Role of Science and Technology towards developments of Bangladesh
Dr. Arun Kumar Basak
26 May,2014

There would be no difference between man and animal without philosophy (logic and reason).  Nor there would have been emergence of civilizations and occurrence of inventions/discoveries possible without philosophy. For this reason the research degree of all subjects is termed as “Doctor of Philosophy” (Ph.D.).

Science is a derived knowledge from observation and logic. Hence knowledge, which can explain the occurrence of an event, is science. On the other hand, technology is application of science toward welfare of human beings. During the pre-science period, the technologies in our subcontinent were based on philosophy. Scientific education in the subcontinent began during the British rule after the establishment of Kolkata Presidency University in 1817, Chennai Presidency College in 1873, Rajshahi College in 1873 as well as the College/University of Kolkata in 1857 and University of Dhaka in 1921. Researches in science and technology of western standard commenced in the subcontinent with the pioneering role of polymath (physicist, bio-scientist, botanist and anthropologist) Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (1838-1937) and chemist Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861-1944). These two pioneering scientists are the sons of our soil having their paternal homes, respectively, in Munshigonj for Sir Jagadish and in Khulna for Sir Prafulla.  Moreover, medical scientist and inventor of Kala-azar  (Dumdum fever or Visceral Leishmaniasis), Upendranath Brahmachari (1873-1946),  astronomer of many laurels to his credit, Radhagovind Chanda (1878-1975), astrophysicist Professor Meghnath Saha (1893-1956) with famous Saha Institute in Kolkata named after him and bio-scientist Gopal Chandra Bhattacharjee (1895-1981) had their paternal home in Bangladesh.

Science and technology evolved out of human necessity. Technology with non-science basis came into being during the period, 1.6-2.1 million years ago, with the discovery of fire. In the period 3700-1200 BC, a controlled use of fire gave way to   chemical technology of making copper and its alloy bronze. As a result of this discovery, people in this age were able to uplift the living standard through production of furniture and weapons of bronze. Between 1200 BC and 539 BC with the attainment in the know-how of increasing the fire-temperature, the living standard of man greatly enhanced through manufacturing sophisticated weapons of iron and steel.

According to Greek historian Herodatus, the “birth of science” took place on 28 May, 585 BC. On this day, the solar eclipse could be sighted in the city of Miletus of the present Turkey in accordance with the predictions of Greek philosopher Thales (624-546 BC). As a result he has been dubbed as the “father of science”. The prediction of Thales triggered “inquisitiveness” to a great extent in Europeans. After a few years, Greek philosopher Democritus (460-370 BC) gave concept of “atom” as the smallest particle of elements. Besides, among the important contributions before the medieval age the notable ones are (1) during 580-498 BC, in the invention of musical instruments and mathematics of Greek philosopher Pythagoras; (2) during 460-370 BC,  in the invention of diagnostic and curing methods of Greek medical scientist Hyppocrates (referred to as ‘father of western medicine’); (3) during 384-322 BC, in fundamental works on physics, metaphysics, biology, ethics, politics, poetry, theatre and music of the Greek philosopher  Aristotle (teacher of Alexander, the great); (4) during 330-275 BC, in the invention of Eulidean geometry of Greek mathematician Euclid (referred to as ‘father of geometry’); (5) during 287-212 BC, in the fundamental works on mathematics, physics, engineering, astronomy, hydrostatics of Greek polymath and inventor Archimedes; (6) during 90-168 AD, in fundamental works on mathematics, astronomy, geography, poetry of Greek-Roman citizen of Egypt Claudius Ptolemy.

