Roving labs hunt for India's Einstein

einstein in the village newton pkg_00023512
einstein in the village newton pkg_00023512

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Story highlights

  • The Agastya International Foundation is bringing cutting edge science lessons to rural Indian schools.
  • It deploys mobile vans that are roving science labs, roaming more than 600,000 km a year.

Rajasthan, India (CNN)The scene is as inspiring as it is shocking.

Squatting on dirt floors under the winter sunshine, Indian students in a rural village have gathered with their parents, grandparents and siblings for a community science lesson.
    But the real achievement here is surprising: the village elders are as intrigued as the students.

    The magic of science

    Solar system replicas, electricity displays, and anatomy models delight the impromptu classroom, and help to engage the crowd.
    "They use the models, so they see how it is working," says science teacher Tarun Arora, an instructor with Agastya International Foundation, a not-for-profit bringing cutting-edge science lessons to India's under-funded government schools.
    A key part of that mission is community outreach, convincing parents and others in the community about the transformative power of science education.
    "We are teaching not only the Einsteins of the future but the people who are problem-solvers and the leaders of tomorrow," explains Hariharan Ganesan, the director of corporate relations with the foundation.
    "We don't want job seekers, we want job creators. We are able to do something through this program to have an India of thinkers and entrepreneurs," he adds.

    Curiosity creators

    "Essentially, science lends itself to a lot of curiosity," Ganesan says, "We identify those children with that spark and give them a lot more opportunities, a lot more exposure so that they can participate in a meaningful manner."
    Agastya lays claim to running one of the world's largest science outreach programs in the world -- it deploys mobile vans that are roving science labs, roaming more than 600,000 km a year journeying to more than 10,000 schools and towns.
    The operation is staffed with a small army of educators equipped with the knowledge and passion needed to teach science to people in places that hardly ever get to experience the touch and feel of a science lab.
    "If I am changing their mind in a positive manner than I am doing great work," says Arora, a young instructor who says the enthusiasm of the students is what motivates him.
    At a recent science fair in the village of Jaswant Pura, in northern India, we found 15-year-old Pankaj Jakhar earnestly explaining parts of the anatomy to younger classmates.
    Pankaj explains that with the enriched science curriculum Agastya brings into his classroom, he now feels as if a career in medicine is within reach.
    "These mobile labs are coming into our villages, before we could only read these things in books and we were not able to understand exactly what was happening. But now we can understand it," he says.
    There is an abiding belief underpinning Agastya's efforts, that if impoverished children in rural India can be inspired by science, they will change their country's destiny as never before.