A brief introduction

The Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP) was our very first programme when Eklavya was set up in 1982. HSTP, which was started in 1972 by Kishore Bharati and Friends Rural Centre, presently covers nearly 600 middle schools spread over 14 districts of Madhya Pradesh. In terms of numbers, over 1,00,000 children study the HSTP curriculum every year and they are taught by 1,500 teachers.

HSTP focuses on improving science education from Class 6 to Class 8. In contrast to the prevailing textbook-based method of ‘learning by rote’, which negates all tenets of child-centred education, HSTP involves learning ‘by discovery’, ‘through activities’ and ‘from the environment’. It emphasises the process of science, promoting scientific temper and making the child a confident life-long self-learner and creator of knowledge.

In its 28th year now, the science programme continues its steadfast journey to change the reality of science education in the country. Many new developments in society present new challenges and exciting possibilities to the programme.

Discovery and more – revising the Bal Vaigyanik workbooks

We have many channels for receiving feedback from the teacher and the taught which permit a continual process of appraisal and review of the HSTP workbooks. These channels are in-built into the programme and include teacher orientation workskops, monthly meetings with teachers, monthly tayyari ghosthis with resource teachers, examination results, sawaliram letters, concept testing exercises with students and teachers and school follow-up visits by resource teachers and our HSTP team members. As such feedback accumulates and as ground realities change, we find it necessary to undertake a major revision of Bal Vaigyanik once every 5 to 10 years.

Two editions of the books have been published till now. The last edition, now more than 10 years old, was, therefore, ripe for revision according to our timetable. So we took up the revision process in 1998 with the Class 6 workbook. Work on the Class 7 and Class 8 workbooks is also currently under way.

We worked out a revision framework which can be encapsulated as follows:

1. The discovery approach remains the guiding paradigm. However, we felt this approach needed to be enriched and supplemented by exposing students to other ways and means of understanding scientific concepts and the nature of science. These could include historical anecdotes, descriptions of experiments, biographical sketches of scientists, more examples from nature and everyday life etc.

2.  One of the basic premises of the Bal Vaigyanik approach is that science teaching in schools should be teacher dependent. This premise still holds its ground. However, to aid and support the teacher in her/his work, we are preparing teacher guides along with the revised books.

3.  In the earlier editions, experiments were often introduced abruptly, without properly developing their context and purpose. It was assumed that an average teacher would be able to fill in the gaps on her/his own while helping children perform experiments. Unfortunately, this has proved to be a somewhat unrealistic assumption in most schools. As a result, much of the rationale for doing the experiments gets lost at many places in the workbooks. This lacuna also makes it difficult for children to revise chapters at home.

We feel the present revision process does, to some extent, rectify this shortcoming. We have also changed the order of experiments and added new questions wherever we felt it was desirable to do so.

4.  Our feedback has revealed that some experiments in the workbooks are a bit above the level of children of that age. This may be because they do not have the required level of experimental skills to conduct the experiment or lack the conceptual development needed to understand the results. Sometimes, the classroom situation in an average school makes it practically impossible to conduct some experiments. We have tried to improve upon such experiments, or substitute them with simpler ones or (as a last resort) remove them from the workbooks.

For instance, our tests of students’ understanding of ‘Chance and probability’ have shown that the present chapter on this topic, though immensely useful for the purposes of exposing children to the physical basis and statistical nature of chance and probability, has not been able to really extend and refine the intuitive understanding they already possess before entering the classrooms.

5.  Again, on the basis of our feedback, we felt that some chapters were too difficult for the class in which they were being taught. Examples include ‘Bal or bhar’ and ‘Phodon mein poshan’ (both Class 6). A few other chapters, like ‘Faslein’, needed to be updated to keep pace with changes in the rural and urban scenario. We are preparing revised versions of such chapters so they can be placed at the appropriate level.

