What Children Say

Village children in Kuppam (Andhra Pradesh)

Miss M. Renuka Devi, 15

"My parents live in Pogurpalli Village in Gudipalli Mandal. They work as agricultural labourers. My father earns Rs. 30 per day and my mother earns Rs. 25 per day. I have an older brother and two younger sisters. When I was around 9 years old I got Polio and had to drop out of school. I studied Grade 4 at home and joined the M.P.U.P. School. I dropped out of school again in Grade 7 because my polio illness made it very painful for me to walk to school. Because of the pain I suffered my parents asked me to stop going to school. I asked my uncle for help and he brought me to the Velugu School in Kuppam. Since this is a residential school I don’t need to walk long distances any more. [Renuka Devi wipes a tear as she speaks. The Principal remarks that she’s still in pain.]

"I like the teachers here very much. My favorite subject is Math and I would like to teach business mathematics when I grow up. I have also learned Hindi, Telugu, English and Science at school. Agastya’s Mobile Lab came to our school and I got an opportunity to learn about the solar system, about which I had no knowledge before. The models I used to learn astronomy, physics and chemistry have taught me to think, to observe and ask questions."


Miss G. Danamma, 14

"I am in the 8th grade at The Velugu School in Kuppam. I have an older brother aged 17, an older sister aged 12 and a younger sister aged 9. My parents live in Golapalli village in Shantipuram Mandal. They are farmers. They go to work at 8 a.m. and return home around 5 p.m. They also own a little bit of land and two cows. In Grade 6 I dropped out of the Z.P. High School in Ralaguduguru to do household work like cooking and cleaning the house. I studied for Grade 7 privately at a District Primary Education Project Camp organized by the Government of Andhra Pradesh, and then joined the Velugu School in Kuppam in Grade 8. My favorite subjects are Hindi and English. Before I joined the Velugu School 7 months ago, I could not read or write Hindi or English. [Danamma reads out fluently a Hindi poem called Rashtra Nishan followed by an English poem titled Bangle Sellers. Her progress in 7 months strikes me as amazing! ]

"I did not know much Science, but through Agastya’s Mobile Lab experiments I have learned about the preparation of oxygen, the solar eclipse, lunar eclipse and how days, nights and seasons occur. I love the rocket, which comes in the Mobile Lab. I understand now how we get programs on TV with the help of rockets and satellites. Before Agastya I had never seen any lab equipment. Now I enjoy the thrill of using the Science tools and explaining things to others. I feel more confident.

"I don’t want to go back home because I want to learn at school and the teachers here teach very well. I want to become a teacher when I grow up. My parents are adjusting to my being away from home. Mother now does all the work at home. They are happy for me. They visit me once a month. I don’t miss my parents. What I like about my school life are my friends and teachers, and also the food. At home I would get to eat only Ragi balls, three times a day. Now I eat a lot of nice things. For breakfast during the week we get uppma, idli, pongal, puri and tomato bath. For lunch we get egg, curries, rice, sambar and majiga [buttermilk]. For the afternoon snack we get Boost, tea. aatukulu and biscuits. For dinner we get rasam, rice, sambar and a banana. On Saturdays we get Paisam, which we all look forward to! I was not eating good food or good clothes in my village. Here I am happy with the food, clothes and education."


Miss Chamundeshwari, 14

"I used to study at the M.P.P. School in Nakanapalli, Shanthipuram Mandal. Because I had to look after my younger brother and sister I dropped out of school in the 6th Grade. My work involved bathing and feeding my sister and brother. I studied privately for my 7th Grade. My parents are coolies [day laborers]. My father earns Rs. 50 per day and my mother earns Rs. 35 per day. They are employed for only 15 days in a month. During the monsoons they get jobs on the farms as labourers. I joined the Velugu School in Grade 8 through the help of the National Child Labor Camp. At the Velugu School I have learned how to speak properly. In my village people don’t speak properly or respectfully. The teachers here speak well and teach well.

"Earlier I had no exposure to science. Here, through Agastya, I have learned about carbon dioxide, hydrogen, the eclipses and how the human brain works. I realized you can’t always believe what you see, because your brain can be tricked. For example, if you roll a piece of paper and look through it with both eyes open and put your palm alongside the paper you feel as if you are looking through a hole in your palm! I don’t learn well by just reading books. With the experiments provided by Agastya I can understand and remember things better. By using the equipment and actively participating I have learnt to question things and express myself. I want to be a lawyer when I grow up so that I can help bring justice.

