According to India’s latest census, 7.8 million children must earn a living while attending school. Another 84 million children do not even attend school. One of India’s biggest challenges is making education accessible to all its people. While primary education in India is now required, many children do not have the means to attend school. Although India’s literacy rates are rising, studies show that many children in primary schools fail to comprehend basic skills and concepts. As new technologies emerge, STEM education is becoming an important aspect of India’s education. The Agastya International Foundation and India STEM Foundation are two nonprofit organizations introducing rural children to STEM education.
STEM Education in India
In 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that 75 percent of India’s technology graduates lack the qualifications for jobs in their fields. This report came a month after India released its 2011 census stating that nearly 92 million children in India struggle to achieve an education. Today, India’s government and nonprofit organizations, such as the Agastya International Foundation and the India STEM Foundation, have partnered to provide children with a strong education they can depend on later in life.
Agastya International Foundation
Founded in 1999, the Agastya International Foundation is a “transformative educational organization” that provides poor rural and urban children with hands-on learning through its mobile science labs. With more than 130 mobile labs set up across India, Agastya provides more than 500 students with hands-on learning every day. The Agastya International Foundation hones its curriculum to fill noticeable gaps within India’s education system.
- With a rural 172 acre campus, Agastya provides children and young adults with a wide range of hands-on learning activities. The Camps @ Campus program is a unique opportunity for rural and urban children to come together. During the program, children sharpen their academic abilities while simultaneously drawing lessons from their rural or urban counterparts. Agastya also offers learning opportunities for remote children who are unable to attend on-campus programs. Lab-in-a-Box contains science experiments that are sent to village schools in the more rural corners of India. Agastya trains at least one teacher per school to assist the students as they work through each experiment. There are a total of 12 boxes packed with more than 133 experiments that range from chemistry to biology.
- The Agastya International Foundation’s most effective program is its mobile labs. Trained teachers travel across India in a van to supply rural children with an education in science. In 2018, over 160 mobile labs reached nearly 4 million children in 2,460 schools. The teachers reported seeing a spike in attendance whenever the Mobile Labs came to visit. Agastya’s Lab-on-a-Box programs also saw similar results, reaching more than 600,000 children in 780 schools.
- Agastya is also empowering aspiring teachers through their Young Instructor Leaders program. This program breaks down the traditional setup of a classroom by allowing the students to become the teacher. Last year, over 18,000 children participated in the YIL program. One young leader organized cleaning programs in his village while another provided her family with financial and educational advice. Due to Agastya, the young leader “lost [her] fear once [she] became a young leader.” Already impacting over 6 million children and 200,000 teachers, the Agastya International Foundation continues to create, connect and empower children with science throughout India.
India STEM Foundation
Similar to the Agastya International Foundation, the India STEM Foundation’s mission is to educate young children about science and technology. In an interview, the program manager, Nityanand Channur, stated that “there is definitely a need [for a] holistic learning approach in [India’s] education system.” Through its hands-on education in robotics, the India STEM Foundation hopes to inspire young students to pursue careers in STEM fields. Since 2006, the Foundation has created robotic labs, workshops, training for teachers and robotics competitions.
- Robotics has quickly become one of the many stepping-stones to engage children by using important concepts in math and science. Through problem solving and teamwork, the students work together to create a working robot. Robo Siksha Kendra is the India STEM Foundation’s robotics program that has captivated more than 500,000 students and created 15,000 teachers. In 2018, India STEM Foundation partnered with Lego to create India’s first Lego League. Over 2000 students participated in the robotic event. The students were tasked with researching and designing a solution to a real-world scientific problem or question.
- Alongside its robotic program, the Foundation also supports the Atal Tinkering Lab, which uses the same hands-on methodology to create an environment for students to create and innovate. The Atal Innovation Mission was created by the Government of India to encourage and foster curiosity in children. Its mission is to “cultivate one million children in India as Neoteric Innovators.”
STEM education is not only fostering an interest in science, technology, engineering and math, but a future for children and India. India’s next generation of innovators is on the rise and ready to meet India’s growing need for STEM careers.
– Emily Beaver