6.  Some chapters are too long and need to be divided into smaller ones.

7.  We have for long felt the need to give more space and emphasis to chemistry concepts in Bal Vaigyanik. The present revision process strives to rectify this imbalance.

8.  The text in the workbooks at times tends to be basically instructional in nature. This does make the idiom a bit terse, impersonal and uninteresting for children. We are, therefore, looking into the language aspect during the revision process.

We also think the workbooks should provide more opportunities for children to develop their powers of _expression, their ability to write descriptions of processes and experiments, summarise classroom discussions and present their understanding in narrative form.

9. Though the Bal Vaigyanik workbooks can justifiably claim to be quite well designed and illustrated, we are trying to make them more child friendly. We are trying to make the design more functional by adding more illustrations and enhancing the readability of the text.

10. Exercises to help recapitulation are being included at the end of the chapters.

11. We are also including some interesting activities/experiments in the workbooks which are independent of the chapters and the curriculum. These will not be covered in the evaluation process. The idea is to provide children with some activities/experiments they can tinker with or do on their own, without the mediation of a teacher and largely for fun and curiosity value alone.

Generally, once the drafts of the proposed chapters of the revised workbook are readied on the basis of our feedback, they are disseminated for comments to the HSTP resource group. Then follows a series of workshops in which the revised drafts are discussed and commented upon. Teachers teaching Bal Vaigyanik in schools, resource persons from universities and research institutions and our team members participate in these workshops.

The draft chapters are then field tested in schools. The feedback from these field tests is made available to participants in the final revision workshops, which fine tunes the chapters, giving them their final form.

The other aspect of revision we are focusing on is the design of the workbooks. We organised a special workshop in 1998 exclusively to study this aspect and suggest improvements. A team led by a faculty member from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, worked on the illustrations and layout. We took the team members to rural and urban schools in Hoshangabad district to acquaint them with the nature and level of children’s understanding of pictorial, graphical and design elements of our workbooks.

The revised Bal Vaigyanik for Class 6 was printed by the Madhya Pradesh Textbook Corporation and made available to students in the academic session beginning July, 2000. The book has, by and large, evoked a good response from both teachers and students. Similarly, the revised Bal Vaigyanik for Class 7 is ready for printing and will be introduced in schools in the session beginning July, 2001.

The first draft chapters of the Class 8 workbook are being prepared. Our workplan envisages the introduction of the revised edition from the session beginning July, 2002.

Some issues still remain unresolved, however

The present revision process has brought to the fore some crucial issues which need to be understood and resolved. These include:

1. The question of including concepts of atom and molecule, element symbols, chemical formulae and chemical equations in the middle school science curriculum. At present, the dominant opinion within the HSTP group is that these concepts should be introduced in the higher classes. We feel middle schoolchildren do not have the necessary cognitive and experiential wherewithal to understand such abstract concepts. However, this thinking runs counter to the oft expressed concerns of parents and the dominant mainstream curriculum. Sometimes, this head-on collision even appears to threaten the very moorings of the HSTP. How to proceed on this issue is still an undecided proposition.

2. One allegation that has pursued us through the years is that the Bal Vaigyanik curriculum has little or no linkages with the Class 9 and 10 curriculum. This charge keeps cropping up in different garbs. It is high time we finally lay this ghost to rest.

3.  Much of the energies of the HSTP working group go into maintaining the existing programme and fire-fighting exigencies that keep erupting every now and then. In addition, all our senior HSTP workers are active in other Eklavya programme areas as well. This leaves less than adequate time and energy within the group for continuous action research, of necessary rigour, on pedagogy and other pertinent aspects that could serve as reliable and valid feedback for the revision process and for countering attacks on the soundness of the programme.

4. At present, many children get very little to read other than their prescribed textbooks. This is especially true in rural areas. There is, thus, a strong temptation to stuff textbooks with every conceivable concept, narrative, scientific fact..... This is not always helpful and may even prove counterproductive. We have made a serious attempt to provide supplementary channels of learning through Sawaliram, our question-answering service, and Chakmak, our children’s science magazine. We need to study what more needs to be done in this area and act on our findings.