"Vijayashanti is my favorite (Telugu) film heroine. Pottisrimalu is my hero. He created the state of Andhra Pradesh and died for a cause. My other hero is Mamidipudi Nagarjuna [former Collector of Chittoor District] who worked for the removal of child labor. I know a lot of children who do child labor, but their parents are not willing to send them to school. They want to marry them off by 13. My favorite subject is Telugu."


Ms. Prashanti, Teacher, 32

"I have been teaching for 8 years. The children released from child labor who are studying at the Velugu School in Kuppam have caught up academically with other school-going children. They have a very positive attitude. With encouragement and guidance they perform as (well if not better than) other children.

"Coming to school and being exposed to science has helped to dispel many superstitions. They play sports and are very active. Most of them do not remember anymore their lives before they came here.

"After being exposed to hands-on learning in science through Agastya many children are keen to become science teachers. They did not used to know the difference between social science and pure science. Now they do. Education has helped them to develop goals for themselves. Agastya’s Young Instructor program has helped them to learn how to manage and organize functions. They have learned to share. We would benefit greatly if Agastya would set up a lab for us at the school. Besides exposing our children to science experiments, we will make hands-on learning available to children from the surrounding villages.

"They pray every day, especially to Goddess Saraswati.

One of the benefits from residential schooling is that it has helped to eliminate caste barriers. 90% of the children here are from the scheduled castes. 4% from scheduled tribes, 4% from backward castes and 1% from other castes. Seeing the free mixing of children, even their parents are beginning to change their attitudes. They now allow a freer interchange between castes in the village. There are four schools like ours in Chittoor District."


P. Kanyakumari, Principal, 37

"The Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Residential Schools under the Velugu Project established the M.N.S.W.R. School - known as the Velugu School - in Kuppam in 2001. The Velugu Residential School for girls in Kuppam [Velugu means "light" in Telugu.] was created specially to provide education to children trapped in child labor. The school started with 35 girl students and has grown to its present strength of 480. The school will be relocated shortly in new premises, with the capacity to Accommodate 680 children.

"Ms. Kanyakumari, who has an MA in English, joined as Principal of the Velugu School in 2001. She has thirteen years’ experience as a teacher and educator. Besides the formal academic curriculum Ms. Kanyakumari has introduced vocational skill training, career guidance and counseling and extra-curricular activities like sports, dance and music.

"The girls come from dirt poor families. Many of them are starved of affection. The first thing we teach them is how to be clean and look presentable. Here they get an opportunity to make friends and bond with other children and teachers. The support of the Agastya International Foundation has been invaluable. Through Agastya’s Mobile Lab and science fairs, the children get an opportunity to participate in experiments. This has raised their confidence. There is almost a rush to get their hands on the tools, which come in Agastya’s Mobile Lab. Agastya is helping the children to come out of their shells and release their latent talent and knowledge. Earlier they were quiet and even fearful. Now they express themselves without fear. They are learning to observe, think deeply and be creative. Previously they had no knowledge of the universe. Now the children ask questions about the planets, sun and satellites. The other night they went up to the terrace to observe the full moon. They now understand events like the full moon and the solar eclipse in scientific terms. My children would get 100% in any exam on astronomy. The other day Mr. Prakash of Agastya showed them a CD on the Andamans and the Himalayas. Now the children want to go to these faraway places for a holiday instead of Bangalore which is 120 km from here! Through Agastya the children have learnt in one year scientific concepts, that children in other village schools would take ten years to learn. The train of learning has started to move.

"I would like to see Agastya’s tools and methodology spread to the other Velugu Schools in Chittoor District. We would like Agastya to establish a laboratory in our schools so that we can act as agents to spread the learning of science and technology to rural schools."


Children in Bangalore

Government Girls High School, Basavanagudi

The Date: 15th December, 2003
The Class: About 100 girls, 10th std, English + Kannada Medium
The Subject: Astronomy – Demonstration with models of the sun, moon and planets; laboratory experiments on the subjects of physics, chemistry and biology

Situated in the heart of the city, within a stone’s throw of several multinational IT companies and banks, this school has children from the extremely low-income group. Typically, children of daily wage factory laborers, domestic help, and petty business people attend this school. Considering the limited resources these children have, it is amazing to see their grasping powers, bright-eyed curiosity and eagerness to learn. Most interesting are their ambitions, which range from the most common Doctor, Engineer, Lawyer and Teacher to the unusual professions Police Commissioner and Bus Conductor!

