The Optimist Citizen

An Engineer who is building science laboratories in remote villages of India using locally available resources

For the past few years, engineers have been a subject of extreme mockery for the netizens. Social media is filled with memes (a millennial lingo) on how jobless engineering students are. We often have this misconception that engineering student in India either end up in a 9 to 5 job working on excel sheets or end up jobless altogether. However, we often miss out to look out for ones who are defying the odds.  Prayag Ichangimath and the story of Barefoot Science Laboratories story is a valid testament of the same. Prayag, an engineer, who is not only defying the misconceptions but also adopting an alternative path to make a positive social change in society. 

After completing his graduation from a premier college in 2015, Prayag explored science and technology and worked with various start-ups in Bangalore for two years. But instead of following a regular corporate career path, he found his calling in the field of education. He was selected to take part in the SBI Youth for India Fellowship and got an opportunity to work with rural communities through Barefoot College in Rajasthan, a pioneer in alternative education for the past 40 years.

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While volunteering at the Barefoot College, he felt that education was one such issue that needed to be catered in the rural regions. On digging deeper into the issue, he also noticed two major challenges. First, a lot of kids could not go to schools in the daytime because of daily shores and missed opportunities to study. Second, students didn’t have any access to good quality science education because of lack of resources. So in an attempt to increase the ambit of accessible education to rural communities, Prayag started Barefoot Science Laboratories, a night school where children are taught the basics of science using locally available resources. 

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Their programs have hands-on experience with the locally sourced materials – materials that are readily available in villages where the students reside. Prayag describes one such activity that the program includes as, “Scientific phenomena like Rainbows are explained well through local source material within a classroom setup. A tub of water and a mirror showcasing a rainbow and manure from a nearby field that can be used to visualize composting and students feel more connected to such things rather than a prism setup.”  The response has been amazing with children saying, “acha lagta hai” (it feels good), “samjh main aata hai” (There is a larger clarity and understanding). Since children are fascinated by the teaching approach, they themselves encourage their parents to enrol into night schools which are held for a 3-hour duration, starting from 6 or 7 pm depending upon the location.

Teachers too play an important role in enhancing such technologies. “They are not shy to use locally-sourced materials and are not worried about the breakages of equipment. Regular workshops and training are conducted for the teachers and a framework is sent across to them, who themselves go to town and villages to collect these materials”, says Prayag. Initially, a total of 9 schools had been established in Bihar, Uttarakhand and Manipur with around 50 students in each school. This number has been increased to 43 schools after the expansion of portable technologies to Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka with 35-40 registrations per school. These establishments, in association with the Barefoot organization, also include day schools where students are taught about the environment through various activities. 

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With most of the rural mainstream schools having no plan of utilization of resources, special evaluation modules and manuals are provided to help them with optimum use of materials. Prayag’s achievement is likely to aid hundreds of students, through learning and developing, into confident and resilient members of their community.  “The immediate goals are to push this product by integrating all subjects like math, biology, arts into the education model and create a network with people in the same field which could prove to be beneficial in the upliftment of lives of children in rural areas.” concludes the young changemaker. 

Prayag Ichangimath and his initiative Barefoot Science Laboratories was also a winner at the 3M CII Young Innovators Challenge 2018 under the Tech-Innovation category. Visit the link to know more about the award, its impactful winners, and how you can be a part of it!

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