To clear a student’s doubt regarding a scientific fact, science teacher K Sureshkumar approached several leading academics in Kerala. When he could not find a satisfactory answer, he dashed off a letter to APJ Abdul Kalam, former president of India. Not only did he get his doubt clarified, but he also got a letter of appreciation from Kalam.
The 62-year-old national award-winning teacher (2012) says that the mark of a good teacher is his/her ability in igniting a child’s curiosity and encouraging her to ask questions. To practise what he preaches, in 2017 he opened a pedagogical laboratory, Total Empowerment for Science Learning Activities, at Kootapara, near Karakulam, on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram.
Like many woke senior citizens, Suresh is all set to begin a new career as a mentor and help children enjoy Physics and its fundamental laws and concepts by giving them hands-on experience in his laboratory. In large airy rooms overlooking the Karamana river, students get to explore scientific facts taught in their textbooks. More than 100 experiments, mostly in Physics, have been set up in the 5,000-square feet building that he constructed on 15 cents (equal to 6534 square feet) of land.
Suresh insists that many students find science difficult because the concepts have not been made clear to them. “Unless the concept of a scientific principle has been ingrained in their minds, not everyone finds it easy to grasp abstract principles of Physics,” he maintains.
Newton’s laws of motion, principles of light, sound waves, Ohm’s law and the relationship between voltage, current and resistance are just some of the concepts that a student can see, do and learn for herself. Suresh says that all the concepts and experiments are based on the Kerala syllabus and the syllabus of the Central Board of Secondary Education for classes eight, nine and ten. “In fact, we have taken care to ensure that the experiments resemble the ones shown in the textbooks,” he adds.
Since not all the equipment is available in the market, Suresh, along with some of his students, makes them in a makeshift workshop on the first floor of his house
in Pandit’s Colony in the city. Showing a model related to mirage, he says that as it is not easily available in India, he requested a former student of his to get it from the US.
Suresh is a four-time winner of the NCERT National award for innovative practices and experiments in education for schools and teacher education institutions.
“When I was teaching, I used to take some of this to my school and use them to teach my students. What should have taken at least half an hour to teach was easily conveyed in ten minutes as I could show them what was written in their textbooks,” he says.
The laboratory was all set to go places when the pandemic struck and Suresh was forced to close it. “It was a blow for us. Some of the apparatus got spoilt and for two years, I struggled with its upkeep. Gradually, students are coming again,” he says.
Students are charged ₹250 for a day and a student coming from a school is charged ₹200. Once the place reopened its doors in April 2022, students from six to seven schools visited the laboratory.
Recently, as an advisor to a few select schools, Suresh helped in setting up an open science laboratory at NVKS senior Secondary School at Attoor in neighbouring Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu. Vimalasree L, Principal of the school, says the open science park is a boon for children and teachers. She says, “The children are playing in the park every day and so they understand for themselves the working of levers, pulleys, Newton’s laws of motion, principles of force and so on. Teachers find it easy when they explain the same concepts in class. Thanks to Suresh sir, learning has become a happy experience for the students and teachers.”
Now that schools are back to regular working hours, Suresh hopes that students and teachers will make use of the facilities at this one-of-a-kind laboratory.
He is also planning to open a firm that makes and markets scientific equipment and apparatus for schools.