Embracing the Marvels of Science: Unleashing Curiosity and Empowering Young Minds
Feb. 15, 2023
A regular Monday morning dawns in the peaceful town of Kalakhola, Dang. I awaken to the gentle melodies of meditational music drifting from my Cofellow's room. Drawing back the curtains, I sneak a peek outside, hoping to spot the sun. Unfortunately, it's still hiding! Glancing at the time, I swiftly complete my morning routine and prepare myself for the extra classes ahead. I grab my trusty carton filled with all the necessary stationery and learning materials for the day and head toward the school.
As I step into Grade 8, I met with bright smiles and curious eyes, ready to conquer the day alongside me. But entering the classroom hasn't always been this easy. The situation has drastically changed after spending almost twenty months in this community.
Upon receiving the life-altering news of my placement as a Teach For Nepal Fellow in the esteemed Dang - Kalakhola School two years ago, a surge of emotions engulfed me. As I lay gazing at the ceiling, contemplating the forthcoming two years, I was filled with a sense of wonder. The prospect of exploring new cultures, facing diverse challenges, and making a profound impact on young lives set my soul ablaze. The unknown beckoned, and with unwavering determination, I embraced this transformative journey.
Assigned as a Science Fellow at Shree Secondary School Kalakhola, I was acutely aware of the uphill battle that awaited me in teaching Science at public schools in Nepal. The repetitive routines, conventional teaching methods, community issues, and lack of proper planning had resulted in a lackluster environment, devoid of student motivation.
I vaguely remember the first question I asked the students on my first day as a Science Fellow. “What is Science and why is it important to study Science?”
There was no reply. To my surprise, the room fell silent, revealing a startling disconnect between these young minds and the wonders of Science.
Then I asked, “How do you find Science?”, to which very few replied, “Easy”.
After a series of interactions, I understood that Science was only a compulsory subject that had to be rot memorized for the purpose of “Passing”. Thus, my first challenge was to generate curiosity in students.
This eye-opening experience spurred me into action, igniting a fervent desire to instill curiosity within my students. It became evident that my foremost challenge was to transform Science from a mandatory subject into a realm of exploration and inquiry. And so, my journey of innovation and reflection began.
As I delved deeper into my role, I realized the interconnectedness of every aspect of our lives with Science. The upbringing, community dynamics, and the world beyond the classroom had a profound influence on students' behaviors and learning. These young minds, hailing from similar socio-economic backgrounds, faced myriad challenges. Many of their parents had ventured abroad in search of livelihood, leaving their children in the care of relatives or single mothers. Some were orphaned, battling adversity with unwavering resilience. I discovered a disheartening trend of students prematurely leaving school to seek employment across the border, as the lack of role models and opportunities within their community left them with limited aspirations. Witnessing parents sacrificing their assets and incurring hefty debts to send their children overseas further underscored the need to redefine the value of education within the community.
These reflections, coupled with the stark reality of inadequate educational resources, accentuated the gaping disparity in rural areas. To confront these preconceived notions and awaken a genuine passion for Science, I reworked on my teaching approaches.
Embracing the concept of design thinking, I embarked on interactive lesson plans that fostered critical thinking, problem-solving, and iteration skills—essential for their future journeys. Drawing upon the familiar context of the student's lives, I integrated local measurement systems and practical examples into the curriculum. This approach bridged the gap between theory and reality, enabling them to grasp complex concepts effortlessly.
Yet, I discovered that a mere intellectual connection was not enough. To truly empower my students, I had to make Science a part of their everyday lives.
After months of trial and error, I began noticing a shift in the way students viewed Science. The once silent classrooms were now filled with the curious voices of inquisitive students. Their active participation started to overshadow my own, and a student-centered learning environment took shape.
I was amazed by the questions the students started asking. They wondered,
"How do scientists measure the distance between planets and the sun?"
"If we can produce oxygen in a lab, why can't we create ozone by combining molecules?"
They even pondered on the genetics of hair color when both parents have black hair. These questions sparked engaging discussions.
During one particular class discussion on artificial vegetative propagation, the students asked if we could perform the procedures practically. I admitted that I didn't know how, but several students who had either done it or witnessed it in their communities stepped forward and explained the process. I encouraged them to research further, and to my surprise, they formed groups and came prepared with the necessary materials for the experiment the next day. On that day, I became the student, and they became my teachers.
We began to enjoy our lessons as students eagerly conducted spontaneous experiments, engaged in team-based discussions, and embraced hands-on learning. Science became more than just a subject—it became an integral part of our lives, both for the students and myself.
The students developed a genuine love for conducting experiments and eagerly anticipated their visits to the Science Lab. The first time I took them there, their faces lit up with joy. Their wide-eyed expressions took in every detail within the lab.
As I distributed the carefully tailored lab coats, an infectious wave of excitement swept through the classroom. Without hesitation, some students eagerly slipped into their coats, seeking approval from their peers on their new appearance.
Their elation filled the air as they exclaimed, "Look at me! I resemble Mahabir Pun!"
A few students even requested permission to take the coats home, eager to proudly display their commitment to scientific exploration to their parents.
Driven by a strong sense of pride and dedication, the students embarked on their practical experiments. They discovered a sense of affinity with various professions—an affinity for medicine, aspirations of becoming pioneering scientists, or a desire to nurture as healthcare professionals. Inspired by these experiences, they expressed their dreams of pursuing science in college, relishing the opportunity to wear lab coats and engage in transformative experiments. Although these moments were fleeting, they left an indelible mark on their aspirations.
One curious student inquired about the possibility of wearing lab coats in high school and college. With enthusiasm, I assured them that such an opportunity awaits. The student's eyes lit up as they declared, "I can't wait to study science in college and don a lab coat for real experiments!" Another student shared their heartfelt desire, saying, "I felt a deep calling to become a doctor, and I hope to make that dream a reality in the future." These small moments revealed the profound influence that even minor occurrences can have on shaping a child's ambitions.
Education encompasses more than just acquiring knowledge and skills; it involves applying them meaningfully. The leadership skills I developed during my undergraduate studies have guided me throughout this journey. Engaging in various activities has allowed me to connect with my peers on different levels. From leading projects beyond the classroom to organizing educational fairs and fostering leadership skills among students, it has been a continuous learning experience.
Being part of a close-knit community has taught me the significant impact of generosity in the lives of others. It doesn't always require grand gestures or major interventions; even simple acts of kindness, love, or empathy can make a difference. Showing concern for non-regular students' well-being can provide them with validation and foster greater involvement and engagement in school.
Throughout this journey, I have come to realize the immense potential these children possess, limited only by a lack of opportunities and platforms to showcase their abilities. Thus, I have devoted myself to opening their eyes to the vastness of the universe and helping them recognize their capacity to explore it fully.
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