5.  The Bal Vaigyanik curriculum is reflected in the workbooks and various policy documents. However, we have abstained from framing a syllabus for Bal Vaigyanik, though most of our HSTP teachers have voiced a demand for such a document. We should try and assess whether some sort of document can be given to the teachers that fulfills their needs while abiding by the spirit of the programme and our legitimate concerns.

6.  Another question that confronts us all the time is: What sort of space can a middle school science curriculum provide for effectively introducing science-society issues into the classroom? One of our concerns is to enable students to learn from and negotiate contentious multifaceted issues in a group situation. However, a major stumbling block in introducing such material into the curriculum is that it would make heavy demands on the competency of the teachers.

7. One debate that has dogged the HSTP is the ‘Process versus Content’ argument. The ways and means of arriving at the right balance between ‘process’ and ‘content’ still appear nebulous and tentative.

8. Another area of concern is the degree of involvement of resource persons from colleges and universities of Madhya Pradesh in revising the Bal Vaigyanik workbooks. Such participation has been lower than satisfactory and, in fact, more or less static for the past several years. The involvement of resource persons from other areas, too, hasn’t been growing. This seriously undermines such endeavours, hence we need to undertake steps to enlarge our pool of resource persons.

A successful experiment in supplying kit materials to schools

A necessary condition to ensure that activity-based teaching takes place in schools is that kit materials are replenished in time. Our experience over the years has made it more than obvious that a centralised purchase and distribution system for kit materials is totally incapable of delivering the goods. The state also appears incapable of making regular financial allotments to schools for purchasing these kits.

Hence, more often than not, we have found ourselves involved in the process of ensuring that kit materials do reach the schools. We have been thinking of ways to facilitate the setting up of a sustainable and easily accessible kit supply system for schools in the programme area. We have now devised a strategy for achieving this goal. It rests on the following three premises:

After a long drawn effort, we achieved our first success in 1995 when the Madhya Pradesh government passed a general order prescribing a science fee of fifty paisa per month in all middle schools of the state with effect from January, 1996. This single step gave schools the much needed financial wherewithal to replenish their science kit on an annual basis. The demand was already there, and now the schools had the means to satisfy it. The next obvious step was to shore up the supply side of the fledgling local science kit market.

Evolving a market for kit materials: A major effort was required to make kit materials available in the vicinity of schools to enable teachers to purchase items as per their requirements. While some kit items of common use are available in a small town or casbah market, others have to be purchased from specialist dealers located in big cities like Bhopal, Jabalpur or Indore.

Initially, we decided to step in to firm up the supply side of such items through Eklavya, by stocking and selling them to schools and individuals on a ‘no profit-no loss’ basis. This proved to be quite a success but placed a tremendous burden of space and person power time on our organisation.

Tackling the problem - setting up a network of shops: As a next step, we decided to explore the possibility of local shopkeepers stocking and selling such items at the block headquarters level. The volume of business per block was not expected to be very high so we knew the market potential would have to be demonstrated if we wished to attract shopkeepers. We also wanted to ensure price and quality control and prevent monopoly traders from emerging. In early 1998, we announced a scheme whereby shopkeepers could stock kit items on credit, with the facility of returning unsold goods. Prices were fixed with a 25 per cent profit margin for the shopkeeper.

Ten shopkeepers in different locations of the district have come forward to participate in the scheme. They have reported satisfactory sales and periodically renew their stocks through Eklavya. While about two thirds of the block headquarters in the Hoshangabad and Harda districts have such outlets now, they are still dependent on Eklavya to replenish stocks. This is mainly because they are yet unsure of the market and would not like to block substantial capital. Thus, we will continue to source supplies from wholesale dealers and manufacturers, at least for some time to come. Until the market stabilises, our field centres will provide local support to the nascent system. This means that our field centres will continue as supplementary or back-up kit outlets in their respective work areas - setting kit price standards and meeting residual demand.

