“Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.” – Carl Sagan
While the Constitution of India proudly asks it’s citizens to develop a scientific temper, the reality is that India is also the land of superstition and low-resource schools. ‘Science’ is taught in classrooms, but scientific thinking always takes a backseat due to the lack of resources, less-experienced teachers, or simply not enough opportunities for children to think critically.
As a Teach For India fellow, Shasanka Mishra understood the effect the lack of science labs had on students’ aspirations to pursue scientific fields. With no consistent avenues to explore their critical and rational thinking abilities, students in Government and low-income private schools were discouraged to pursue science as a career. His love for the sciences and duty as a teacher compelled him to start ‘Prayogshala’, today known as One Step Forward Foundation, a not-for-profit working in New Delhi.
A step forward today for a world of scientists tomorrow
Aimed at 3rd-8th graders studying in Government and low-income private schools, One Step Forward Foundation (OSFF) provides a coach who facilitates science lessons. They use a pedagogy called Cycle of Scientific Thinking that encourages students to design their own experiments. These lessons happen at school over two Science classes in the week. More than 20 coaches work with 1350 students over a period of 3 years through this promising intervention.
The coaches use a kit designed by the OSFF team to create an environment conducive to experiential learning. Dubbed as the Naayab Kit (3-5th grade) and Namoona Kit (6-9th grade), these science kits are based on the NCERT curriculum. They enable children to enjoy learning while uncovering the mandated academic portion. The kit includes materials found in everyday life like mirrors, laser pointers, modelling clay, etc. making it easy for use by both, teacher and student.
Recently, a bunch of 7th graders from an OSFF associated school observed that doctors fall sick far less than their patients. They decided to verify this in a typical OSFF way. Using the cycle of scientific thinking, they hypothesised that doctors inherently possess better fitness (immunity). They worked with a prediction that doctors will fall sick less often than their patients over the next flu season.
The children collected data on the diet and lifestyle of nearby doctors and their patients and observed them over one flu season- January to March. Their conclusion? Doctors have better immunity than their patients based on data that shows doctors fall sick less than their patients! One Step Forward Foundation also holds an annual science carnival named ‘Udbhaavan’, where students showcase their classwork and create solutions to social problems together!
The OSFF associated schools are seeing an increase in the scientific aspirations of students along with better school attendance. Many of the associated schools have expressed interest in continuing the program for years to come.
Shasanka wants to leverage any existing resources to reach out to more students and make the program sustainable. The team is working to tap into the network of over 100 existing Government mentors to work with teachers for the development of the program. They will train these mentors who can in turn, train their mentees.
To meet OSFF’s vision of a future with scientific thinkers, the team is taking a leap into the App world. In the next 6 months, they plan to roll out an app where a teacher from the remotest corner of India can order one of OSFF’s kits. This helps the teacher impart learning through a compact and portable kit instead of struggling to set-up a full-fledged science lab in an already resource-deprived school.