Experts say science can be popularised through traditional art forms

Folk art forms seem to be one of the most influential mediums of communication though the government and educational institutions depend heavily on technology to reach out to the masses to spread the message on social and health issues.

Traditional art forms such as Karagattam, Therukoothu, Villisai, Puraviattam, Kummiattam, Oyilattam and Bommalattam still find relevance in these fast-paced times. In the last 15 years, the government has been using folk arts in most of its awareness campaigns, especially in rural areas, to propagate science.

These observations were made at a workshop on science popularisation held recently at Yadava College here where teams of folk artistes from Kanyakumari, Theni, Kancheepuram and Madurai districts presented their performances on the themes of prevention of non-communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular problems, breast and cervical cancers, sanitation and water conservation.

The four-day event was sponsored by the National Council of Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC) , Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi. Speaking to The Hindu, Manoj Kumar Patairiya, Director, NCSTC, said, “Though we conduct workshops and use print media for science communication, folk arts have proved to be a cost-effective media. “If trained properly, folk artistes will make good science communicators as they carry the message directly to the masses,” he added.

Expressing concern over the ‘knowledge deficit’ among the public, and students losing interest in science subjects, he said more students must opt for science courses. “Science plays a vital role in everyday affairs. A good knowledge of science will help in the decision-making process,” Mr.Patairiya observed.

According to D. Govindaraj, a folk artiste, every region has a native folk form which appeals to the local populace. And any message is best conveyed only in the local language. “If Tholpaavaikoothu is a popular genre in Kanyakumari district, Villupattu is liked by people in the Tirunelveli region. We know the pulse of the audience when we perform Marakkalattam (dancing with stilts) to draw crowds. We know how to keep the interest of the audience intact throughout the performance,” he said.

“Science is for social harmony and integrated development. Indigenous art forms can be effective in propagating science among the people,” said P.S. Navaraj, Dean, Yadava College.

As part of the workshop, teachers and students were trained in ways to use folk arts to popularise science. A session on story telling by Velu Saravanan of Pondicherry University was one of the highlights of the event. Prof.Velu said, “A story-telling session that involves physical activities such as jumping and running, and emoting, is the best form of teaching. Therefore, it is important for teachers to know how to act. This teaching strategy should be encouraged in schools to lay a strong foundation for a child’s education at the primary level itself.”

Though the concept impressed most of the participants, a few teachers were apprehensive about the practical difficulties, given the time constraints at school. “We are already conducting interactive sessions for students, but I fear story-telling sessions can’t be held all the time,” said Regina, a teacher of a government school at Mahaboobpalayam.

The participants were overwhelmed by the amount of information provided on the usefulness of folk arts. “I’ve never come across anything like this. Almost all sessions were enlightening,” said Raji, a final-year Zoology student of Madura College.

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