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Importance of
Laboratories to Develop Scientific Temper among Students

Dr Manoj Kumar Srivastava

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of Physics

Army Cadet College, IMA,

[email protected]


We must overhaul the system of science education in the country to base it
on knowledge and creativity and not on memorizing and examinations.

                                                                                                – Sri Atal Bihari

“Seeing is
believing” is
a popular saying
worldwide. Science is the branch of special knowledge to explore the nature and natural laws rationally. The correctness of any hypothesis is based on its
practical realisation. This
means a hypothesis
will be accepted as law,
only after its direct or indirect experimental verification. Generally, this experimental verification facility is not
available with social sciences. This
means experimentation is the one way which
separates sciences with social sciences.

                 Science education researchers have examined
the role of the laboratory on many variables including achievement, attitudes,
critical thinking, cognitive style, understanding science, the development of
science process skills, manipulative skills, interests, retention in science
courses, and the ability to do independent work. Laboratory activities are
helpful for mediocre students rated low in achievement on pretest measures.
Laboratory activities have a distinctive and central role in the science
curriculum. Science educators have suggested that many benefits accrue from
engaging students in science laboratory activities. At the beginning of the
twenty-first century, we are entering a new era of reforming science education.
Hence, it is strongly advised to observe the laboratories with their aim and
objectives in both school and college education. We should not maintain a lab
for the sake of examinations and inspections only. Sir CV Raman said, ‘There is only one solution for India’s
economic problems and that is science more science and still more science’.

Keywords: Laboratory; cognitive style; procedural understanding; enquiry.


“Seeing is
believing” is
a popular saying
worldwide. Science is the branch of special knowledge to explore the nature and natural laws rationally. The correctness of any hypothesis is based on the fact about its
practical realisation 1. Generally, after direct or indirect experimental verification only, a hypothesis is
observed as
law. Experimentation also separates sciences with social sciences.
Scientific laws
have its global acceptability irrespective of place, race or community. It is experimentation in sciences
which leads
to today’s modern gadgets and devices to facilitate our daily life in every aspect.

this background, I am sure that importance of laboratories in the science subjects cannot be undermined. Without appropriate laboratory exposure, a student will not be able to comprehend the subject
in wholesome manner 2. Failing
which, neither he will be able to produce the knowledge nor be able to apply it
for further innovations. Different
hypothesis given by renowned scientists were discarded because these could not be established experimentally e.g. presence of ether as universal media was discarded by Michelson-Morley experiment



Aims and
objectives of science laboratories

us discuss the aim and objectives of the laboratories. Laboratory is the place where different concepts of science are not only demonstrated
and verified by the students
but their curiosity, enquiry and innovative thinking are also nourished. Over and above, in the laboratory, a student has to have procedural understanding i.e. thinking beyond doing
3. This will impart knowledge and wisdom among the students, so that they can use the same as and when required. To achieve this objective, student should be given appropriate liberty to realise and analyse his innovations apart from verifying the existing science

            Handling of laboratory equipments, inculcates the skill among the students, so that they can handle sophisticated scientific equipments and machines in
his future professions. Laboratories support rational
derivations and check
us for our mistakes committed, if any.
Laboratories teach how to work in a team on a project, which really helps a lot
as researcher in the future. We should not maintain a lab for the sake of
examinations and inspections. It is laboratory, where a student nurtures his
creativity experimentally with his scientific thinking. Science education
researcher have examined the role of the laboratory on many variables,
including achievement, attitudes, critical thinking, cognitive style, understanding
science, the development of science process skills, manipulative skills,
interests, retention in science courses, and the ability to do independent work
3,4. It is found that, laboratory activities are helpful for mediocre
students rated low in achievement on pretest measures. It is reported that
laboratory instructions increased students’ problem-solving ability in physical
chemistry and that the laboratory could be a valuable instructional technique
in chemistry 5, if experiments were genuine problems without explicit directions.
To encourage cognitive development among students, researchers designed laboratory
activities to create disequilibrium between different levels of students. Laboratory
activities have to play a distinctive and central role in the science
curriculum and science educators have suggested that many direct and indirect
benefits accrue from engaging students in science laboratory activities.


In India, the science laboratories at schools and colleges are gradually losing
their spirit
of presence. Generally,
in schools, laboratories are not given due attention. It
is found
that there are schools in which laboratories are opened for examinations
and inspections only.
This is really alarming. Even in some colleges
and universities, laboratories are functional because they have been given reasonable weightage
of marks in
the final examinations,
but the
aim and objectives of the same is failed to achieve.

