The CSR initiative by IL&FS Financial Services in the catchment area of BAEL in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand, is creating new opportunities of scientific exploration for school children, teachers and parents alike

Amisha Kumari, a 13-year-old schoolgirl in a remote village in the state of Jharkhand in India, springs to her feet on a Tuesday morning. She reaches school earlier than usual, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Science Bus. Her thoughts are running wild about the ‘journey’ ahead - will she be able to delve into the depths of human anatomy, or gain some new information about stars and planets; will she learn about the functioning of a car’s engine, or be introduced to a new element on the periodic table. The possibilities are endless; and her enthusiasm is as unquenchable as her thirst for knowledge

BAEL is a 122.8 km stretch of four-lane highway, starting from Panagarh of Burdwan District in the state of West Bengal in India, till Barwa Adda of Dhanbad District in the state of Jharkhand. The highway is lined with coal mines, industries, several small towns and settlements. Most of the people residing in these towns are labourers

Amisha is not the only one. Thousands of students in the catchment area of Barwa Adda Expressway Limited (BAEL), are benefitting from the Science Bus, also called ‘Science on Wheels’, facilitated by IL&FS Financial Services (IFIN), in association with Agastya International Foundation (AIF), Nalanda Foundation and the Social Inclusion Group (SIG) at IL&FS. In schools otherwise deprived of premium facilities and upgraded science labs, the Science Bus comes as an intellectual respite, filled with wondrous information and knowledge

The six-laning of BAEL has been undertaken by IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd (ITNL), ensuring enhanced safety and efficiency of the traffic flow with minimal adverse impact on local population

IFIN, with a vision to increase access to practical, hands-on education in Science to economically disadvantaged government school children, deployed two mobile science labs (housed in a bus) in the Government Schools of Dhanbad

Lack of enough money forces the populace along the highway to send their children to study in local government schools. When IFIN conducted a survey of the schools in this area and interacted with teachers and students, it was observed that most of the schools located in the Jharkhand section of the expressway, face difficulty educating students with efficiency. The students were lacking behind, especially in crucial subjects like Mathematics and Science, with very basic knowledge of the English language. Teachers were not properly skilled in the subjects, unaware of modern methods of teaching, which negatively affects the learning environment of the schools. The study of science is especially outdated with ill-equipped labs hosting old, insufficient equipment, and no regular practical classes are conducted. The environment at home is also not conducive, with most of the students belonging to socially and financially excluded families. Under such circumstances, although students appear in exams and are promoted to higher classes, there is hardly any in-depth knowledge gained by them which can help them pursue higher education in better institutes

Each of the buses has two instructors from AIF, who help spark curiosity, creativity and build leadership among the children. The Science Bus aims to supplement government school system with experiential learning, as well as training the teachers from these schools in hands-on pedagogy. The learning is delivered through models and demonstration. The bus is equipped with more than 200 hands-on science models covering a wide range of topics in Physics, Chemistry and Biology for standards fifth to eighth. These models have been created by AIF after much research and deliberation; efforts have been made to make the models easy to understand and handle. The teaching methodology is consistent with the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, and the topics overlap the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) syllabus. The buses periodically visit the identified schools, and impart knowledge on select topics, consistent with their class syllabus. The bus is parked at the school for an entire day, with different time-slots dedicated to different classes. Until now, the two labs have covered 37 schools spread over a 60 km area in Dhanbad District, identified by AIF in consultation with the Education Department

Apart from teaching and demonstrating through experiments, AIF also identifies and trains students to be ‘Young Instructors’ a project where students are empowered to teach their peers. A select group of students is identified based on their innate curiosity and ability to think laterally. These students are provided special training on science models in addition to building their capacity and skills in presentation and communication. They explain scientific concepts at Science Fairs to other children
Two science fairs are organised every year, which helps in reaching out to a larger group of children across various age groups. In science fairs, 14 to 16 year old ‘Young Instructors’ demonstrate various scientific phenomenon using simple models. The science fairs, in addition to targeting a large audience of children, serve as a platform to encourage ‘Young Instructors’ to share scientific concepts with their peers (through peer-to-peer learning method)

Teacher training programmes are also organised to diffuse and propagate creative-thinking and problem-solving skills among government school teachers in the targeted schools. Regular interactions are arranged for these teachers with the Education Department, which ensures increased participation of the authorities in the programme, and gaining perspective to enhance the programme further
The science bus also visits surrounding villages during holidays and in the evenings, setting up interactive models at popular spots, thus instigating their curiosity, developing positive relationship with villagers and motivating them to send their kids to school

The initiative is unique in that it provides complementary and external support to the schools. It provides training to the teachers on developing cost effective new techniques and methods of teaching science. It helps foster creative thinking and problem solving among students. It promotes hands-on learning, as opposed to learning only from text-books, which helps in better understanding and retention of concepts among students. The ‘Young Instructor’ programme is especially effective in propagating the spread of knowledge through peer-to-peer learning

The Science Bus initiative is a raging hit among students, teachers and students’ families. It is not only them who benefit from this initiative, but the District Primary Education Department has specially commended the programme for the knowledge it imparts and the support it provides
The programme aims to reach 9,300 students across 40 schools within three years, ensuring academic development of the targeted students. The scaling up of this programme is already underway, with IFIN and AIF looking at possible expansions in terms of curricular subjects and other regions within the state

As shared with IFIN Panorama Editorial Team

Dhwani Chandel
Corporate Communications Department at IFIN


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