Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Developing quality scientists -C&P


It is important for Muslim students who pursue science to understand that they have a collective responsibility to contribute to society as a whole.

FOR students who recently received their SPM and STPM results, it signified the end of a phase in their lives and the beginning of a new chapter. Those who did well will proceed to further their studies in their chosen fields, based on their results.
One discipline that certainly requires quality students is science. However, many see the number of science students dwindling.
But what is critical is the quality, not quantity. Malaysia requires scientists who can innovate and invent in order to progress. We need thinking scientists who are problem-solvers.
To produce quality scientists, we have to obtain good students who not only excel academically in science, but also are able to observe and think analytically as well as critically.
Science is not a subject in which one simply memorises facts and formulae. Science requires understanding of the workings of the world.
Jabir Ibn Hayyan, whom many call the “Father of Chemistry”, was an 8th-century chemist. One of his greatest contributions was to bring “alchemy” out from the realm of superstitious beliefs into the realm of trusted knowledge.
Jabir was one of the earliest to describe the modern scientific method with four meticulous steps: Observation, rationalisation, confirmation, and falsification.
He wrote, “The first essential in chemistry is that you should perform practical work and conduct experiments, for he who performs not practical work will never attain the least degree of mastery.”
It is important for students who wish to pursue their studies in science to develop a new mindset. They need to be interested in practical work, because reading and attending lectures are not sufficient.
They also need to be observant and alert to minute details as well as be able to analyse, synthesise, compare and evaluate.
As highlighted by Dr Harith Ahmad of University of Malaya, who was recently named Distinguished Professor, it is important for a scientist to have “the willingness to work hard, commitment, and an interest” in what he or she is doing.
A quality scientist should also have a sense of mission, to seek for answers that can provide the truth to the inner workings of the world.
Nevertheless, as noted by Ibn al-Haytham, a 10th-century Muslim physicist, “Finding the truth is difficult, and the road to it is tough.” That is why a scientist must be prepared to face failure.
As Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Essentially, failure can become a spur to improve and become better.
It is high time that we try to move away from the obsession with the number of As that a student achieves.
One wonders at the quality of the string of As that a student obtains. It would be unfortunate if students merely memorise without having any understanding on the things that they are supposed to be learning.
Learning is more than just memorising, as it also involves elements of understanding and experiencing.
It is therefore unfortunate that we have students who memorise but do not have the ability to think. These are students who rely almost entirely on the teachers.
When these students, who do well in their SPM and STPM examinations, go to universities, there is a tendency for them to continue their heavy dependence on lecturers.
These days, many lecturers use power point notes in their lectures. Many students unfortunately only depend on these power point notes to revise.
They do not actually bother to look up for extra references, which in this day and age, are easily obtained.
Such a lackadaisical attitude does not make a quality student, and if the student is a science student, this would not contribute towards the making of a quality scientist.
This student may not even see the value of practical work in science as emphasis is placed on memorisation of lecture notes.
We definitely need scientists for us to be able to tackle the many problems that we face in our world.
Science is an “art” of discovery. These discoveries should better our lives by solving the situations that we face, and not create more problems for us.
Equally important is for quality scientists to pay attention to ethical issues, so that discoveries which are made and technologies which are developed would not damage or destroy the only world that we live in. Ethics and science have to go hand-in-hand.
If we have quality scientists who are ethical, we could at least be reassured that ethical implications would be taken into consideration. This is one of the major challenges that we face today.
This is also a challenge for Muslim students who aspire to become scientists Being a Muslim scientist is not just about doing science, but also involves great responsibility.
It is important for Muslim students who pursue science to understand that they have a collective responsibility to contribute to society as a whole.
Their quest for the truth in science should also lead them closer to God, and not lead them astray. This closeness or taqarrub would be the ethical safeguard within themselves, that would ensure that whatever that they do in science would not be unethical or corrupt.
Having an “A” in science may be a prerequisite to further one’s studies in science, but this is not enough. It is pertinent that everyone sees the need to develop quality, thinking scientists who are responsible, ethical and knowledgeable, who could contribute significantly to the society and nation.
That is where the “A” is really valued and counted.
> Dr Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen bin Shaikh Mohd Salleh is Senior Fellow with Ikim’s Centre for Science and Environment Studies. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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