DST guidelines encourage scientists to engage with the community, schools, colleges

DST’s ‘Scientific Social Responsibility’ guidelines offer a structured programme for engagement to volunteer scientists and institutions.

DST asks scientists to engage with the schools, colleges and the community (Photo Courtesy - Shutterstock)DST asks scientists to engage with the schools, colleges and the community (Photo Courtesy - Shutterstock)

Pritha Roy Choudhury | May 25, 2022 | 05:07 PM IST

NEW DELHI: The central government’s department of science and technology (DST) has issued a set of guidelines for “Scientific Social Responsibility” for scientists of institutions reaching out to the community, schools and colleges. It has puzzled a section of scientists – they teach and their research leads to technological advancements, they thought they were already being “socially responsible”.

In the works for four years, the Scientific Social Responsibility (SSR) quantifies and sets the minimum limits and scope of social engagement like the government did with Corporate Social Responsibility in August 2013. Except the guidelines are not binding and offer a more structured programme to volunteering institutions and scientists. Scientists are to connect with schools and colleges, as well as the communities where these are located. Each scientist needs to spend at least 10 days in a year inspiring students to study science and encouraging them to pick science-related professions. This interaction is expected to provide scientists with ideas and new challenges and school children of the area will play a crucial role in solving local problems. The “responsibility” being thrust upon scientists is explained thus: “An ethical obligation rather than a legal requirement, thus different from accountability. The emphasis would be on auditable voluntarism.”

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“Our purpose is intertwined. We are imparting scientific education, and that itself implies adherence to some social responsibility, but we are not completely into research. We merge with research the industrial aspect, that is, the transfer of technology”, said a professor on condition of anonymity at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Tirupati.

Guidelines for scientists

Under the guidelines, the centre and each state will plan and strategise for SSR activities. Some higher educational and research institutions will function as “anchor scientific institutions'' (ASI). Other higher education institutions will plan the implementation of the guidelines in consultation with the ASIs.

The guidelines direct ASIs to sensitise all the higher education institutions in the state. Teachers and researchers too will be sensitised by ASI. They will be taught about the ethical responsibility of an individual, especially a scientist, in the development of the society.

Funds required for a project, the guidelines say, will have to be generated by the centre and the state and no activity is to be outsourced.

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Difficult engaging

However, the engagement with students in far-flung areas is easier said than done. Most of the best-known education or research institutions are located in cities and towns.

“Many scientists from the institutes go to towns and villages and conduct awareness programmes but this is not uniformly conducted as they are voluntarily done. The schools and colleges should also approach,” said Shweta, a postdoctoral researcher with National Center for Biological Sciences, NCBS. “I would love to visit schools in Jharkhand but that is practically not possible.”

Though the guideline talks about allocating budgets for particular projects in consultation with the respective state, AK Gosain, professor, department of civil engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, thinks that it may not be possible for many of the states to send their students to places like IIT Delhi, Bombay or Madras but it is the centre which should take up the responsibility for conducting such tours.

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“I think that the department of science and technology should arrange for funds for the states to send their school students for exposure to the institutes. Like IIT Delhi organises many events, one being the industry day when students from schools across Delhi visit to get exposure and that is how an interest towards science is usually generated among the children,” said Gosain.

“We adhere to the norms of social responsibility and our endeavour is to make society better be inclusive. The students are encouraged to work with the local population. We have engagement with NGOs, local schools in and around Tirupati,” said the professor from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Tirupati.

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