Many tourist destinations in Florida double up as classroom camps, an idea from which Indian institutions might take a leaf or two.
Watching students of two branches of Delhi Public School and Springdales busy working on robotics in teams at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently, one realised the extent to which the U.S. is able to combine fun with serious pursuits without detriment to either. Who, after all, would dream of turning a space research centre into an amusement park? That is, to put it simplistically, what KSC — once the site of the launch of great space missions including the Apollo series — has become. Perhaps it is possible only in the U.S., a country that is very successful in presenting its best face through a self-deprecating humour and a great sense of fun.
And since fun and work are not mutually inimical there, it’s not surprising that educational programmes are closely tied up with KSC’s activities. One of the concomitants of the end of the Cold War, officials of the Visitor Complex of KSC point out, is that space exploration has moved out of the closely guarded government precincts to the private sphere, with companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and several others collaborating internationally as well as getting NASA aid to pursue research in their own way. And so it could be said that those Delhi students operating their Lego robots benefited from these historical developments in a rather direct way, as KSC reinvented itself as a tourist and student-friendly complex.
The value of KSC’s workshops is undoubted, and their serious intent underlined by the aeronautics and space research veterans on the board of directors of Atlantis Educational Services, under whom these courses run. But the nagging question does raise its head, that while the exorbitant price tag on such a trip makes it available to only a slim selection of parents of Indian school-going children, why do our local museums and other institutions — notable exceptions notwithstanding —largely come across as dry, student-unfriendly places, whereas they could offer innumerable similar modules at more affordable rates? It is also interesting to note that the founder and CEO of Atlantis Educational Services, Inc., is Abhishek Agrawal, an Electronics engineer from Patiala’s Thapar University.
It’s not just the space scientists who offer dream lessons in science. Other Florida destinations, such as Jungle Island, which, despite its decidedly non-urban name, is located in central Miami, and SeaWorld, Orlando, offer opportunities to observe nature and wildlife. Jungle Island has, apart from field trips for kids from pre-KG to class 12, free annual passes for teachers, inside-cage interactions and shows by trainers where rare birds fly or walk on to the stage.
On a night out, kids can, among other activities, hike in the dark with flashlights and choose whether to sleep outdoors or indoors. Speaking of sleeping, even SeaWorld, with its popular killer whale show and Antarctica penguin exhibit, offers ‘sleepovers’ so children can observe sea animals’ nocturnal habits. There are also residential camps where secondary school youngsters get a preview of a career in the animal care line.
Whether this level of interaction with animals is always good for the animals is debatable, but in India, where lack of infrastructure often deprives students of classrooms and textbooks, it might be worthwhile to consider that all the world’s a school.
(The writer was in Florida on the invitation of Visit Florida)