laboratory set up in Bangalore. Accord- equipment for DRDO, ISRO, etc., was
this goal, two kinds of activities were ing to Mukunda and Srinivasan, mem- considered suitable to make these low-cost
later recommended by the panel – two- bers of the 1994 Panel, these courses kits. Srinivasan decided that Academy
week Refresher Courses for Teachers
and short-duration (two or three days)
Box 1. The 25th Refresher Course in Experimental Physics4 (December
Lecture Workshops for Students and
Teachers at the M Sc and Ph D levels1.
The suggestion made regarding Re-
The 25th Refresher Course in Experimental Physics was held in Bangalore.
fresher Courses, as one of the panelists,
Twenty-five participants selected from all over India attended the course.
R. Srinivasan reminisces3, was that Fel-
This included 11 students of M Sc and B Sc courses, and 14 teachers.
lows of the Academy would conduct
At a brief function on 15 December 2010, A. K. Sood, President of the
these courses in various areas of science.
Indian Academy of Sciences, inaugurated the course. Mementos were
It was also suggested that lectures be
presented to K. R. S. Priolkar (Goa University), S. M. Sadique (Goa), J. B.
delivered by distinguished scientists,
C. Efrem D’Sa (Carmel College for Women, Goa) and Manohar Naik
including Fellows of the Academy at a
(GVMS Higher Secondary School, Goa) for the help rendered in develop-
level familiar to teachers. These courses
ing and conducting these courses over the last 10 years.
were meant to update teachers and stu-
The first four days of the course were devoted to lectures on experi-
dents with recent advances in the scien-
ments. This was followed by 18 laboratory sessions in which the partici-
tific area dealt with in the course3.
pants carried out 27 experiments. Four special lectures were delivered by
Accordingly, in 1999, Lecture Work-
R. Nagarajan (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai), V. A.
shops were started and the first Refresher
Raghunathan (Raman Research Institute, Bangalore), H. L. Bhat (Indian
Course in Mathematics was held at Panjab
Institute of Science, Bangalore) and T. G. Ramesh (National Aerospace
University, Chandigarh. As of December
Laboratories, Bangalore). There were two discussion sessions. K. Ruk-
2010, 84 Refresher Courses have been
mani, B. N. Meera and Sarbari Bhattacharya of Bangalore University and
held. Of these, the series in Experimental
S. B. Gudennavar of Christ University, Bangalore, were resource persons
Physics, designed by Srinivasan, deserves
at the course.
special mention.
The participants showed considerable interest and worked 12–14 hours
in the laboratory and made full use of this opportunity to carry out all the
A decade of Refresher Courses in experiments and analysis of results. It was encouraging to see the enthu-
Experimental Physics siastic response of the students.
The course concluded on 31 December 2010 with distribution of certifi-
In the first few years, Refresher Courses
cates to the participants by N. Mukunda.
were mainly theoretical in nature3. It was
in 1999 that Mukunda discussed the idea
R. Srinivasan
of a course in Experimental Physics with

CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 100, NO. 8, 25 APRIL 2011 1125