Kumari is the 14-years-old daughter of a soap factory worker. She has 2 younger sisters. She has always lived in Bangalore, and displays more street-smartness than some of her friends who have lived in the rural areas for most of their lives. "What have you studied, madam?" she asked me as soon as I approached her – and quite challengingly too! She wants to become a doctor, although her mother thinks studying till the 10th grade is sufficient. She however, is aware of scholarships offered to the bright ones and is determined to get one.

Had she seen experiments being conducted or models of the solar system before this? She enthusiastically remembers a trip to the planetarium (a philanthropic organization had sponsored this trip a year ago) – the first time she saw anything of academic interest outside a textbook. The second time was the demonstrations and experiments conducted by Agastya-Honeywell. Her favorite subject is Social Studies. However, after these demos, she thinks Science is cool too.

Seema is exceptionally bright in this class. She listens with an almost palpable concentration and is eager to try and answer questions. She is 14, and has lived in urban areas for most of her life. Her mother is a tailor, and father makes wooden dolls and other handicraft. She has a brother and a sister. "I want to be a madam when I grow up," she said; meaning she wants to be a teacher! She speaks well and without self-consciousness, and not surprisingly, has won an inter-school public speaking competition on the subject of My Aspirations – What I Want to do in Life.

On the demonstrations of the solar system and science experiments, Seema said she understood concepts better when they were demonstrated to her. "I have read all this in my textbook, but I understood it well today," she said, after watching the demonstration of how eclipses occur.

Reshma is a girl with a difference. She is 16, and wants to be a pilot. Her father works in a bakery, and they lived in a small town till she turned 13. She didn’t attend school for a year when they moved to Bangalore, and then joined this government run school. She has 3 brothers, one of whom is younger than she, and Reshma is keen to explain to him all that she learnt at the demonstrations. Her favorite subjects are Kannada and Biology. She is also a good singer.

"I have always loved gazing at the sky. Now I know more about the universe and how things work. I will explain to my brother how different phases of the moon occur." She said that Agastya-Honeywell’s Mobile Lab helped her remember the information, and was confident that a year hence she would be able to recall the concepts just as clearly. "After I study from a book and write the exam, I forget all about it, but ask me about these experiments any time and I will tell you." I like the confidence.

Harini is 14. Her father died when she was very young. Her mother works as a domestic help in a couple of houses. She says that’s lucky because she gets lots of books and pens from the well-to-do kids of those houses. "I want to be an engineer when I grow up." What sort of engineer? "Computer Engineer, because that’s what the most brilliant people do." She is keenly interested in reading, and does little else apart from that. The desperation of wanting to lead a better life clearly shows.

She vividly remembers the trip to the planetarium mentioned earlier. "I asked the instructors there some questions, but they used a lot of English words, so I was confused. After seeing the working of the solar system demonstrated by Agastya-Honeywell’s Mobile Lab, I have understood things better."


Government Girls High School, Malleswaram

The Date: 11th December, 2003
The Class: About 90 girls, 10th std, English Medium
The Subject: Astronomy – Demonstration with models of the sun, moon and planets

Outline of the Session:

  • The models are simple and effectively illustrate the occurrence of day and night, the different phases of the moon, how seasons occur, how eclipses occur, a briefing of the salient features of each planet (such as rotation and revolution periods, and any peculiarities to a particular planet) in our solar system. The class was clearly engrossed and eager to learn. The Science experiments could not be conducted that day due to lack of time.
  • In this interactive session, students were initially hesitant to speak up, but Deepak created a light enough atmosphere to encourage asking questions, and at the same time did not let inattentiveness creep in. Importantly, the girls started speaking their thoughts without fear of being wrong, asked questions, and above all – they enjoyed it.
  • The visual demos made an impact on the students – the good sign was that they grasped what was being said, and could later explain the concepts lucidly.

