Meet Science-innovator Arvind Gupta who has made Science exciting to millions of children across the world through his ‘toys from trash’

As you read this, a khadi kurta-clad 60-year-old could be building a toy with the unlikeliest of materials in his 400 sq ft office room in Pune. Soon, it would find its way inside a classroom in a remote corner of the world — it would teach Science the way no textbook can. Arvind Gupta, the man who showed that a cycle tube can be used to teach how pumps work, who used straws to teach centrifugal force, and taught geometrical structures using nothing but a rubber tube and a few matchsticks… is silently carrying out a revolution in education through his ‘toys from trash’. He has shown that Science can be made exciting using almost any object under the sun.

For Arvind, the journey began in the early 70s when he joined IIT Kanpur for a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He volunteered to teach less-privileged kids in the ‘Opportunity School’ set up by some “enlightened faculty” members inside the college campus. For two years, he and some of his friends “bunked a day a week” to teach there. Arvind describes this as his “first adventures into education.”

Life-changing adventure

His life-changing adventure, however, happened after he met educationist Anil Sadgopal. Through Kishore Bharati, an NGO, Dr. Sadgopal developed the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme to teach Science to village children who lacked exposure to well-equipped labs. Batteries, bulbs, wires… programmes were developed around products from everyday life.

Arvind, who then worked for Telco, took a break from his job of making trucks to join Kishore Bharati. He was at a weekly bazaar in the village of Palia Piparia in Madhya Pradesh when an idea struck him. He shopped for locally-available objects and made simple but effective ‘Science toys’.

For the twenty-something Arvind, this was “much better than making trucks”.

He has been on his feet ever since, taking these toys to government, tribal, rural, and urban schools in every nook and corner of the country.

Arvind’s child-like curiosity can perhaps be attributed to his mother. As a little boy, he was a “tinkerer” who loved to take apart and put together objects.

“I had the kindest mother who let me be,” he says. His best friend was his “battered-up trunk” with screw-drivers and other equipment — when he was barely eight, Arvind opened up their ceiling fan for repairs since they couldn’t afford an electrician.

Such “long hours of play” are a luxury for a lot of kids these days. Arvind feels that they are controlled by a “string of degrees in various ways” at a young age and are tortured by an education system that awards marks based on their ability to memorise.

“Children must reject this,” feels Arvind. “We need some disobedient children too,” he laughs. “Those who challenge authority to learn and do things at their own speed.”

Arvind translates with passion books from English to Hindi. As a person from Uttar Pradesh, he is “deeply aware of poverty of material in Hindi.” He has so far done 155 translations and has uploaded them on his website.

He has written 23 books so far, most of which are available for free download on his website. They are uploaded even before they go for print!

Arvind believes in sharing. “Life is short. We must make it beautiful. We aren’t going to take anything when we go, are we?” It has been ten years since Arvind was invited to work at the Inter-University Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics in Pune by astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar. His team of four works here to “imbue the love for Science in children.”

A good toy, according to Arvind, is that which is designed such that a child can “rip apart and see what is inside the tummy and put it back together.”

The best thing about working with children? “There’s a gleam in their eyes when they see a small motor work; there’s a smile in their faces. They are absolutely enthralled.”

It’s “hunger in their eyes” that has been driving him for the past 30 years. Children should nurse the dream of doing something original. “If they don’t achieve it, so be it. They’ve dreamt it.”