Rajeev Vartak (India 1992) is launching a program to develop science teaching and self-learning aids for school children. He introduces his ideas through science fairs and organized teachers groups.
The New Idea
Rajeev seeks to change profoundly how science is taught in India. He hopes to make science much more accessible and exciting by helping people "see science" and readily relate to it in their everyday lives. Through the development of "user friendly" and cost-effective scientific devices and teaching aids, Rajeev hopes to extend this new, effective scientific education to both teachers and students even in the remote tribal and rural areas of India. Rajeev's approach strongly involves parents and teachers in creating and adapting the science curriculum. In this way, the science curriculum will reflect local knowledge and real-life applications. In addition, the parents and teachers themselves will become better educated regarding scientific principles and applications. Ultimately, Rajeev hopes that the introduction of this new approach to science education will bring about a deeper community awareness and much more activism regarding science-rooted issues, notably including the environment. He believes that once children understand the issue, they will become a bridge bringing environmental awareness to their parents and others in the community.
Science teaching is at present very much based on the rote memorization of abstract information from textbooks. Much is lost because science teachers are not trained to integrate the basic scientific concepts that they are teaching with practical, useful applications of this knowledge relevant to students' lives. Especially in the rural and tribal areas, schools are seldom equipped with workable scientific or lab equipment, such as microscopes. Only some private and a few urban public schools are able to afford such equipment, regardless of the fact that the current educational plan for teaching science depends heavily upon these instruments.
Rajeev initially stimulates the interest of students, teachers, and parents by holding children's science fairs. Here children between the ages of ten and sixteen have the opportunity to conduct thirty to forty varied practical experiments. They are guided by teachers and parents in these efforts. Recently, Rajeev successfully held a fair in Chalisgaon, which lasted five days and involved 600 students from fifteen villages. His organization, Marathi Vigyan Parishad, has built a volunteer force of 300 science teachers from 140 schools in the state of Maharashtra. These dedicated teachers help Rajeev develop, test, and implement new, appropriate learning methods for science. The teachers meet on Saturdays to develop locally appropriate teaching methods and tools. During the week, they test these methods and tools with their own students. They then return to refine their evolving curriculum based on what they have learned with students in the classroom. The Parishad's board members, chiefly scientists, also act as advisers and resource persons whenever necessary. Rajeev makes special efforts to ensure that environmental education is a central part of this emerging science curriculum. He encourages students and teachers to take an active part in local environmental assessment and maintenance as part of their learning experience. Currently a number of Rajeev's teachers and their students are conducting an environmental assessment of the Ulhas, one of the major rivers in Maharashtra. Rajeev intends to expand and replicate his science teaching model first within Maharashtra and, later, in other states of southern India. He will then use these working models to try to change governmental science curriculum policies in favor of emphasizing teaching built around appropriate, locally rooted subject matter and teaching methods.
As a young person, Rajeev was always an outstanding student, with a keen interest in science and related fields. He is also committed to living very simply and is extremely cost conscious both in his personal life and his work. His volunteer-based organization runs financially on a shoestring. Rajeev has been involved with the Parishad since its inception, serving as a volunteer even from his high school and college years.