Some Highlights:

The following question was posed to the class: "Where is the earth?" The initial reaction was silence. Deepak saw some girls with something to say, but hesitant, and drew them out beautifully. They came out with some interesting answers: "In the sky," "Solar system," "Space," "In the planet of the earth" [sic!], "Milky Way Galaxy," "Between Venus and Mars"….
"The earth takes approximately 24 hours to rotate on its axis." – Deepak emphasized the need to use approximation while making statements such as this, because the actual time taken is 23 hours and 56 minutes. This was followed by good demonstrations, eliciting a lot of participation. 

The next question was "How long does the earth take to complete a revolution?" The answer to this was given by a bright young girl - "Approximately 365 days," and was appreciated. For later demos, some over-enthusiastic students came up with statements like, "The earth is bent at approximately 23.5 degrees," and were corrected immediately. During the session on eclipses, a student demonstrated the phenomenon of solar eclipse quite beautifully, to enthusiastic promptings from her classmates. By the end of the session, they were more forthcoming, asked more questions, and clearly wanted more!


Government High School, Mysore Road

The Date: 16th December, 2003
The Class: About 60 boys and 50 girls, 8th, 9th and 10th standards, Kannada Medium
The Subject: Astronomy – Demonstration with models of the sun, moon and planets; laboratory experiments on the subjects of physics, chemistry and biology

This school is located off a highway, on the periphery of the city. The students are enthusiastic and bright, but not as well informed as those in schools located in the better areas of the city. They are, however, no less in terms of eagerness to learn and wishing to lead better lives.

Zakir, a small boy with bright eyes, is 13. He has no father; mother runs a chit fund (a small-time investment business). He has 2 brothers and a sister. He loves playing cricket and wants to join the army.

"Watching experiments rather than reading about them helps me remember things better," he says. Was this the first time he saw experiments being performed? "Yes. Watching how gases are emitted during certain chemical reactions is a first. But we had seen models of the earth, sun and other planets at an exhibition earlier." (This was a year ago when a philanthropic organization had sponsored a trip to the town hall where a science exhibition was being held.) His favorite subjects are Hindi and Mathematics.

Purushottam Rao is the walking encyclopedia of the class. This 15-year old boy is his classmates’ first choice for settling disputes on matters ranging from academic details to current affairs. His father runs a small business; mother is a housewife. He has a younger sister.

"Our president, Dr. Abdul Kalam, also studied in a small government school like ours," he says. So what does he think of that? After a little coaxing, he says, "Kalam used be a scientist, right?" I say yes, and he shyly says he wants to be a scientist too. Not surprisingly, his favorite subject is Science.

Tarangani is the 15-year-old daughter of an auto rickshaw driver. Her mother is a housewife. She loves the fine arts, especially music and dance. She has an older brother. Her favorite subject is Science.

During the demonstrations, Tarangani would get up and ask questions, but she never seemed satisfied with the answers. Further probing revealed that she had in mind a particular line from her textbook, and although the essence of what was explained to her was the same, she didn’t quite get it because the words were different. She was asked to look at the model and explain what she saw, but she would simply insist on recalling from the book. Looking at something and explaining somehow felt like "cheating" to her, while recalling from memory was a sign of intelligence!

Nadeem is a young man of 16; his father runs a small business. Mother is a housewife. He has a rather large family comprising of 2 older brothers, 1 younger brother and 2 younger sisters.

The question on what he wants to become elicits a sheepish grin. Some coaxing… hasn’t he decided yet…? Does he want to be a bus conductor…? He opens up. He wants to become a CID officer. "I like investigating and finding out the truth. Even science experiments are like that," he says with extraordinary insight. On the experiments conducted by Agastya-Honeywell’s Mobile Lab, he says, "I can explain all the concepts any time, even a year later. When I just read up the experiments from a textbook, nothing stays in my head."


Teacher Trainees in Kolar (Karnataka)

The District Institute for Education and Training (DIET) in Kolar District, Karnataka offers a 2-year teacher training program for students recently graduated from high school. The DIET trainees are selected from several hundred schools across the District and represent some of the best and brightest students. Following their training the DIET graduates will be assigned to teach in schools in Kolar District. Agastya International Foundation (Agastya) works with DIET, Kolar to spur the creativity, motivation and performance of teachers.