In the medieval age (approximately 500-1400 AD), science based concepts had been fostered. However, no remarkable scientific revolution occurred. But indomitable efforts were made to consolidate technology with a view to developing the living standard. The important inventions in this era include: (1) advanced ploughs for cultivation; (2) tidal mills; (3) blast furnace; (4) distillation plant; (5) high quality glasses; (6) eye-glasses; (7) mechanical clocks; (8) spinning wheel (9) printing press; etc.  Besides, there was profound progress in art and architecture due to mental development of the general mass.  Moreover, “Book of Healing” and “Canon of Medicine”, the renowned contributions of Persian medical scientist Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD) were used as text books in medical science in several universities of the middle age.

The renaissance era followed the middle age in Europe. The renaissance, with its duration approximately from the 14th to 17th century, has been dubbed as “scientific revolution” which happened before the modern era. In this period, the “scientific reasoning” prevailed over the “religious supernatural outlook”. As I am unable to name all the scientists/philosophers of this time, I am constrained to list those who played a pioneering role. This list includes: (1) Italian polymath (painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, botanist and cartographer) Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519 AD); (2) Italian polymath (physicist, mathematics, astronomer and philosopher) Galileo Galili (1564-1642 AD); (3) British physician William Harvey (1578-1657 AD); (4) Scientist of the era, British Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727 AD); (5) French physicist and mathematician Andre-Marie Ampere (1775-1836 AD); (6) Italian savant Amedeo Avogadro (1776-1856 AD); (7) German physicist and mathematician Georg Simon Ohm (1789-1854 AD); (8) British scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867 AD); (9) Father of evolution British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882 AD); (10) Father of modern genetics Austrian-Hungarian Gregor Mendel (1822-1884 AD); (11) French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895 AD); (12) Inventor of electromagnetic theory British James Clark Maxwell (1831-1896 AD); (13) Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor and armaments manufacturer Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833-1896 AD); and (14) Father of   periodic table of elements Russian chemist Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev (1934-1907 AD).

The remarkable technological inventions in the renaissance include: (1) microscopes by Dutch spectacle-makers Haans Janssen in 1590 and his son Zacharias Janssen in 1595 AD; (2) telescopes by Greek-Dutch lensmaker Hans Lippershey in 1608; (3) steam engines by British engineer Thomas Savery in 1698 and British engineer James Watt in 1769; (4) earth-science by British physician, geologist, naturalist, agriculturalist James Hutton and British lawyer and geologist Charles Lyell in 1830; (5) photography by British mathematician, astronomer, chemist and inventor Sir John Herschell in 1839; (6) telegraph by American inventor Samuel Morse in 1839; (7) telephone by British-American-Canadian scientist, engineer and innovator Alexander Graham Bell in 1876; (8) antiseptics by British surgeon Sir Joseph Lister in 1864; (9) optical-fibre communication by Alexander Graham Bell in 1880 and (10) moving pictures by father of cinematography French chemist and  engineer Louis Le Prince in 1888.

The “modern age” or “golden era” followed the renaissance. In this period, crowds of scientists with their logic, intellect and creativity contributed to science and technology without any fear. With the improvement of travels using steam engines on land and water and communications through telegraph, telephone and radio, science and technology extended out at a great speed over Europe, European colonies and United States. Laboratories in different countries started research projects in collaboration. This collaboration resulted in ground-breaking inventions and discoveries in the fields of aeronautics, physiology, medicines, earth-science, computer science, artificial satellites, climatology, organ-transplantations in medical treatments, tissue culture and cloning in genetic engineering and bio-technology, bionic eyes for blind persons and “Higgs Boson” (God-particle!), the fundamental particle responsible for creation of matter.

The Nobel prize was introduced from the year 1901 in the twentieth century. Usually the outstanding contributors, who confer greatest benefit to mankind, are honoured in their life-time with the Nobel awards. But Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose for his discovery of “wireless” (not being patented as a mark of earliest contribution!) and Professor Satyendra Nath Bose for his “Quantum Statistical theory” and “theory of Condensate” (in spite of both being outstanding inventions) were deprived of the Nobel awards. However, the Nobel Laureates from our subcontinent, Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (1930), Har Gobind Khorana (1968), Abdus Salam (1979), Subramanyan Chandra Sekhar (1983) and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2009) were duly honoured.

