The aspiring scientists aged between 12 to 16 years, are busy experimenting how concave and convex lens refract or bend light rays coming from an object. Another team is busy designing their own working telephone with help of a long string and two plastic cups to investigate how sound travels.
Evidently they have fun carrying out such scientific activities, which seem far more complicated in their regular text books. Once they practically engage into the scientific experiment they discover that even simple science equipment can liven up a topic and make it easier for them to understand.
This is how a group of students from BUET, Medical Colleges and Dhaka University are making science popular among students of schools around the country. “We try to promote quality learning not only by helping children learn what is in the text book but also by defining what they need to learn to become independent learners,” says Tanvir Arafat Dhrubo, a final year student of Department of Mechanical Engineering, BUET and also the founder of the Shikkha Desher Jonno, a non-profit organisation run by volunteers.
This student organisation started its journey, on March 15, 2012 with the objective of simplifying the traditional education system in an attractive way for students of rural high schools in our country. To implement this goal they are using science to both enlighten and delight the students. “We are trying to prove that to be scientific you don't need to be in a well-equipped laboratory wearing white coats”, says Dhrubo. “Science is all around us and we can make our own scientific kit with different materials that we have at our home.”
So far they have reached schools of Dhaka, Brahmanbaria, Chandpur, Laxmipur, Lalmonirhat, Kustia, Jhinaidah, Khulna, Jessor, Bogra, Habiganj, with their study material. These volunteers run most of these activities during their semester breaks. Interestingly Shikhkha Desher Jonno solicits donations from family, friends and alumni, “We are not seeking any donation yet from any donor agencies, however, this year as we are planning to register this organisation as a foundation we might be in need of a greater fund,” says Umme Rumman Usha, an active member of this organisation and also a final year student of the same department.
As part of their project they have developed some instruments or teaching aids which will allow students to learn through a practical approach. They believe, these instruments, if used in a proper way, will free the students from dependence on guide books, coaching centres or other such expensive aids.
The volunteers are also working on the documentation of all their materials into a compiled magazine and also a short film, so that every school they are working with can have a copy of it.
“Being scientific involves being curious, observing, asking how things happens and learning how to find answers which often our text books and traditional teaching staff fail to do,” says Md. Humayun Kabir, Headmaster of Ashuganj Haji Jalil High School. “When these volunteers visited my school with their materials, they have shown our students that without expensive chemistry sets, equipment or kits, still they can enter into the wonderland of science.”
“Investigating and experimenting are great ways for children to learn science and increase their understanding of scientific theories”, opines Dhrubo. “There is no doubt that experimenting with different tools can help children think critically and gain confidence in their own ability to solve problems. But if I ask a student from a lower middle class background to bring expensive scientific materials that would be a little too much to ask. Keeping that in mind we started working on the toolbox.”
Shikkha Desher Jonno believes that learning science does not require expensive equipment and complicated experiments. With these volunteers children learn science not only by flipping through science books, but also by trying out new ideas in a supportive atmosphere.
“Our first step was to prepare a scientific tool box which should have materials that we get easily at our home,” Dhrubo elaborates. “For example we collected materials from our kitchen, or my mother's sewing kit, even from the junk that our elder siblings dispose in their drawers.” Things like glass, plastic lids, pins, paper, bulbs, batteries – these were the initial contents of the toolbox. In a few days, by collecting these kind of simple materials the toolbox was ready for 10-12 experiments that they carried out before the children. “With time and determination, we started preparing a list of experiments from class six to ten science books,” says Fatima Amin Lubna, a student of Shahid Suhrawardy Medical College. “When students from Dhaka University and Dhaka Medical College joined this venture, the toolbox became enriched chemistry and biology experiment setup.”
The most basic rule of scientific study is not to memorise the material but to understand it and apply it. But unfortunately our traditional education encourages students to memorise every fact and figure from text books. Even though Shikkha Desher Jonno started its journey in order to popularize science, it has had to also expand its range to geography and history, focusing on text books. Even here there is innovation – the members of the organisation are trying to write different historical events in the form of a comic strip following a story telling manner, so that the students could easily identify with the characters and timeline.
“Unlike a commercial guide book or a note book which stifles a student's creativity, our articles will help a student to expand his/her creativity”, explains Usha. “This text is being written in an easy and comprehensive language, so that while reading their text books they can always refer back to this text rather than memorising every little fact from the history and geography books.”
The benefits of a consistent and a well-rounded education for children cannot be overstated. Keeping that in mind, by the end of their very first year, Shikkha Desher Jonno has initiated another project called Shikkha: Night School Unit, where they have designed an educational programme for the children working in BUET canteen with an end goal of giving them access to quality education to
“Though it is called Night School, this school runs both at noon and night according to the convenience of the students”, adds Imtiaz Ahmed, another volunteer of this youth organisation. “By providing necessary practical knowledge along with the introduction to the alphabets and also study materials we attempt to transform these children into a potent social force so that they too could get a better life. Right now this unit is educating around 20 students working in different canteens”
Shikkha Desher Jonno is trying to take their materials to every division of our country. “We are yet to celebrate our second birthday, and so far we have covered around 20 schools of around 10 districts,” says Dhrubo excitedly.
Studying ceases to be scary when you make it fun and Shikkha Desher Jonno does just that. Their goal is to educate rather than feeding what is already in the text. These university students have truly shown us that education is all about enjoying what you learn.