Bringing science up close

Ghosts trapped in jars, straw flutes, tornado in a bottle; the complexities of science can be simplified for children in a fun way and this is exactly what Agastya Foundation does. A Bangalore based foundation dedicated to hand on science education, their aim is to foster creative thinking among underprivileged children who do not have access to books and laboratory facilities.

Agastya Foundation’s Science Fair. Pic: Usha Hariprasad.

Chairman Ramji Raghavan left an illustrious corporate career in 1998 to set up the Foundation, which has such eminent scientists like P K Iyengar (Former chairman of Indian Atomic Energy commission) and professors of Indian Institute of Science (IISc) as its advisors. Considered one of the world’s largest hands on science and education program, Agastya Foundation’s success has led to Raghavan becoming a member of the Prime minister’s National Knowledge Commission.

The Hands-on Approach

An example of their attempt to make science approachable is the Mega Science fair being held from November 29th to December 3rd at the Army Public School grounds on K Kamaraj Road by the Agastya Foundation in collaboration with IBM and Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA).

With more than a hundred experiments on display and low cost models to demonstrate complex topics in a simple manner, the fair aims to demystify science. The focus is on teaching Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy, Art and Mathematics to students from classes V to VIII. The low cost tools are being demonstrated by students from rural government schools who have been trained by the foundation.

The students explain a wide range of concepts and principles to the fair visitors with experiments that simplify Newton’s Law and Archimedes Principle. Biology is explained with life size models of the human body showing the brain, liver, heart etc. The fair also touches upon present day topics like Eco-restoration by talking of banning plastic, saving water and reducing pollution. Puppet shows broadcast some of these messages to the visitors. Interactive workshops work well for inquisitive minds and the fair has people like V K Aatre, former scientific advisor to the Defence Ministry and a trustee and advisor with Agastya Foundation, taking in questions from the kids.

The Foundation has already trained more than 25,000 children under the program so far and according to founder Raghavan, there is a 95% retention rate in learning when children are trained in this manner.

On The Job

While the Science Fair is a step in the right direction, Agastya Foundation also trains both rural and urban children regularly in the fundamentals of science. This is achieved through Mobile Labs that visit one or two rural schools on a daily basis and train 50 to 100 children at a time. The Foundation also conducts teacher training workshops and science fairs regularly in villages and urban centers.

An interesting aspect is an Instructors’ Program conducted by them that trains children to teach and demonstrate concepts and principles to other children. It instils confidence in children, imparts vocational training and promotes creative thinking as they are encouraged to develop creative science models. The foundation has already trained more than 25,000 children under the program so far and according to founder Raghavan, there is a 95% retention rate in learning when children are trained in this manner.

The foundation has a campus at Kuppam on the Andhra Pradesh border. They work on the hub and spoke model, which means that it has mobile labs, as well as stationary centres, like the campus at Kuppam. The aim is to expose their models and labs to a million teachers and at least 50 million students in the near future. The learning experience is centred on student exposure and teacher training and many of the models have been replicated in rural schools all over Karnataka. One of their pilot projects ‘Lab in a Box’ gives rural schools an opportunity for hands on science experience. 

Model of the solar system at the Agastya Foundation’s Science Fair. Pic: Usha Hariprasad.

Science in the City

In Bangalore, the Agastya Foundation started a science centre and mobile lab in Feb 2010 at the Indian Institute of Engineering. “It is not enough to get rural folk up, but the elite of urban society has to have a broader vision too,” believes Raghavan, who encourages city folks to visit Agastya’s rural campus and see how they can make a difference. He also believes that exposure to urban society will help rural children understand what they can strive for and aspire to be.

They welcome volunteers and if interested, you could become an instructor to village children or help them run their science fairs. For more details contact info@agastya.org.

Several corporates like IBM, Honeywell, Axis bank and institutions like Cambridge University, Indian Institute of Science and Bangalore University have partnered with Agastya Foundation in initiating creativity and enthusiasm in rural children towards science.

About Usha Hariprasad 17 Articles
Usha is a resident of R.T Nagar and a travel enthusiast.

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