If the total number of Nobel Laureates in the 20th and 21st centuries is counted according to their respective countries then it is apparent that three countries, namely USA, UK and Germany, are in the top positions. These numbers are the indicative of the standard of development of the countries during the period 1901-2012. Statistics of the Nobel-recipient countries are as follows:

(1) Of the total of 193 Nobel laureates in Physics, (a) number from the USA is 80, (b) number from the UK is 21 and (c) that from Germany is 23.
(2) Of the total of 163 Nobel laureates in Chemistry, (a) number from the USA is 63, (b) number from the UK is 25 and (c) that from Germany is 28.
(3) Of the total of 205 Nobel laureates in Medicine or Physiology, (a) number from the USA is 86, (b) number from the UK is 30 and (c) that from Germany is 16.

It is clear from the data that the USA is most advanced in science and technology during 1901-2012. From the list of Nobel winners, it can be seen that in the first-half of the twentieth century, the European countries dominated in receiving the prizes. But after the second world-war, attainment of the Nobel prizes for the USA substantially increased with a corresponding decrease for Europe.  This is reflected in the overall supremacy of the USA in the world.

At present the global situation in totality is as follows:

(1) Easily available fossil fuels are going to be exhausted. As a result, it has become inevitable to search for non-conventional fuels to meet the demand of the increasing population.
(2) Increase of global warming has put the adequate production of food in a challenging position. For this reason, (a) search for alternative sources (sea for example) of food, (b) invention of new varieties of food-seed adapted to a changing weather and (c) remote weather-forecast have become indispensable.
(3) Change in global weather and excessive lifting of all types of underground resources including the “geothermal energy” and water for irrigation have enhanced the probabilities of “Tsunamis” and earthquakes. Hence, all-time monitoring of these demands attention.

To tackle the three types of problems, stated above, multi-dimensional research-projects are being adopted in different countries. Charter of Understanding and Memorandum of Understanding are being formulated among the countries. Multi-dimensional aspects of meteorology, earth-science, marine-science and bio-science with the inclusion of chemistry, computer-science, physics, statistics and information-technology have been added. A number of earth-satellites have been made to orbit round the earth at a balanced space-interval for monitoring the earth-surfaces, different layers of atmosphere and earth-interiors.  The aerial pictures collected through “remote sensing” devices at a regular time-interval by these satellites are sent to various centres on the earth-surface.

Development of improved varieties of food-seeds, resistant to diseases/fungi and tolerant to weather variations, through “genome” technique and preservation of certain species using “tissue culture” or “cloning” have been made possible. Productions of special organs using “genetic engineering” are in the pipe-line. Very recently, new varieties of jute, tolerant to fungi, have been developed in our country by a team of scientists, led by Dr. Maqsudul Alam. In 1996, the birth of the “cloned sheep”, Dolly was successfully brought about by a team in UK under the leadership of Ian Wilmut.

During the partition of the British-India in 1947, the standard of education and research in our country (the then East Pakistan) was at par with India. With the passage of time, the quality of education and research in India kept enhancing along with the achievement of technological development. At present, India is going to be considered as an economically developed country. On the other hand, in spite of being the successors of Sir Jagadish Bose and Sir Prafulla Ray, the two great pioneers of scientific researches in the subcontinents, we are begging help as a poor nation from the developed countries. It is a great shame for us!

Degeneration in our country pervades all tiers of our society. We are being compelled to indulge in corruption directly or indirectly.  In the era of globalization, we are being exposed to living standards of different countries. As a consequence, we fail to practice our old tradition of ‘plain living and high thinking’. High living standard of the developed countries is confusing our mental setup.  We desire to lead a high living standard which we cannot afford with our inadequate income in our financial structure. Moreover, within the social restrictions imposed upon us from the early boyhood, we usually grow weaker in free thoughts. Under the circumstances, being perplexed in our socio-economic-cultural crisis, we frequently fall ‘victim to bad politics’. At present the overall picture is as follows: (a) a university teacher is accused of killing his teacher in cold blood and (b) there are now enough evidences to charge against school teachers of ‘sexually harassing’ the female students.  All these are the outcomes of our bad education system.