At the beginning
of the twenty-first century 6, we are entering into a new era of reforming
science education. In past three decades, there observed a paradigm shift in
teaching aids created by different Information and Communication Technology
((ICT) techniques. Laboratories have become more important in the modern scenario
in which ‘enquiry’ has re-emerged as a central style for science teaching and
learning 6, 7. The technical term ‘enquiry’ in science education needs to be
explained in a correct manner. Enquiry is a multifaceted activity that involves
making observations, posing questions, examining books and other sources of
information to see what is already known and then examine the knowns in the
light of experimental observations using tools to gather, analyse and interpret
data followed by proposing answers, explanations and predictions to communicate
the results 6. Enquiry requires identification of assumption, use of critical
and logical thinking and consideration of alternative explanations.

Natural science
education standards in United States education literature 8 have been
continuously emphasising the importance of laboratories for conceptual and
procedural understanding of different natural laws and develop the skills in
science. Hodson 9 in 1993 suggested that, the laboratory should not be
limited to learn different scientific methods or particular laboratory
techniques but students should learn the methods and procedures of science to
investigate a phenomenon, solve problems and pursue enquiry and interests. In
the science laboratory, students learn about natural world, interacting with
different materials and equipments and then try to develop their own way to
understand the same scientific concept. Tobin 10 in 1990 wrote that,
laboratory activities appeal as a way of allowing students to learn with
understanding and at the same time engage in process of constructing knowledge by
doing science.


laboratory provides unique environment in which students develop their
understanding of different scientific concepts, science learning skills and
perception of science along with other fellow students in small groups to
investigate different natural laws collectively. Laboratory activities also
enhance student’s collective and social behavior. During lab session, a student
learns argumentation and creates alternate solution option of a problem.  He tries to justify different resources with
the data collected during investigation within or beyond the science classrooms.
Researchers 11 also indicate the importance of engaging learners in
describing and using observational evidence and current knowledge to construct
and evaluate alternative explanation based on evidence and logical arguments. This
argumentation of a student, develops an approach inside a student in which he
constructs meaningful science concepts and understands the laws of natural

Several studies
reveal that students enjoy laboratory work. Laboratory exposure to a student
improves his attitude and interest in science provided labs are conducted in
true manner. Science education literature has been continuously articulating
that lab work enhances students’ attitude and motivate them to learn sciences

Fraser, Mc
Robbie and Giddings in Australia develop the science laboratory environment
inventory (SLEI) to assess the student’s perception during the lab session 13.
They found that this instrument to assess perception of a student is sensitive
towards different learning environment skills. This SLEI has been used in
several studies in different parts of the world. A study by Hofstein (2001) in Israel
in context of learning high school chemistry, showed clearly that, students who
are involved in enquiry type investigation, found the laboratory learning
environment to be more open ended and more integrated with conceptual framework
than did students in theory classes 14.

educators have been projecting that during lab sessions; students interact with
peers and teachers quite informally, which improves their socialization. It was
also found that laboratory activities promote the positive social interaction
and healthy learning environment. It has been reported in science education
literature that, there are many discrepancies between what should be observed
during lab sessions and what is actually observed. The discrepancies may differ
from place to place but one common thing which is noted across the globe is
that laboratories were not able to impart the impact on the teaching learning
process as it should have been. Actually our teachers in general and science
teachers in particular, need to update themselves with the aims and objectives
of science laboratories. School administration has also to play a positive role
to upgrade the laboratory facilities in schools and colleges. Assessment of
students in the lab assignments should be done in a manner, so that aim and
objectives of lab session can be achieved.

Classroom based
research and development associated with the curriculum and teaching, is
important in helping science teachers and students to achieve desired science
learning outcomes. Professional development of science teachers 15 through
in-service academic training and workshops help them to conduct lab sessions as
are expected to be conducted. Student’s perception and behavior in the laboratory
session is broadly affected by the conduct of the teachers during the lab
sessions. Lab sessions should be designed in such a way that students become
truly informal with their teachers and peers and their enquiring faculty should
be activated, so that they can live scientific concepts of natural world during
their lab sessions. Science education in schools make a remarkable contribution
by outlining school science that deals with challenges of ways of learning
science and ways of learning through science. Now ways of learning science are available
in theory classes of sciences, however laboratory sources of science take both
the challenges together i.e. learning science and learning through science.

education contributes to the challenge of ever-growing realisation of the need
of scientific understanding to support decision making and to take decisions
that affect all our society. Hence, science learning is to be felt deeply from
complete realisation of the nature around us.

UNESCO has also
shown his commitments to universal access to quality science education, which
is surely incomplete without realisation of laboratories with their aims and
objectives to be achieved in letter and spirit both. It has been realised in
surveys conducted worldwide that, school science has to emphasize working with
ideas in the laboratories rather than transmitting information only in theory
classes. Science is not a dogmatic body of an unchanging truth but it offers
knowledge, understanding and methods of working that gives powerful ways to
look at the world. Science educator worldwide have expressed their views about
the fact that laboratory provides a unique opportunity to students to engage in
process of investigation and enquiry.

