Four decades of science movement in Bangladesh

by Amanul Islam | Published: 00:19, Jan 09,2018

 
 

More than twenty-thousand people gathered to see the total solar eclipse in Panchagarh stadium on July 22, 2009.

WHY scientific values and reasoning are not spreading in our society? — this question automatically comes to mind while mapping the science movement of the country. To spread the scientific views to wider society is the essence of science movement. Countrywide science-based clubs and organisations, publications and initiatives were the medium through which science movement was developed in this country. Just after the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971, science movement began to form. At that time, some students, teachers, engineers, researchers and doctors, with the dream to build the newly independent nation felt the need of spreading scientific reasoning, practice of questioning and objective thinking across the country. Quickly, handful of science clubs emerged in succeeding years involving teenagers and youths. Among those clubs there were Anushandhani, Anushandhitshu Chokro, Sputnik, Chittagong’s Kalakantha and Khulna’s Betaga Biggan Somiti. Even children’s organisation such as Khelaghar also prioritised science based activities.
In 1978, the government initiated first ever National Science Week. This science week mobilised much encouragement among the teenagers and youths and added a new dimension to the science club based activities. Although science clubs were active before the science week initiative, such programme gave an opportunity to the activists and organisers of these clubs to interact and exchange thoughts. The primary emphasis of the science week was to organise discussions with science-passionate teenagers, ‘little scientists’ and science-lover teachers and entrepreneurs. A wave was created — a lot of new science clubs began to emerge across the country. Those science clubs engaged in many diversified activities — conducting survey, scientific sample collection, science-expedition, inventing scientific solutions of local problems, inventing appropriate technology using locally available materials, creating educational equipments.
Many of the scientists, teachers, researchers, technology experts and social workers came forward to sponsor and support these science organisations. Some university teachers voluntarily invested their time to nurture the organisers and activists of science club movements and taught them. In 1980’s, eminent citizens like Abdullah Al-Muti Sharfuddin and Zahurul Huq played the leading role in the science movement of the country. Aside from the science club based organising, in 80’s, there was another organised effort to develop a science based culture. People like professor Mohammad Abdul Jabbar, professor Zahurul Huq, professor A M Harun-ur Rashid, professor Ali Asgar, professor A R Khan, Anwarul Huq Khan, professor Abdul Halim, Wahidul Huq, Santosh Gupta, Dr Abdullah Al-Muti Sharfuddin, Dr Nawajesh Ahmed and alike played foundational role in the practice of scientific thoughts through establishing the Biggyan Sanskriti Parishad. The Bangla Academy also published a number of books on scientific views and organised discussions on science related issues. Despite the adverse political environment, the effort to promote scientific thoughts and practice was a source of hope at the time.
In the decade of 90s, the wave that pushed the science movement forward began to recede. Except one or two exceptions, in general the activities of the science clubs became project based and science fair centric. Due to socio-economical obstacles, internal organisational weakness of the clubs and their scattered activities, the stream of science movement, once forceful, began to shrink gradually. The science fair based national science week turned into a formality because of the apathy of the government level. The budget allocation for such activities also decreased. These changes at the government level had a direct impact on the science clubs of Bangladesh. In 1999, to make a difference in this situation, Science Club Association of Bangladesh was established. This platform was created to serve the interests of the science clubs, as well as to organise science related activities collectively. During the short span that SCAB remained active, a number of significant initiatives were taken. The observance of annual science day on May 28th is the most significant contribution of the association. The association started observing a science day even before United Nations declared a day as a global science day. Another important intervention of SCAB was that it had boycotted the government sponsored token celebration of Science and Technology week. They argued without financially supporting the science club activities across the country, such science fairs are mere routine activities; it does not help real cause of science. However, the association could not remain active for a long period as the main organisers became busy in their everyday life and the movement failed to create new leadership.
In 2003, the first Mobile Science and Technology Museum was jointly established by Anushandhitshu Chokro and Bangladesh Science Popularisation Society. The programmes and exhibitions organised by the mobile science museum in urban, as well as remote rural areas, garnered great response among the school students. Despite its success, this initiative too couldn’t sustain. After 2003, with corporate sponsorship, Math Olympiads became routine annual event that helped to maintain some interest among the students from urban middle class. After a long pause, very recently, about a year and half ago, the National Science and Technology Museum of the government has initiated a MUSEO bus programme through which mobile science exhibitions are organised by the government. The National Science and Technology Museum has the responsibilities of spreading scientific views among mass people through registering science clubs and supporting their activities by any means necessary. However, the Museum failed to perform its mandated responsibility in the 50 years of its tenure.
The 450 science clubs that existed in the 90’s are mostly vanished now. Although, a new trend of science clubs emerged that mostly revolved around one individual, their activities were limited to attending science week. Against the grain, in late 90s Biggan Chetona Porishod began to work, and very recently Biggan Andolon Moncho is also pursuing science based activities. Among the earlier organisations, Anushandhitshu Chokro Science Organisation is still active. In 2009 massive science based campaign and various organised efforts on occasion of Total Solar Eclipse drew a lot of attention. The success of that event, again worked as a catalyst and many educational institution based science clubs emerged.
The policy makers are treating science and technology just as tool to produce the required commodities, not as an organ of culture. At present, hype is created in the society for information technology, ignoring science and scientific views. Science is promoted to sell IT commodities. Most of the science clubs at present are promoting use of advanced technology; they are not practicing the philosophy of science. Most of the clubs are indifferent about building scientific views and creating a favourable condition in society for practising science. We have to realise that being technologically sound does not mean achieving scientific views. Spreading scientific views is a must to understand the world and our surrounding properly, taking decision in it and solving problems. In our society that important task is totally ignored. That is why when our country is announcing that it would enter from 3G to 4G era, when we are ‘proud’ of our attempt at sending Nano-satellite in space, we witness an evil circle can mobilise people and create anarchy, saying that a ‘holy’ face of one war-criminal is seen in the moon! It is the absence of a scientifically oriented mindset that we often observe that the highly educated people of this county believe in many superstitions.
All of the print media are publishing horoscope as per their policy but there is no page for science in those newspapers except one or two. The advertisements broadcasted in the electronic media everyday often contain unscientific views and information. Sadly, there is no resistance against such misinformation campaign of the corporate sector. Even there is no effective government policy to monitor such erroneous advertisements. In the decade of 80’s, there were about 25 science magazines in the country, among which 10-15 were published regularly. In 2017 there are only 5-6 science magazines. Even those magazines that are in print are mainly patronising technology and scientific information for the rich; scientific views and philosophy are still ignored.
In Bangladesh, a science movement failed to evolve constructively because of successive governments’ acute apathy. And, of course, lack of socio-economic support also contributed to the situation. Moreover, the science clubs, established in 80’s and 90’s a failed to take its activities to grass-root level. In addition, our totally unscientific education system is also creating obstacles for practising science and scientific philosophy. How much a society would incorporate science in its body depends on its economic structure, political condition and social culture. In this backdrop, only a public oriented practice of science and scientific philosophy can embolden the stream of science movement in Bangladesh.

Amanul Islam is a botanist and ex-central president of Anushandhitsu Chokro Science Organisation.

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