MOM and children

Mars Orbiter Mission is a hot topic in schools across the country   | Photo Credit: satheesh vellinezhi

In the recent past, few events from the world of science have captured public imagination so much as MOM. As the nation celebrated the success of the Mars mission, and the greater promise it meant for future space exploration, there was another outcome, perhaps unforeseen, that had unfolded.

Much before MOM went into orbit, children across schools had started their own pet explorations of the red planet. “Why are we going to Mars? Isn’t Venus closer to us?” asked 12-year-old Sneha to her science teacher. That one question lead to a discussion on why Mars is an interesting destination; why it becomes easier to launch a probe to a planet outside of Earth’s orbit...?

“Light takes barely eight minutes to reach us from the Sun, why 12 minutes to communicate with MOM?” a question from little Dhananjay. Before it could provoke a discussion, quick comes the reply from his classmate Uttara: “Because MOM will be farther from us than the Sun when it reaches Mars!”

Recently, after I had finished with a science outreach programme in a school, Aditya, a student of class eight, showed me a report he had prepared on why we should be looking for oxygen and not methane if we are interested in finding life on Mars. That little book of curious research and colourful diagrams he had put together was a month’s meticulous work.

Most teachers and parents would be able to relate to what I just described, a surfeit of excitement among children for space science, triggered by the Mars mission. But what was so special about MOM? Firstly, it was science happening closer to home. Everyone knew at least somebody who was directly or remotely involved in this ISRO mission. That up-close access augmented the excitement. The space research organisation also did a wonderful job of putting information across to the public through social networking forums and press releases.

And when the time came, the media gave it the big push it deserved. The end result was that like every one else, children right from elementary to high school were talking about rockets, interplanetary travel, deep space, search for life elsewhere and a great deal more. They wrote essays on these topics, scribbled poems fancying the red planet, built models of launch vehicles, created presentations on the Mars mission and above all saw a future for themselves pushing the frontiers of space exploration.

Educators and policy makers often split hairs to put in place innovative curriculum plans for schools that foster scientific temperament among children. But the challenge that school teachers who are at the frontline of education face, is in creating an interesting context to engage children in science learning. MOM’s journey to Mars provided just that, a perfect setting where children could explore, observe and make use of the events around them to learn science as opposed to a text book based education. This opportunity to bring science alive in classrooms and to engage children’s imagination and critical thinking is perhaps one of the more far reaching impacts that a big project like the Mars mission might accomplish for the nation’s future. As little Advika, barely seven years old, told me: “I know which planet we should go to next, and I know an easy way to get there!” Sure you do, Advika..

(The author is a city-based astrophysicist and science educator)

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Printable version | Oct 11, 2021 2:57:56 AM |

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