Tiju ThomasDepartment of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering
Indian Institute of Technology Madras
Sardar Patel Road, Chennai 600036, Tamil Nadu, India
Contactph. no: +91 8056456442
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The kind of infrastructural support, learning, and employment opportunities the developed world offers is usually leaps and bounds ahead of what many parts of the developing world offer. Having said that, there are things unique to the developing world, which if used well can enable the tapping of the incredible human potential that is resident here.
To begin with I must say, the untapped potential in the developing world is truly mind boggling. The number of people whose talents remain recognized, and the number of people who fail to get opportunities is stunning. I work in India, which counts as a developing country. It is home for 1 in 6 human beings. When I look around me, I see exceptional potential and extraordinary promise. As an educator, I delight in the fact that there are so many young, talented minds. However providing equitable opportunities to every one is a daunting, and scary task.
I am extremely lucky to be where I am, and for having had the kind of education I received. However I also know that for every Indian who gets opportunities (like myself), there are hundreds (if not thousands) who are deprived of the same opportunities. I think about this issue often, and have come to believe that people with a serious commitment towards overall human development must invest time, effort and whatever else is needed to provide equal opportunities to all citizens of the world. This sounds idealistic and difficult; but it simply means we can make contribute positively in our own small ways.
The question of doing "our own bit", takes on a unique character in the life of an applied scientist (like myself). I think that practitioners of applied sciences must always be aware of contemporary social challenges. This is certainly true of applied scientists in the developing world. Applied scientists can work on problems that directly address issues faced by their neighbors. Many funding agencies see merit in this research philosophy. For example, the Gates Foundation encourages applied scientists in the developing world to chip in with solutions for local problems to do with water, hygiene and sanitation. That aside, applied scientists can contribute to the education sector and budding industrial base in ways they can. For example, encouraging young students to kick start knowledge based firms, where they can translate their skill sets into tangible contributions is always going to help curb unemployment related issues. Making one's experience and knowledge accessible is a good way for creatively providing opportunities to young minds in our vicinity.
I think science as an endeavor, is not very different from the arts. Science too enriches the human life. This also means that science, like the arts, have an important place in culture. Scientists in the developing world can ensure that their endeavors impact people's lives. They can also work towards creating conditions wherein scientific temperament is inculcated among the general population. I think, this will lead to several changes in social and behavioral patterns that will benefit people and their environments in the long term. For ensuring a healthy future, we need a critical mass of good scientists and engineers in decision making bodies. This is why science and engineering students of the right temperament may consider politics and governance as viable career directions as well.
I believe we are called to work towards fostering an environment where creative work is possible. Creativity requires humanity at its very best. Poor quality of life in the developing world is one of the serious threats to fostering creativity among professionals here. Poor conditions create conditions wherein people are risk-averse and have low self esteem; which in turn impedes creativity. One could'nt possibly do good science (or art or any other creative work), if living conditions are poor, and if s/he has a low sense of self-esteem. The potential of the developing world can only be tapped if proactive measures are taken to ensure that everyone (including children) have the freedom of thought and learning. We must strive hard to ensure that our neighbors have a deep sense of self-esteem, regardless of their socio-economic and familial conditions. Sensitive nurture and education is a mission we can all be a part of.
As I sign off, let me tell you that I am optimistic about the directions we are taking. The conditions of people in the developing world has been improving, and will continue to improve in the years to come. However I am certain that we can further accelerate overall human development in all parts of the world, if the majority of the educated people decide to play an active role in this important process.