Degeneration in our society has not come about all on a sudden.  Long-term negligence in the inadequate training method and improper examination system in our education institutions are largely responsible.  The deterioration in our education standard started in 1962 when Mr. Abdul Monem Khan was the Governor of the then East Pakistan during the regime of President Ayub Khan. At that time, a good number of teachers, supported by the Government, were recruited in different education institutions. These teachers began to break the discipline of the institutions. Their mode of ‘shortcut way to success’ disregarding the prevalent rules gradually gained popularity. Many teachers, encouraged by the Government, indulged in the party politics in an unruly way. On the other hand, teachers with moral values began to gather on a different platform to protest against the breach of discipline. With this back-drop two permanent parties were formed in all education institutions. It became customary to drum up support from one of the two parties either to realize ‘a due right’ or press home ‘an additional advantage’ of a teacher. At present, with the exception of a handful few, all teachers are being compelled to be associated with party politics. Their involvement in party activities naturally reduces substantially the time allocation for teaching and research. In the inaugural speech at the 1974 ‘Ekushey Book Fair’, Bangabandhu termed ‘lack of our values’ as the greatest crisis of the nation. At present, laziness and lack of skill are added to the deteriorating values and at the same time dearth of creativity is being accelerated.

The boys and girls in our country are in no way less meritorious than those in the developed countries. But inadequate training method and weak teachers starting from the primary level have made them generally inferior. In education institutions, the students are not taught why to read, how to read and how to get pleasure out of reading. There is a group of students who are too weak to perceive their own ignorance. The number of this group is increasing day by day. They do not study all the year round. There exists a big gap (usually 3-4 days) of examination-free days between two consecutive examination days.  In our education systems, students utilize this long gap to memorize the answers to a few selected set-questions and then feel complacent securing a good result due to a faulty examination system. This is one of the major reasons of our degeneration. There is a small group of students, with at least feeling of their inadequate comprehension, who feel inferiority complex.  Both the groups eagerly look for sources of pleasure to remain busy throughout the year excepting the examination-time.  In the process, some fall victim of drug addiction and to meet the expense of drug take resort to extortion.

Present educational features of our students are the following:

(1) Walking along a road, one can hear a school student typically reading many times like “Rahim means a boy”, which is a clear example of a futile reading, our students are instructed to do.
(2) In the practical classes, teachers advise college students to take one set of readings genuinely and other two sets are to be fabricated by adjusting the readings of the first set. In such a process, a student can never understand the intriguing aspect of multiple readings.  It may be mentioned that the practical classes are indispensable for learning of a science subject. As here the students have chance to comprehend doing a scientific work through handling the instruments. Unfortunately the laboratories and the practical classes have been neglected for a long time. This is certainly detrimental to the science teaching.
(3) In colleges and universities, the general picture of the undergrad and graduate students can be viewed as, (a) they don’t understand ‘functions’ and meaning of ‘differentiation’ and ‘integration’ even after having good courses on mathematics; (b) students of statistics don’t know the real meaning of probability; (c) students of physics don’t understand ‘Ohm’s law’ of electricity and (d) students of chemistry don’t know the meaning of ‘valency’. Students in general memorize mathematical steps without understanding. Some of them write 0.5+0.5=0.10!
(4) It is difficult to replenish the deficit of basic knowledge of school and college levels. I have come across many college teachers who lack in the knowledge of H.S.C. level. They feel ashamed of taking help from others to learn anything before teaching their students. This is a basic flaw of the general mentality, existing in our society.

