It may sound clichéd, but science is a way of life. It is the logical, rational way of explaining things happening around us, and all over the universe at large. This is done by making guesses – hypotheses – and then by proving or disproving the hypothesis through experiments, measurements and observations. Based on the results, we make inferences and create theories that can be tested and re-tested again and again to confirm the theory. There remain many things that haven’t been explained by science, but that’s not because science can’t explain them; it’s just that we have not yet found the answers to those questions. If every question already had an answer, then science (and life!) would lose its value and not be fun anymore. It is these unanswered questions that makes science an endless endeavour in search of the truth.
We produce millions of graduates every year, and many more matriculates, but these individuals have been shown time and again to fall way short of basic proficiencies in maths, science, writing and other basic requirements. Our education system is such that it encourages rote learning, so our graduates are often good at procedural tasks, but when it comes to thinking out of the box, creating something new or improvising and innovating on existing knowledge, we fall well short. Numerous studies show how in spite of our over-emphasis on academics, Indians come close to last in global academic tests (e.g. PISA Test) when compared to other nations.
It is our strong belief that by having a more hands-on education, these deficiencies can be mitigated. The kinaesthetic aspect of learning has shown to improve understanding, engagement and retention among students. Be it maths, science, language or history, any subject that is taught with a lot of stories, activities and with the methodological decisions made by the students themselves immediately captures the imagination of children. It is also our belief that we have to start when children are young, before the grind of exams and academics wear them down. We cannot work outwith the system; we have to work with it and improve it.
It is in this vein that we feel science and maths can be communicated in the most interesting and experiential way. There is a large amount of content, online and in books, about methods, toys, experiments and activities to make science and maths learning hands-on and more fun. But barely any is actually reaching large numbers of children. Stellar and immense work done by people such as Arvind Gupta have inspired us to take such models and tools to children all over the country. Using simple, easily accessible, affordable materials, we create and curate hands-on activities for almost every topic studied in school science. It is our endeavour to reach out to as many students and teachers as possible in this way. From making one’s own battery or microscope, to splitting water or turning turmeric red and creating one’s own floating pen or parachute, we want children to get to experience science like never before: hands-on, fun and dynamic.
To create an immediate interest among children from all over the country, we have decided to host a contest called the Sir C.V. Raman Young Science Innovator (RYSI) Award. The primary purpose of the award is to create awareness about Science as a Fun and Interesting activity for School Children, leading to more children taking up STEM as a career. This award is being constituted by ISPF in association with the Raman Research Institute (RRI) Trust, and supported by the social enterprise, ThinkTac.
The award is proposed to be held annually around 28th February – our National Science Day, which commemorates the discovery of the Raman Effect in 1928 – and will be held at Sir C.V. Raman’s old home, Panchavati, in Malleswaram, Bangalore.
The contest will have two phases. Any child currently studying in Standards 3 to 10 will be eligible to participate, from anywhere in the country. Only individual entries will be entertained; no group/team work allowed. There will be 3 age-group categories:
a) Junior – Std 3 and 4
b) Middle – Std 5, 6 and 7
c) High – Std 8, 9 and 10
All of Phase 1 will be handled online; however, children will also have the option of sending their entries by mail. Certain science topics will be chosen for each category and children will have to prepare a model of their own, and upload photographs and/or a video link with a short description on our online portal. These entries will be screened by experts and volunteers and be whittled down to a final 100 for the Finals.
The shortlisting process will require children to develop a “new” hands-on, experiential science activity in any of the shortlisted topics of science. The submission, which is made on the award website, should include the following:
1. Media – Photos and / or video of the activity
2. Description – A short description of the science behind the activity
3. Materials Used (and their availability)
The entries will be judged based on the following criteria:
1. Originality of the idea
2. Effectiveness with which it conveys the chosen topic
3. Ease of availability of the material
4. “Fun” – how much will a child enjoy the activity?
In Phase 2, the 100 selected finalists, split approximately evenly across the 3 categories, will contest a Live Finals in Panchavati. During the finals, certain science topics will be chosen from each category, and a selection of materials will be made available. Children will have to create their own innovations “on the fly”, and the best one, judged by our expert panel, will be declared the winner. In each category, there will be a final prize for the winner of Rs. 20,000. There will also be Runners Up Prizes for two participants in each category. Recognition may also be given to the school the awardee hails from. Commendable mentions/certificates will be given to other worthy finalists.
Invitation letters are sent to every State Education Department in the country, inviting children from all govt schools to participate. Similarly, letters are also sent to most private (CBSE, ICSE, IB/IGCSE) schools in India. Through this, we expect thousands of interested applicants. The award will also be posted on our website, so any eligible child can apply directly. In 2018, the inaugural year for this contest, we have had almost 10,000 registrations.