Agastya has a myriad of programs and initiatives. At its core, however, reside three things that make it uniquely valuable and replicable: mobile labs, low-cost experiments, and peer-to-peer teaching.
From the start, it has been Agastya’s mission to spark the imaginations of India’s rural children, using science to kindle their creativity and inquiring habits of mind. It is a challenge to reach these children in the far-flung rural villages of south India, but geography is no obstacle for Agastya’s mobile science labs, which manage to bring the low-cost experiments and hands-on learning to even the most remote communities. Meanwhile, in cities large and small, Agastya’s science fairs are a rallying point for children to see science experiments and models that demonstrate lessons and principles taught by a select team of trained and motivated youngsters.
And Agastya itself has learned from its experiments. One of the first science fairs almost didn’t happen – not because interest was lacking, but because too many children wanted to attend. At that point, the organization was just getting started, and had far fewer trained teachers who could demonstrate the science models and experiments.
It became clear that a massive crowd would be attending the science fair – a nice problem to have, but still a problem. Quick thinking saved the event: students eager to help were trained as junior teachers. These student teachers were so effective that Agastya made peer-to-peer teaching a permanent component of its program. The children were knowledgeable and enthusiastic, demonstrating complex scientific principles with ease, self- confidence, and obvious enjoyment. Many children took the message to heart: if other children can do this, then so can I! Thus, out of necessity – and the creative vision to recognize a good thing when they saw it – Agastya launched its Young Instructor Leader (YIL) program.
The YIL program harnesses the energy and enthusiasm of children who show special interest in – and aptitude for – science, math, and other key areas of study. Special classes at Agastya challenge YILs to dig deeply into the mysteries of science and math. YILs give free rein to their imaginations and creativity. They immerse themselves in a world of cooperative learning, where questions are welcomed and everyone learns. Along the way, YILs develop leadership skills and the self-confidence to be effective peer teachers at science fairs and Agastya learning centers. It is astounding how much the children learn from one another. What makes Agastya truly unique is the role that children play in educating themselves, and their peers.
Peer-to-peer education has become a basic building block of the Agastya model. A foundational insight of this approach is that children learn more – and retain more of what they learn – when they have to explain it to others. They also are less timid about asking a peer to explain confusing concepts. Unlocking the innate creativity of children requires a lowering of traditional barriers between teacher and student, and of other inhibitions to learning. As a model for a more interactive way of learning, peer-to-peer education does just that, and Agastya’s Young Instructor Leaders play a vital part in its success.