would ask the company to make one kit or seven courses every year. In 2011, the requirements for physics are less; we
for evaluation3. This was found to be nine courses are planned. Participants can build electronic equipment ourselves –
quite satisfactory. This company has have found the course useful5,6 and, un- they are durable and can be carried from
been licensed by the Academy to make doubtedly, Srinivasan is the driving force place to place. This is difficult with glass
all the circuits and set-ups required for behind it5. They have also learnt how to equipment. Therefore, it is more difficult
carrying out nearly 27 experiments since improve old and existing experiments to set up a chemistry experiment when
2008. The set-ups are simple and the and design new ones. you have to go from place to place. But
experiments use unsophisticated electronic if you designate a place in Bangalore, it
circuits for measurements. The experi- Refresher Courses in other areas will not be difficult to run chemistry
ments are highly reproducible. Each of science Refresher Courses. What is required is
experiment verifies a physical law or commitment and effort. In biology also it
principle4 and yields results accurate to Table 1 indicates the popularity of may not be very difficult; you may need
within 5% of physical values. Refresher Course in Experimental Phys- a few microscopes which could be bought
In December 2008, when the kit ics. But there is the opinion that the rela- and the course can be conducted3.’
became commercially available, the tive success might be because the
demand for courses also rose3. Since approach of carrying laboratory require- Role of Refresher Courses in
2008, several courses have been held in ments to different places is feasible in science education
various universities in Tamil Nadu, Ker- experimental physics, but not in other
ala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and With the growing concern over fewer
areas of science, particularly biology and
Maharashtra. About 80 kits have been students taking to science each year, it
sold to institutions, including University seems relevant to ask if such courses
Mukunda says: ‘Experimental courses
of Hyderabad, University of Mysore and could help retain the interest of students
have been conducted in chemistry as
University of Mumbai–DAE Centre for in science. Srinivasan replies: ‘The num-
well. Two experimental chemistry courses
Basic Sciences for the five-year integra- ber of students taking science going
were held in November–December 2006
ted M Sc programme. Others who bought down is a cyclical phenomenon. But we
and in June 2009 at the University of
the equipment include IISER-Kolkata, should make science interesting. The
Hyderabad. To run them on a recurring
IISER-Thiruvananthapuram and IISER- way science is taught and the way ex-
basis is easier in physics because chemis-
Pune. Some of the IITs have also intro- periments are done will drive any student
try requires storing possibly hazardous
duced these experiments, including IIT- away from science! We should kindle the
chemicals, special precautions in the set-
Madras. In addition, about 25 universities interest of students first by showing that
up with hood, etc. As for biology, again
and other colleges have bought the kit3,4. one can do experiments in simple ways
maintaining living organisms brings its
The duration of each Refresher Course and get results that verify theory, and
own problems. So physics is definitely
is 14 working days, one-third of which is then encourage them to ask questions.
easier to manage7.’
devoted to a series of 15 or 16 lectures This is never done in any college!’
Srinivasan is of the view: ‘Chemistry
on the experiments, and three special lec- Mukunda believes there is no quick
needs a lot of glass equipments. Physics
tures from active researchers not neces- cure to the problem of falling numbers but
doesn’t need that but this does not mean
sarily connected with the course. There ‘improving the quality of experiments at
are two discussion sessions, where Srini- college and university levels may help
Table 1. Refresher Courses held up to
vasan not only answers questions raised 2010 bring back the numbers7.’ He also adds
by participants, but also suggests new that in 1999 and 2000, when the courses
projects or describes how to go about Number of began, four or five Fellows of the Acad-
Subject courses emy in each broad subject were requested
designing an experiment. The remaining
duration allows 18 laboratory sessions to plan a course, which worked well in
Biology 17
that participants spend conducting ex- Earth Sciences 8 mathematics in Chandigarh, and also in
periments, taking readings and analysing Engineering 2 chemistry in the Delhi–Kanpur region.
the data. A detailed manual prepared by Mathematics 10 As long as this practice was followed the
Srinivasan and made available to the par- response was good, but when the respon-
ticipants includes the theory behind an sibility was left to host institutions, the
Experimental 2
experiment, the procedure, a sample set number (of courses) came down. The
Others 7
of data3, method of analysing the data, Total 9 numbers have now begun to go up
and the expected result3,4. Participant again7.
feedback is taken after every course.
Experimental 25 Current status of Refresher Courses
Though the course has been found use- Theoretical 5
ful, one concern is that circuit diagrams Others 7
are not made available. This is because Total 37
UGC recognition
the norms of the licensing agreement
between the Academy and the company Mathematics and physics 1 The Academy Refresher Courses were
do not allow this3. initially not recognized by the University
Total 84
Until 2007, only nine courses in Grants Commission (UGC) because they
Experimental Physics were held. Since Data extracted from http://www.ias.ac.in/ are of two-week duration. UGC has now
2009, Srinivasan has been conducting six php/refresher_all.php3?status=archive. agreed to approve two-week courses as