For 74-year-old Dr. Balu Venkataraman, a member of the Agastya team, teaching in villages and small towns is a unique experience. "The teachers and children who attend my lecture-demonstrations have never been exposed to science concepts in this way. They have not seen experiments. It feels wonderful to know that you are making a real difference to the way people think about and perceive science." It is 10.00 a.m. and Dr. Venkataraman, a former professor at India’s prestigious Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, has begun to set up his demonstrations for his class on colour and light. The lecture-demonstration will be delivered to 180 eager trainees at the District Institute for Education and Training (DIET) in Kolar, Karnataka. It is a time consuming process, and takes Dr. Venkataraman and his two assistants two hours to set up his demonstrations. Hanging bed sheets over the window frames has darkened the dusty old room where Dr. Venkataraman will deliver his lecture and demonstrate experiments on light. Before he begins, Dr. Venkataraman urges his audience to participate. "You won’t learn if you don’t question," he tells his students. For the next six hours, interrupted by a 1-hour lunch break, the students are held captivated by Dr. Venkatraman’s demonstrations of the properties of light, lasers and colour. He uses simple tools and techniques to illustrate the properties of light. He shines a laser, lights an agarbatti (incense stick) and holds it in the path of the invisible laser beam. The students sigh in wonder as they trace the red beam through the smoke from the agarbatti. There are questions, interspersed with appreciative laughter, at the beauty and simplicity of the experiment.

Seeing a "Sunset"

As his lecture draws to a close, Dr. Venkataraman fills a glass container with sodium thiosulphate solution, into which he pours hydrochloric acid. Using an antiquated slide projector he flashes light through the liquid to create an image like the sun on the wall. Dr. Venkataraman explains that, as the very fine sulphur deposited from the chemical reaction reaches a critical size, it will scatter blue light from the sides of the container and allow red light to pass through. When the sulphur particles grow in size they will not allow light to pass through. The students are mesmerized by a yellow image of the "sun" displayed on the wall behind the container. Gradually the image turns orange, then darkens and fades away. "The sun has set, so it’s time for me to go," says Dr. Venkataraman to spontaneous applause.

Radha and Shilpa, enthusiastic female members of Dr. Venkataraman’s class look elegant and impressive in their green saris and red bindis, as they talk about their goals and ambitions and the recently concluded lecture.

20-year old Radha K. could not pursue her first love, Dental studies, so she is now working hard to become a great teacher.

"I come from Chintamani. I got 82% in my PCMB exams. My father was a senior cashier at the DCC Bank. He died three years ago. My mother is a housewife who supports herself on my father’s pension. I joined the Bachelor of Dental Science program. When my father died, we could not afford to continue to pay my college fees, so I dropped out of the program. I came to study at the DIET, where I am training to become a teacher. The training here is good and not expensive. I am strongly motivated to become a good teacher, so that I can help children fulfill their ambitions in any field of their choice, and serve the country.

"Dr. Venkataraman’s lecture was very good. What impressed me was how active, youthful and enthusiastic he appeared at his age. He showed us over 20 experiments. I was particularly impressed with the demonstrations of light reflection and refraction, which he did using a laser. Seeing the path of the laser through the smoke created by the agarbatti (incense sticks) was very interesting. I had never seen such experiments before. The only light / color experiment I had seen before was an experiment using a prism. The last demonstration in which he showed us a 'sunset' was really great. I have never attended a class like this before, where we got to see interesting experiments and had an opportunity to question and participate. This was truly a great program."

19-year old Shilpa is from Totlaganahalli Village, Kolar, and wants to become a teacher.

"My parents are agriculturalists, who own 5 acres of land. I have a younger brother and sister. I studied up to the tenth grade in a Kannada medium school and did my Pre University Course (PUC) at Swami Vivekananda College, where I learnt English. I got 75% in my PCMB exams. My ambition is to become a good teacher, because I was really impressed by Mr. Byra Reddy, my High School English teacher. He always encouraged me to study hard. I like working with children.

"I gained a lot of knowledge from Dr. Venkataraman’s talk and learnt to appreciate the beauty of science. For example, I understood the scientific reasons behind phenomena like the colour of sunsets and the refraction of light. The nature of light is very beautiful. In my PUC program everything was theoretical, but here I saw tools and instruments – many of them simple – being used to teach science, which made it more interesting and relevant. I had never before seen sophisticated instruments like the spectrometer. Many of my friends had no previous exposure to these concepts. I would rate this program as excellent."