In our country, a number of knowledge enhancing programs, outside the formal class-room teaching, have been introduced by the administration of National Science and Technology Museum for the SSC, HSC and undergrad students. These enrichment programs include ‘science- fairs’, ‘seminars’ and ‘workshops’ on science and technology. These are certainly the complementary approaches to the conventional training in the scientific fields. But owing to the inadequacy of primary training, the students fail to avail the full advantages of these programs and also of the ‘planetarium’ in Dhaka.  At present the overall condition of science education in our country is such that in many cases ‘we do not endeavour to know what we do not know’. The main problem of our science-training is that we are having bad education which is ‘unproductive’. On the other hand uneducated persons can be productive in some way. At least they can produce food through cultivation or can fruitfully engage in other physical works.

Countries with better education system are more developed in science and technology. Reason for progress in developed countries is that people in those countries have several remarkable qualities, namely (a) they do not tell lies, (b) they do not copy from others, (c) they are creative and (d) they are hard-working. These qualities are to be acquired from the primary level. Education method does not imply only teaching-learning and holding of examinations. Teacher-recruitment policy, good library, adequate laboratories and pleasant teacher-student rapport embody the education system. Good teachers and researchers are the important ingredients of training the students. Research controls productions, teaching and learning related to research, teaching curriculums at different tiers of education, and even the behaviour of citizens. Research oriented education enhances the creativity, competence to judge right and wrong, and endurance. Once upon a time, the sun never used to set over the British-empire when its education policy had been the best in the world. At present, American universities recruit teachers and researchers irrespective of nationality, cast and creed. The United States has now become the most powerful country by adopting the policy of appointing the best teachers-researchers available in the world. This is reflected in the observed increase of its Nobel laureates after the middle of the twentieth century.

Under the backdrop, the objectives of our education policy 2010 are appropriate. These include an education process to bring up the citizens as intellectual, rational, honest, creative and diligent.  The aim of the education policy is also to introduce information and communication technology (ICT) at all levels for the public welfare. The process has been termed as “digital Bangladesh”. We do not, in general, understand its real meaning.  I believe such a dubbing has been chosen because of the use of ‘digital signals’ in ICT which employs digital devices. There are two aspects of a digital signal: (i) “0”-condition meaning ‘no signal’ and (ii) “1”-condition referring to ‘signal present’. Notable advantages of the digital electronics using digital signals are: (i) the associated electronic instrument is much noise-free, (ii) an electronic instrument can be controlled by a computer which also uses digital signals and (iii) it is possible to miniaturize an electronic device.

The education policy 2010 has been approved nationally for the first time in the history of Bangladesh. This is a great achievement of the present government.  Appropriate implementation of the objectives of the policy is a harder task due to our weak mentality in our socio-economic-cultural structure. The apprehension arises from the fact that the ingredients for implementing the objectives, namely, (i) rationalism, (ii) intellect, (iii) creativity and (iv) values are on the verge of extinction in our society. Rationalism and intellect are indispensable in science education. Innovation in science and technology cannot be achieved without creativity. Prevention of corruption and refrain from temptation of any kind are not possible without values.

A congenial environment is also important for complete implementation of the education policy. Here environment refers to the ‘solidarity of people’. ‘Mutual incredibility’ and ‘mental weakness’ prevailing among us are the major obstacles to creating the required solidarity. In our education institutions, the mutual mistrust among the teachers is gradually increasing due to the bad party politics. The mistrust; prevailing between administration and teachers, administration and students, and teachers and students; is giving rise to the creation of ‘chaos’ in the institutions. Teachers are happy with a softer promotion-method. In such a process, however, the standard of the concerned education-institution declines. Students vandalize buses if the tuition fee, fixed many years back, is increased when we have no ability to produce a bus. Students do not possess the sense that it is possible to take great delight through a creation and not through damages of the national assets. During class and office hours, they use to celebrate nonacademic programs using microphones aloud. They are displeased if teachers teach a longer time.  Students raise a hue and cry if good teachers set a few creative questions. We want to take advantage of leadership by appointing weak teachers. We cannot have individually all-round competence. If we work united with our individual special qualities, then we can upgrade the weak to a strong position and prevent our overall deterioration.  Unfortunately, the strong are being controlled by the weak in the temporary interest. It is high time, we should have courage to call spade a spade.