Creating a sustainable market: Increasing the market size is crucial for making the whole system viable and sustainable. Several ways are, therefore, being explored to expand the size of the market and tap latent demand. For instance, in 1998-99, the Joint Director, Public Instruction, asked all schools to report on collection and utilisation of the science fee. This administrative pressure was expected to push those schools lagging behind in kit purchases. In addition, we have been undertaking a number of other measures as well, such as:

(a)  Disseminating the kit price list and the relevant government orders to schools in the interior areas.

(b)  Holding kit exhibitions with sale counters along with our mobile science exhibitions and other school-linked events.

(c) Writing articles in the HSTP journal, Hoshangabad Vigyan Bulletin, on lternative low cost/zero cost kit material available locally.

(d) Encouraging parents to set up small labs for their children at home. This would help children by supplementing their classroom learning. With this basic idea in mind, we designed a portable kit box. We felt such a kit box could help teachers in storing the kit safely and distributing it quickly in the classroom. One suggestion from teachers is to allot a kit box to each toli (group of four students) in the class. The rationale is that students would not only learn how to take care of their science kit, but also get more time to do experiments, as precious minutes in the science period often go to waste in getting and distributing the kit to students.

Utilising the science fee in non-HSTP schools: While proper usage of the science kit in schools under the programme remains a priority for the HSTP, we cannot remain oblivious and apathetic to the situation elsewhere. The 1995 government order to collect a science fee for kit replenishment was applicable to all schools in Madhya Pradesh. In order to understand the situation in non-HSTP schools, we conducted a survey in six such schools in Sehore district and three in Ujjain district. We wanted to find out if the science fee was being collected from middle school students and if so, to what use it was being put.

The survey revealed that: (a) The science fee is, indeed, being collected from students in most non-HSTP schools, (b) The schools, however, have no clue about how to utilise this money, so the collected amount is lying unutilised. This points to a serious lacuna at the policy level, since no guidelines regarding ways and means of utilising the fee are stipulated. We need to respond in an appropriate way to this anamoly. In a way, it may also provide an opportunity to enable non-HSTP schools to adopt, if only partially, an activity based approach to science teaching.

Regular happenings in HSTP

Teacher training: Provision of continual academic support to teachers is a crucial component of HSTP. One of the important ways such support is provided is by holding annual in-service orientation workshops for teachers teaching science at the middle school level.

HSTP has been in existence in the Hoshangabad district (and the new Harda district which was earlier a part of Hoshangabad) for the last twenty-one years. As a result, for the past few years a substantial proportion of the teacher trainees in these camps have themselves studied science under HSTP. Such teachers appreciate the spirit and pedagogy of the discovery and learning-by-doing approach more easily. A generational change has been brought about, and it promises exciting possibilities for the future.

–For the past few years, HSTP has been organising block level trainings in place of one big centralised workshop. Each block level trainings covers a small cluster of contiguous blocks. Consequently, most trainee teachers do not have to travel far to attend these workshops. The main reason for this shift has been a marked rise in the participation of teachers from private schools in these workshops. Teachers from private schools seldom get travel allowances to attend such workshops. Consequently, their attendance in centralised trainings had become quite low. We have found that teachers participation, including those from private schools, in these trainings is fairly high. Further, because of the decentralized nature of the workshops, the local resource teachers get relativily better opportunities to undertake initiative and develop their competencies as a teacher-trainer.

Monthly meetings and student evaluation: For more than 14 years Eklavya has consistentlty organised the monthly meetings of science teachers at the Block level in 25 blocks of M.P. These are preceded by a preparatory meeting where the resource teachers plan the agenda which they carry out in the monthly meetings.

Support continued to be given to schools and the Education Department in organising student evaluation for the classes 6, 7 and 8 including the Divisional Board Exam in class 8.

