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Taking science to rural areas

K. Satyamurty

Bangalore-based organisation's mobile labs have helped one lakh children in 100 schools

  • Scientists from ISRO and DRDO have played an active role
  • Teachers feel they are better equipped now
  • Science Centre upgrades teachers' skills

    MAKING SCIENCE FUN: Government schoolchildren conducting an experiment at a camp organised by Agastya International at Bisanatham, Kuppam, Andra Pradesh. — Photo: K. Murali Kumar

    BANGALORE: Fourteen-year-old Krishna can tell you all about the solar system and explain how eclipses occur. Of course, many other IXth standard students can do that.

    What makes Krishna different is that he goes to a remote rural school — he has to walk some kilometres to catch a bus — near Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh's Chittoor district. The classrooms are cramped and some classes are held under trees. Science labs and practical experiments are out of the question.

    What has made it possible for Krishna and nearly one lakh children in rural Andhra Pradesh learn more about science are three mobile labs taken around the area by the Bangalore-based Agastya International Foundation. The labs are fully equipped with all that a science lab in any upmarket city school has to offer. More than 100 schools in Chittoor, Cuddapah and Anantapur districts benefit from them.

    The Indian Institute of Science, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Indian Space Research Organisation, Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts and Media Lab Asia have collaborated in designing these mobile labs. Scientists at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) designed one of them.

    Kanyakumari, principal of a Velugu Residential School in Kuppam (residential schools opened by the State Government for girls freed from child labour) says: "Most rural schools have no labs. Our girls have learnt more about science using Agastya's hands-on models."

    Simple models

    These experimental models are simple and are mostly made from locally available articles. An example is a simple "charka" converted into the model of the solar system with the planets revolving around the sun. Another shows how the earth's revolutions around the sun turn day into night.

    Agastya's collaboration with teams of teachers from rural schools, including some in Karnataka, has resulted in a network of teachers who now feel they are better equipped to teach science. For the first time they have models and experiments from which the children learn fast.

    Upgrading skills

    Promoting scientific learning further is the Agastya Science Centre on its campus in Gudivanka near Kuppam, an hour's drive from the Kolar Gold Fields. The sprawling 180-acre campus also houses centres for upgrading the skills of teachers in other subjects such as Maths and English. The Centre has equipment which can be easily acquired or fabricated by rural schools.

    Agastya had specific reasons for improving science education in rural schools; its programmes also cover some slums in Bangalore and rural Karnataka. The dropout rate goes up to 69 per cent by the IXth standard, when more intensive science and maths teaching begins. There is always a shortage of qualified teachers who prefer to work in urban centres.

    Over the last three years, since the mobile labs and the science centre became functional, there has been a perceptible difference, as revealed by Xth standard exam results in the Kuppam and other regions. Barely 40 per cent children passed the SSLC exams previously; it has steadily increased to 96 per cent last year.

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