While good teachers are inevitably the main ingredient at all tiers of education to implement the education policy 2010, ICT plays as an important tool for teachers for training the students. Even in the language learning, ICT is regarded as an effective means.  A devoted teacher can gather a pertinent knowledge instantly from an electronic book (e-book) available in a website and impart training to students in an international standard. In our country, there is no alternative to the electronic service (e-service) to combat traffic jams, insecurity of people on roads and enormous population-density. There are two stages for implementing e-services on website:

(a) At first, a written/printed document is transformed into digital information (e-data) through what is dubbed as ‘e-administration’.
(b) In the next stage, the e-data are adapted to various e-services through what is termed as ‘e-governance’.

E-services can be classified into two groups which are:
(a) E-government: In this category, websites of public sectors like government and semi-government organizations offer e-services to the common mass.
(b) E-commerce or e-business: Here, websites of the private sectors and non-government-organizations (NGOs) are available for use of common people.

In our country, e-services are yet to be fully implemented. Yet their partial effects have been realized through ‘cell phones’. (i) Financial transactions, (ii) payments of electric and telephone bills, (iii) application of admission in education institutions, (iv) publication of examination results, (v) electronic money-order and (vi) purchase of travel-tickets can be effected easily through cell phones. Up-to-date information of organizations home and abroad can now be obtained instantly through SMS in cells. Moreover, use of cell phones is also found very useful to the farmers in production of crops.

ICT in our country has expedited research works in research and education institutions. Installation of the submarine optical-fibre line during 2008-2010 has furthered the use of ICT.  We can now download large research articles instantly from e-journals working in the labs. We can now use online the powerful computation facility of developed countries for our research work. Many of us noted a conspicuous evidence of achieving the stupendous success in developing improved varieties of genome-sequenced jute employing such an online computation by a Bangladesh-team led by Dr. Maqsudul Alam. On the other hand, a speedy online e-service has accelerated the research activities in the off-Dhaka research institutions. In this respect, Bangladesh Agriculture University in Mymensingh and Rajshahi University played pioneering roles in the research activities, respectively, in fields of biosciences and physical sciences in the 21st century. It is believed that a full-scale e-service will certainly alleviate the oppression arising from bad politics and corruptions. However, online ‘hacking’ is a big obstacle in successful implementation of e-services. It is a challenging problem for even the developed countries.

“Golden Bangla” of Bangabadhu cannot be realized only through the ICT installation. Our scientific base needs to be consolidated to ensure the maintenance and proper application of ICT. For this to happen, the first task is to foster scientific mindset in us. I feel appalled when I find our educated persons having grapes (now-a-days do not decompose) and “Mama Halim” (a kind of popular semi-solid food detrimental to heart) without any concern. The former is treated with formalin and the latter contains a huge amount of fat. We need a “scientific revolution’ to ignite creativity, rationalism, values and honesty in students starting from the primary stage of education. Appointment of good teachers, free from all kinds of parochialism and narrowness, at all levels of education is of paramount need of hours and there should not be any ‘quota’ in their selection. This is because our country lacks really quality teachers. To ensure the appointment of quality teachers, government’s intervention is now indispensable. Furthermore, there should be reform in the examination system with setting of creative questions. Science and technology will develop if the standard of teaching is adequate. Only then it will be possible to transform our over-population into skilled man-power and “vision 2021” of Bangladesh can be successfully realized.

Dr. Arun Kumar Basak is a professor at the Department of Physics in University of Rajshahi, where he is presently Professor Emeritus.