It could be a parent's biggest anxiety. The deadline for their child's project work is approaching and he or she wants it to be the best exhibit in the class or at the fair. The family stays up late, downloads content from the internet and shops for various paraphernalia in pursuit of a good report from the teacher.
Realising the pressure on the parents, more and more schools, as the season for science fairs get under way, have decided to make it a stress-free exercise. Apart from insisting that the students work on the project in the class itself, some schools are fixing a ceiling on the cost of the models they display.
Kendriya Vidyalaya schools, whose science fairs are scheduled this month, encourage students to present a working or static model. One criterion is that the cost of the model should not exceed Rs.500 irrespective of the number of members in the group; the model should be portable and be on a sound-scientific theme.
Sivaswami Kalalaya Senior Secondary School stopped having a project day as it found that some students were purchasing exhibits or the cost of preparation was pinching the parents. While project work is still part of the learning process in the school, the students are made to do a pictorial representation on a quarter-size chart.
Parents of children studying in CBSE schools say that with the introduction of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system, the additional practical assignments in the form of projects only add to the load of the students.
Sandhya, a parent of a school student in Mylapore, remembers the difficulty she faced when class V students were asked to grow five to six varieties of saplings as part of an assignment. “Most of us stay in apartments and it would not grow. Let it be the child's responsibility to grow them on the school premises, where the student waters and takes care of it, etc.,” she says.
While agreeing that project work is an excellent way to understand a concept, parents say the objective, however, is not achieved as children are loaded with practical work, home works and the cycle of tests.
K. Rahul Krishnan and K. Sooraj, class VIII students of SBOA School and Junior College, Anna Nagar, say outsourcing of the project work to elders or to outsiders at a fee can be curbed if schools insist that the work be done in the school hours.
Experts called to judge such works displayed in schools feel in many cases the topics chosen are tough for children.
V. Pasupathy, founder motivator of Parikshan, an organisation that empowers society through science, says schools should give a free hand to students to choose their own topics. “ We look for originality and analytical knowledge when we judge the work of participants,” he says that downloading content from websites should be discouraged.
So what is the best way a topic can be chosen? G.P. Kamala Vathi, headmistress of Chennai Girls Higher Secondary School, M.H. Road, Perambur, says that teachers have a role to play by picking up themes from day-to-day life that children are most curious about.
Amid different ways to encourage children to appreciate science better, a recent exhibition in the city made a difference. Organised by IBM and Agastya International Foundation, it had all the working models on display provided by the organisers. A group of students selected from four city schools were instructors and they explained to the visiting children from various Chennai Schools about the working of various models in English or Tamil.
Meanwhile, Bhavan's Rajaji Vidyashram, which is hosting the CBSE Regional level Science Exhibition 2011 on August 18 and 19, hopes to influence the Board to bring out a rule to discourage participants from using thermocol in project works. “For our school-level exhibitions thermocol is not allowed, instead clay, paper and cardboard can be used,” says S. Suchithra, head of department of sciences at Bhavan's, while pointing out that thermocol is not recyclable and hence not environment-friendly.
Keywords: science education