The Compelling need for virtual labs is now greater than ever before !

Balaji Venkataraman - Nov 22, 2022

There is a lot of excitement in the air in India about the new NEP (National Education Policy). It’s been so ever since our Prime Minister Modi-ji called for action on this education reform movement in the middle of 2020. Any such reform is a high stakes game – and a lot of effort needs to go into it to implement the policy at ground zero – in the 1.5 million + K12 schools in India covering more than 250 million students and about 10 million teachers. That’s the scale we are talking about – and in the quest to become a USD 5 trillion economy, a successful implementation of NEP 2020 is not only critical but paramount.

The million-dollar question is “how ready are we as a nation to implement NEP”. There are many parameters / dip stick checks that can be used to answer that question. One of the key parameters in this context is the current state_of_affiars in Science/ STEM subjects – which is a derivative of status of our current school infrastructure and the current performance of K-12 students in science subjects.

National Achievement Survey (NAS) conducted by Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) and Ministry of Education (MoE) periodically. This survey is designed to assess our school systems across the country quite comprehensively. The latest such survey result that is available as of the time of writing this blog, is that of July 2021. Here is a snapshot of that survey result for science.

The key take aways from this report can be summarized as follows:
1. Overall Learning Outcomes are “Poor”
2. Learning outcomes for students decreases with higher grades
3. Only 40% of the Government schools have a science lab
4. Performance of students in Private schools is only marginally better than that in Government Schools (36 vs 34) – Class 10 (2017)
Bottomline is that students are struggling to understand Science concepts and apply them to real life scenarios. Teachers are challenged too due to lack of effective teaching aids for science subjects. Many schools lack proper laboratories to practice Science. This has resulted in very little hands-on experience for students of science.

Fundamentally there is a big gap in understanding the relevance of scientific theories. As a result, the students end up memorizing science concepts by rote.

In whichever way we slice and dice the NAS report results, we come to a conclusion that a lot still needs to be done to improve the overall learning outcomes in science. NEP has lofty goals for our future generations – but let’s make sure we are getting the right fundamentals in place to achieve these objectives.

NEP emphasizes on experiential learning – and it applies to science subjects more than others. Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Experience” reinforces the postulate that we retain only around 10% of what we read, yet 90% of what we experience ourselves. So - how can we get our youth to “experience” science ?

While this article has been written to reflect and ponder about the state of affairs of science in Indian schools, there is nothing great to write home about for the rest of the world. Most other countries around the world suffer from similar issues – in fact the situation is worse off in many cases:
- In the USA: Only about 20% of US high school graduates are prepared for college-level STEM majors
- In Europe: STEM jobs are amongst the top 20 bottleneck vacancies in EU; and there is a massive decline of pupils’ interest in STEM (secondary schools)
- In Africa, a lack of good education in STEM subjects is holding back African growth and depriving its youth of career opportunities

Popularizing & leveraging “Virtual Labs” is perhaps a solution that can bridge this canyon of a gap we are staring at. One of the positives of the pandemic was that a lot of schools across the world became accustomed to digital learning methods. Schools, teachers and students have become a lot more tech savvy than ever before in the last couple years. Now is the perhaps the best time to leap frog and get digital labs to proliferate across the nation. “Experiments based learning” can become a reality with virtual labs.

Virtual labs can be designed to engender a paradigm shift in the way science is taught and learnt. Such virtual labs not only have the capability to fill in for physical labs (in a lot more impactful manner); but also simulate real life scenarios which cannot be performed in the best of school labs. More importantly – this approach gets every student a “sophisticated lab in their pockets” that can be accessed 24x7x365.

Our strong belief is that “Experiment based learning” will engage students’ minds and thus enable teachers to impart real education quickly and effectively. We believe 3D visualizations, AR and VR based interactive education will provide a platform for highest levels of knowledge retention.

At Scholarlab, we are putting in a lot of time, energy and money into developing a state-of-art virtual lab to boost learning of science and eventually STEM. Our virtual lab product ScholAR is a treasure trove of 3D interactive simulations to make learning of science highly impactful. We have had a fantastic traction in the last couple years that we are in business, and we are committed to gallop in this direction to make a lasting impact to STEM education worldwide.