1126 CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 100, NO. 8, 25 APRIL 2011

well. A request for UGC recognition of
the Refresher Course was filed by the
Academy, some years ago. A decision on
this is yet to be taken by the UGC. Srini-
vasan points out3, ‘The UGC wrote to
Mukunda notifying that if it is made into
a 21-day course, the UGC will accept it
and promote it like any other UGC
course, but the Academy had its own res-
ervations and maintained that the courses
will only be of 14-days duration. Now
the UGC has modified this requirement.
Participation in a two-week course is
also acceptable for consideration for
promotion. But many Government orga-
nizations and collegiate education direc-
torates are not aware of this.’
R. Srinivasan
Refresher Courses at Academic
Staff Colleges Even at the age of 80, Srinivasan goes throughout India to conduct Re-
fresher Courses in Experimental Physics. Ask him where he gets his moti-
In a letter to the UGC Chairman, dated vation from at this age and he promptly replies: ‘Motivation has nothing to
17 June 2010, Srinivasan and Mukunda do with age. You can be young and be unmotivated, and you can be old
wrote about the sucessful activity of the and be motivated.’
Academy and its efforts to improve labo-
ratory education in physics. In the same R. Srinivasan on science education in India
letter, they requested UGC to suggest to ‘Our Government has been developing science in this country in a top–
Academic Staff Colleges (ASCs) of all down manner. It should have been bottom–up. They should first put em-
universities to introduce a Refresher phasis on higher education in colleges and help universities build good
Course in Experimental Physics based on laboratories, good infrastructure. Then they should have built high-level re-
the kit developed by Srinivasan. This in- search institutes around the universities. The present high-level research
formation reached ASCs in August 2010. institutes have taken away good people from universities, and have starved
The first such Refresher Course by an the universities of basic infrastructure, and this has completely demolished
ASC was conducted by the Ranchi Uni- our education system.
versity in February–March 2011, which ‘At least now the Government can make amendments. I will confine my-
was welcomed by the participants. self to physics. The Government has set up IISERs. In addition to taking
top-grade students and training them, IISERs must also develop low-cost
Refresher Courses as a nation-wide equipment that can be made in India for all areas of science, and they must
activity run regular courses to train college teachers. If IISERs cannot do it, the
Government must set-up four or five centres which should be fully devoted
Though many Refresher Courses have
to this. In Germany and the US, there are companies which make low-cost
been conducted successfully thus far, a
kits that are used in schools and colleges. In India there is no company do-
majority of these courses have been
ing it; therefore it is necessary to build up the laboratory experience in basic
restricted to the southern part of the
physics or chemistry by conducting refresher courses for teachers. In other
country. When asked about the plan to
countries, a Nobel Prize-winning experiment immediately becomes a labo-
make these courses a nation-wide activity,
ratory experiment; we are 100 years behind. Whatever experiment we did
Srinivasan replied: ‘This was the main
60 years ago, is being done the same way and probably with the same
problem we faced when we wanted more
universities to accept these experiments.
I knew people in the southern universi-
ties, especially in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu IIT-B professor, the Director of a Deemed University in Bhubaneswar
and Kerala, and thought of introducing nanotechnology centre, who asked me to which then requested the course3.’
the experiments there. The idea was to run a course in Mumbai. Similarly, we
begin with already existing contacts and wrote a letter about the course and how it Coming together of the three Science
then spread the news. So, till last year has progressed, and sent it to the Fellows Academies
the only State outside these southern of all three Science Academies – Indian
States was Goa, where the first course in Academy of Sciences (Bangalore), Since 2007, the three Science Academies
experimental physics was conducted. Indian National Science Academy (New of India have worked together to conduct
From there I could reach Kolhapur Uni- Delhi) and National Academy of Sciences the Refresher Courses1. Mukunda adds:
versity, which agreed to accept the (Allahabad) – who work in the area of ‘Such courses where quality is main-
experiments. At Kolhapur, I met a retired physics. This letter also found its way to a tained should become more common so

CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 100, NO. 8, 25 APRIL 2011 1127

that motivated teachers, though in small lore – till August 2011. From 2012, more 2. University Education in Science, Academy
numbers, are given all possible help to courses will be held in Bangalore3,4. Papers No. 1, Indian Academy of Sciences,
teach better. The courses organized by Mukunda1 says: ‘Refresher Courses Bangalore, 2 December 1994.
the three academies do ensure mainte- are generally on an all-India basis, and 3. Interview with R. Srinivasan, 11 February
nance of quality. However, looking at the cover all areas of science and mathemat-
4. R. Srinivasan’s note to Current Science,
numbers involved, other bodies too ics. The main purpose is to help improve unpublished and incorporated as part of
should take up this work7.’ the quality of teaching, stressing funda- this article.
mentals and finer points of pedagogy.’ 5. Telang, P., e-mail to Richa Malhotra,
What lies next in experimental The need for Refresher Courses that are 5 March 2011.
physics? topic-based, such as experiments based 6. Jain, D., e-mail to Richa Malhotra,
on mechanics, and waves and optics, has 4 March 2011.
Srinivasan has plans to set up experi- been expressed by the participants. Ex- 7. E-mail interview with N. Mukunda,
ments in low-temperature physics, high- periments based on modern physics and 12 February 2011.
vacuum physics, optics and condensed material physics have also been sug-
matter physics in the coming months in gested6. As of now Srinivasan has tu-
Bangalore. If this materializes, he also tored about 500 teachers and students, ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. I thank Prof. R.
plans to conduct an advanced experimen- but he believes this number is too small. Srinivasan and Prof. N. Mukunda for answer-
ing questions and for providing background
tal physics course and a basic experimen- He hopes that more ASCs will follow
information. I also thank Mr G. Madhavan,
tal physics course alternately in suit in incorporating the experiments in Co-ordinator, Science Education Panel, for
Bangalore. In 2011, only four courses are college and university courses. his help.
planned in the city, as there is a prior 1. Mukunda, N., Seminar on Higher Educa-
commitment to have five courses – in tion, Centre for Contemporary Studies,
Chennai (two courses), Bhubaneswar, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Richa Malhotra (S. Ramaseshan Fellow).
Mumbai and an institution in Banga- 15 January 2011. e-mail: rchmalhotra@gmail.com

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1128 CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 100, NO. 8, 25 APRIL 2011