Myanmar and Us
(Series - 2, part - 6)
In Part 5 there were many examples of how questions set for primary school examinations and tests lead to convergent thought in students, destroying creativity, logical thinking, and understanding. Excerpts demonstrated rote memory does not equate to knowledge but risks ignorance.
We were considering what influences government education might have had on Abdus. Abdus had passed his examinations up to Class 10, but as an adult believed the Sun goes around the Earth. Four days before Eid-ul-Fitr, he continued to insist angels will eradicate Covid-19 globally before the end of Ramadan 2020. This assertion was despite hours spent daily addictively browsing online, exposure which showed Covid-19 infections and deaths in Bangladesh were rising.
From the politicians and local leaders who decide policy and carry out decisions about Covid-19, to the public who evaluate government directives and assess coronavirus information, all apply a degree of scientific and mathematical interpretation when thinking about data. Whether people use pseudoscience, flawed mathematical deductions, or grasp the basis of the scientific method and data analysis, will in part determine their response to the pandemic.
Schools and madrasas have a direct impact on people's scientific capability. Extending Part 5, we'll consider what effect science as a subject in government schools has on people's thinking. Although the curriculum is changing, the focus is on how the public's current perception of Covid-19 is influenced by what they studied (rather than ramifications of any future educational changes).
Glaringly, successive governments have long considered science an unimportant subject because it begins in Class 3, not Class 1. What are the implications of this inferior status?
In Class 3, non-secular practices in government schools segregate students to study a single religious subject that exclusively depends on the religion of their parents. Likewise, KG schools, BRAC and other NGO funded schools only allow students to study their parent's religion. It's easy to conjecture what message that gives about the importance of different faiths.
A young student explained what happened when he queried the text. His teacher said it is true because you are Muslim, your religion says it is true... The student never questioned again.
Religious policy makers will not want to present all the mutually incompatible faiths as equally valid. They want to present the faith of the child's parents as superior. Otherwise, what's the point in having faith? That's why, where countries practice secularism, religious instruction of one religion is absent in government schools - it's delegated to religious institutions.
It's now perhaps clear why Abdus's confidence in angels eradicating Covid-19 is an explainable consequence of government school education.
All children read a tiny bit of information about Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism in the Bangladesh and Global Studies ('shomas') textbook. But this does nothing to counteract the bias of segregation and reading a whole subject about one religion.
At the beginning of the Islam textbook, students of Muslim parents in Class 3 read that the Moon, stars, Sun, hills, mountains, etc., are all made by Allah. The Hindu textbook says the Moon, stars, Sun, etc., have a Creator named Ishwara, God or Allah. The Christian textbook says God has created the Moon, stars, Sun, etc.
Children are teleologists, they assign purpose to everything. For example, Allah or God's purpose. Allah made the sky, Moon, stars and Sun. Young children naturally think a refrigerator was designed to be cold; the heart was designed to pump blood; the Sun was designed to shine (and was designed by Allah or God).
The Class 3 science textbook does not say how the Moon, stars or the Sun were formed. They're not even mentioned. They don't have to be. Schools teach students different faiths, which are incompatible. And to manage this and avoid a prior or subsequent challenge to any faith, introducing science in Class 3 occurs by presenting it as a belief. It happens concurrently with faith indoctrination.
Students can accept or reject science as a belief just like any faith, based on personal convictions rather than on empirical evidence. Both religious faith and 'science belief' learnt from childhood are then very resistant to change because they require no justification and brook no argument.
Science transforms by a cunning subterfuge. School textbooks still proclaim they are teaching science - and the irony is that it's partly true - but by omitting to teach the scientific process, it renders the subject valueless.
For a theory to be scientific it has to be falsifiable. There has to be some experiment, or observation, that can show it is wrong. Thus, there's a clear distinction between science and faith. Belief in a god or several gods is a leap of faith. So is disbelief. It's important to make this seemingly obvious distinction.
We acquire scientific knowledge through the scientific method, which new better theories can always falsify. This method includes, amongst others: observing, posing testable questions, formulating hypotheses, predicting, developing a fair test, collecting data, organising data, testing theories, repeat observations, making conclusions and better theories. Knowledge is not absolute.
The knowledge of science is the end product of the scientific method. Without practical teaching of this empirical process, students will never understand how science formulates theories and laws; students cannot use the critical thinking involved in science as part of their attempt to understand the world. They won't appreciate how to assign cause to effect.
As primary schools don't teach the scientific method through students conducting practical experiments/ investigations, science for young children mutates into a belief system.
Students in Bangladesh primary schools wrongly learn that to gain scientific knowledge you read so-called facts from textbooks (for a test or examination). They do not question from where that textbook information came; perhaps thinking it comes from mere observation alone.
This myth is so deeply ingrained that even influential people peddle the status quo. For example, Md. Shamsul Arefin, Director General, Anti Corruption Commission, gave his view on science in the Daily Star newspaper. "We want an education system that speaks of creating awareness about social justice and compassion, equality, secularism, gender equality, concern for the environment, social cohesion and national unity, quality of life, and scientific outlook and the spirit of wisdom. ...It is not a subject like History, Geography or Science that needs to be taught through dedicated textbooks." (Daily Star, Opinion section, 11.1. 2017)
Unfortunately, it's a grave mistake to write that science 'needs to be taught through dedicated textbooks'. A 'scientific outlook' cannot be taught solely or primarily through textbooks.
It now becomes clear how politicians, influential people, local leaders and the general public are educated to misunderstand science. It's no surprise they didn't respond scientifically in advance to Covid-19 or to act rationally and scientifically once it arrived to Bangladesh. Individuals can accept or reject the scientific warnings about Covid-19 as a matter of personal belief.
Mathematical proficiency plays a crucial part in understanding and responding to data about Covid-19. It's intrinsically linked to science. In Part 7, we will examine how the way schools teach mathematics affects understanding.
To be continued...