Both the content and pedagogy of science
learning and teaching are being scrutinized worldwide and new standards intended
to shape and reorganise science education are emerging 16. Different nation’s
science education review panels reaffirm the conviction that, inquiry in
general and inquiry in the context of practical work in science education is
central to the achievement of scientific literacy. Inquiry type laboratories
have the potential to develop students’ abilities and skills such as; posing
scientifically oriented questions, forming hypotheses, designing and conducting
scientific investigations, formulating and revising scientific explanations,
and communicating and defending scientific arguments. Hence, for better and
wholesome understanding of the science subjects, the role of laboratories
cannot be undermined.



At present,
there are certain methodological shortcomings in science education research
such as lack of clear cut direction for an experimental doings and expectations
out of that experiment. Learning outcomes are not consistent with goals of the
laboratory to be achieved. In 1990, Tobin proposed a study on the effectiveness
of teaching and learning in the science laboratory 17. He found and suggested
that meaningful learning and understanding is possible in the laboratory, if
students are given free hand to manipulate equipments and materials to
construct their way of thinking to understand and verify different scientific
concepts. With the researchers worldwide, it was found that schools were failed
to offer such opportunities to their students during laboratory sessions. Roth
in 1994 found that, although laboratories have been established to facilitate
the learning of science concepts and skills but this objective is yet to be
achieved in its spirit 18. Science education research emphasises the
importance of laboratories and suggests that a wholesome view to achieve the
aims and objectives of laboratories must be taken in its spirit. Learning by
enquiries, poses challenges to both teacher and learner. Enquiry refers to
difficult ways in which scientists explore the natural world and rules, propose
ideas and verify them using related experimental observations.  During this experimental verification
process, spirit of science must be felt.

            With this, I would like to invite
kind attention of all the stakeholders to save the aims and objectives of the
laboratories in science education, so that we can solve the mysteries of the
nature for better living of all the beings. Sir CV Raman said, ‘There is only one solution for India’s
economic problems and that is science more science and still more science’.


Blosser, Patricia E.  A Critical Review of the Role of the
Laboratory in Science Teaching Dordrecht: Kluwer (1980)

2 B. J.
Fraser & K. G. Tobin (Eds.), International
handbook of science education. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

3 Rajesh Khaparde & H. C. Pradhan. Training in Experimental Physics through
Demonstrations and Problems.  Penram
International Publishing (India) Pvt.Ltd (2008)    

4 Hofstein
A. and LunettaV.N. The role of the
laboratory in science teaching: neglected aspects of research, Review of
Educational Research Vol 52, 201-217 (1982).  

 5 Hofstein, A., Cohen, I., & Lazarowitz,
R. The learning environment of high
school students in chemistry and biology laboratories. Research in Science
and Technological Education, Vol 14, 103–115 (1996).

 6 Hofstein, A. & Lunetta VN  ‘The
Laboratory in Science Education: Foundations for the Twenty-First Century  Wiley Periodicals,Inc. Sci Ed 88:28 – 54 (2004);
Published online in Wiley Inter Science

7 National
Research Council. Inquiry and the
national science education standards.Washington, DC: National Academy Press

 8 Gage, N. L., et al.. Handbook
of Research on Teaching. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co (1963).

 9 Hodson, D.  Re-thinking
old ways: Towards a more critical approach to practical work in school science,
Studies in Science Education, Vol 22, 85–142 (1993).

10 Tobin,
K. G.  Research on science laboratory activities. In pursuit of better
questions and answers to improve learning. School Science and Mathematics, Vol
90, pp403–418,  1990.

11 Tobin,
K. G. Student task involvement and
achievement in process-oriented science activities.Science Education,Vol 70, 61–72,1986. 

12 Hofstein,
A., & Kempa, R. F. Motivating aspects
in science education: An attempt at an analysis. European Journal of Science
Education, Vol 7, pp221–229, 1985. 

13 Fraser,
B., McRobbie, C. J., & Giddings, G. J. Development
and cross-national   validation of a
laboratory classroom instrument for senior high school students. Science
Education, Vol 77, pp1–24, 1993. 

14 Hofstein,
A., Levi-Nahum, T.,, R. Assessment
of the learning environment of inquirytype laboratories in high school
chemistry. Learning Environments Research, Vol 4, pp193–207, 2001.    

15  Marx, R.W., Freeman, J. G., Krajcik, J. S.,
& Blumenfeld, P. C. Professional
development of science teachers. In B. J. Fraser & K. G. Tobin (Eds.),
International handbook of science education pp667–680, 1998.

16 Okebukola,
P. A. O., & Ogunniyi, M. B. Cooperative,
competitive, and individualistic laboratory interaction patterns: effects on
students’ performance and acquisition of practical skills. Journal of
Research in Science Teaching, Vol 21, pp875–884, 1984.                  

17  Tobin, K. G. Research on science laboratory activities in pursuit of better
questions and answers to improve learning. School Science and Mathematics, Vol
90, pp403–418, 1990.

18  Roth, W. M. Experimenting in a constructivist high school physics laboratory.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol 31, pp197–223,1994.























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