IN SCHOOL

Don’t just learn science, practise it!

Don’t just learn science, practise it!

“What we want to do is make learning fun for children studying in poor schools,” says Lewitt Somarajan. Surely a daunting mission, considering how even richer schools have a tough time getting their students interested in class! But Lewitt and two of his friends Sridhar P. and Rishikesh Kulkarni are determined to make it work.

“It’s easy for private schools to invest in technologies that engage students, but low-income schools do not have that luxury,” he says. These schools, says the engineer-turned-educationist, require a completely new kind of pedagogy. That’s where their brainchild “LIFE-Lab” (LIFE stands for Learning Is Fun and Experiential) comes in.

LIFE-Lab is a not-for-profit project that identifies schools and community centres that show an enthusiasm for improving their teaching, but lack the resources to do so. This is followed by a two-year intervention programme at the end of which LIFE-Lab would have equipped the school to provide students with a much more involved and practical education.

Teachers are technically trained and the school is supplied with a theme-based demo kit. The demo kit includes activity sheets containing a series of do-it-yourself science experiments that uses easily available items like plastic bottles to illustrate scientific principles.

More than the material supplies, however, the most meaningful aspect of LIFE-Lab’s training is equipping children to ask the right questions. “Sadly, the current education system is more or less an assembly line and textbooks are too objectivised,” says Lewitt, “so students tend to feel disconnected with what they are taught.” LIFE-Lab aims to change that with its lesson-based intervention programme. According to Lewitt, the most attractive part about LIFE-Lab is that it is completely integrated with the syllabus. Activities are merged with what the teachers teach anyway, so the amount of extra effort that needs to be put in is minimal.

Nevertheless Lewitt admits that there are challenges LIFE-Lab faces every day. “The dynamics of low-income schools is such that there is no accountability. It is difficult to motivate the staff in these schools to get out of their comfort zone, even if it means the effort is minimal.” But LIFE-Lab has begun its first year on a promising note. It currently works with eight schools in Pune and two community centers in Pune and Birur, Karnataka, comprising more than 2,500 students. The team, comprising Teach For India alumni, engineers and corporate volunteers, aims to reach out to 6,000 students by the end of the current academic year spanning more cities in the country. By December, Life-Lab will also begin an open-source content platform allowing educators anywhere to use the science activity resources developed by the team.

Funding has been largely grant-based so far, but with support from Teach For India, and as winners of the Hewlett Packard Educational Innovation Fund of India award 2012, LIFE-Lab looks set to give many more children the opportunity to change the way they look at science.



To know more about LIFE-Lab, visit their website:

www.life-lab.org



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