Content enrichment trainings: Committed and interested teachers in the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme are called upon as resource teachers to perform various academic tasks like developing material, revising curriculum, training new teachers, evaluation, follow-up in schools, etc. Over the years about 200 school teachers have been trained as resource teachers and have been promoting new pedagogical practices with commendable confidence. To give these teachers a certain amount of formal training in sciences and stronger conceptual understanding, HSTP has been organising annual conceptual enrichment camps.

In these camps three or four courses are offered in selected conceptual areas out of which each teacher chose one. In addition special lectures on specific topics are also arranged. The courses are prepared and conducted by our resource persons from various institutions like Delhi University, National Institute of Immunology, Delhi; Holkar Science College, Indore and other Colleges of Madhya Pradesh along with the Eklavya members.

Some of the topics covered in these workshops are: Life Processes (in two parts), Atoms and Molecules, Ionisation and Solutions, Electric and Electronic Circuits, Force and Energy, Genetics, Experimental Techniques in Life Sciences, etc. For special lectures, scientists and academicians are invited from institutions like Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore; Vikram University, Ujjain; Devi Ahilya Bai University, Indore; Regional College of Education, Ajmer etc

Administrative restructuring: With the creation of new districts and the dissolution of divisions and divisional offices, the HSTP routine was affected substantially. In this process even the Vigyan Ikai, meant for the academic and administrative upkeep of the programme, housed in the Hoshangabad divisional education office was dissolved. It had to be resurrected again, based on the principles/instructions of 1983-84 when it was set up formally for the first time. During this period the Hoshangabad and Harda district level Vigyan Ikai were set up and staffed. State Government had issued an administrative manual in 1983 outlining the administrative structures necessary for such an innovative programme. Because of recent administrative restructuring and government’s panchayati raj initiatives, a sizeable number of sections need substantial modifications. However, it has been thought prudent to wait till the restructuring process is over and the dust settles down before reformulating the administrative manual in consultation with the State Education Department.

Hoshangabad Vigyan Bulletin: Hoshangabad Vigyan Bulletin is a newsletter specifically brought out by Eklavya for all the teachers of HSTP as well as for the resource group from other institutions. It fulfills the need for exchange of ideas amongst teachers, and also provides them a forum for airing their views regarding various aspects of HSTP and education in general. In addition, it also makes available information regarding various relevant govt. orders. For many years, the publication of Hoshangabad Vigyan Bulletin was quite irregular. In fact, after bringing about 34 issues, the bulletin stopped getting published for a long time. About three years back this publication was again revived, and ever since it is being published regularly (4 to 5 issues every year).

Sawaliram: HSTP as its integral compnent has a fictional character called ‘Sawaliram’ to whom children are encouraged to send their queries on everything under the Sun (and beyond it). These letters are directed by the state education department to Eklavya where each letter is reponded to personally and individually by a team of persons. This team may have persons both from within and outside Eklavya. Sawliram letters have a history of being replied to by researchers working in reputed institutes, like Indian Institue of Technology and the Tate Institute of Fundamental Research. Currently, Eklavya receives on an average 20 letters per month from school children. Actually, this number would have been much higher but for the lack of availability of committed person power for the purpose. Another challenge facing ‘Sawaliram’ is encouraging more girl students to articulate and send in their queries. At present, only about 20% of the letters are from girl students.

Developing resource material: We have always been aware of the paucity of good reading and training material in Hindi on basic concepts in science. About six years ago, we took the first intermittent steps to develop such resource material in Hindi for HSTP. The material is suitable for general reading as well as for use in training manuals for content enrichment workshops. It is targeted at both school science teachers and high school students. Over the last three years, we have developed resource material on electric and electronic circuits, basic genetics, atoms and molecules and principles of ionisation. Some of our resource persons are currently working on a reading material on electricity which could also serve as a reference manual. This material is expected to be completed shortly.

Mobile science exhibition: A tour of schools in 10 blocks of Hoshangabad, Harda and Dewas districts was organised over two consecutive years with the help of the Regional Science Centre, Bhopal.

Convention on science education in Hoshanagabad: We conducted a one-day convention on science education on August 4, 2000 at Hoshangabad. Our prime objective was to bring science education issues into the public domain and initiate a healthy critical discussion on them. Parallel discussion sessions on several issues were conducted. Children from many schools put up their experiments and models at a science exhibition organised on the sidelines of the convention. Among those who participated were Prof. Yashpal, local intellegentia, educationists from all over the state and teachers from Hoshangabad and the neighbouring districts. Prof. Yashpal addressed the joint plenary session. 



Of spiralling creepers and curious children

Sawaliram is a name familiar to most children in Hoshangabad district. They write to him, posing questions that come to their minds. His job, somewhat at variance with his name, is to answer their queries - individually. Some questions probably occur naturally to most children and are repeated ad nauseam. However, some questions perplex us no end. Some time back there was one about the migration of common yellow butterflies. The tomes in our library had all about the migration of monarch butterflies across the Mexican Gulf but nothing about the humble yellow species of Hoshangabad! Or take this deceptively simple letter from a remote village: “I happened to notice in the jungle that all creepers spiralled in one direction only. Please tell me if my observation is correct and if it is, tell me why?”

The letter created quite a commotion for no one knew the answer. So we wrote to two friends teaching life sciences in college and to one conducting research at Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad. There was much excitement and debate as the replies came in one by one. Because each letter was at variance with the other.

Our friend from Holkar Science College (Indore) wrote that the child’s observation was correct and all creepers in the northern hemisphere spiral in one direction and those in the southern hemisphere spiral in the opposite direction. Our physicist explained that this was because of the coriolis effect caused by the rotation of the earth. Apparently, Einstein had written about it in a famous paper explaining the spiralling of water in a bathtub.

A few days later came a letter from our expert on plant matters. He said spiralling was species specific - some spiralled clockwise while others went anticlockwise.

Yet later came the letter from CCMB. It agreed with our botanist and added that it is a matter of frontier research in both the physical and biological sciences. Particles or creepers had a definite probability ratio for spiralling in either direction. There was always a possibility of one or the other turning in the opposite direction, just as some people turn out to be left handed while most others are right handed. Scientists call it ‘chirality’.

That was months after we received the child’s letter. A humbled Sawaliram wrote back summarising the views of the experts as best as was possible and added that this is how science proceeded - by observing, formulating hypotheses and testing them repeatedly.

There is a sequel to the story.

The HSTP covers about 500 schools and it is seldom possible for us to visit all of them to collect feedback. So once in a while we organise an extensive follow-up campaign. Once such team was covering the Bankhedi region in the eastern extreme of Hoshangabad district during one of these campaigns. The following extract is from Rajesh’s report of the visit:

Camp Pipariya:. After covering a school in the morning we decided to visit the Dumar village school down the road – Gopal, Sahu our resource teacher and I. After a bumpy ride on a mud track we reached a point where the track gave way to mounds of rocks and a vast stretch of water. We left the jeep and set out on foot. A few hundred metres ahead, Sahu told us the water would get waist deep and we better take off our trousers and tie them around our heads. We did so and proceeded. After we crossed the sheet of water and walked semi naked for a while to dry ourselves, we put on our trousers and walked for another half-an-hour to reach the settlement and the school.

There were about 20 children in the school and one lady teacher ... the male teachers were away at the block office. We got to talking to the children. We asked them if they knew about Sawaliram. They all said they had read his letter in the beginning of their workbooks. ‘Has anyone written to Sawaliram?’ we asked. There was silence. Then a child from Class 8 put up his hand shyly. We wanted to know the question he had asked. Again silence. Then, hesitantly he said, ‘I had asked about the direction in which creepers spiral.’ A thrill ran through me. He probably did not understand the answer much but seemed very excited by the fact that he had got a reply at all.