From its inception, Agastya’s mission has been to bring a scientific temperament to the children of rural India. Ramji Raghavan and his brain trust thought long and hard about how to reach these children. They determined that science fairs were a good way to hook them with the magic of science in a brief exposure. Scale had to be considered, and science fairs offered a cost-effective way to reach large numbers of students at the same time, gathering them all in one place for a session of hands-on learning.
At first, it was hard to gauge how much demand there might be for events of this type. Would anyone even show up? The resounding affirmation came with exhibition halls repeatedly filled to capacity, as students and teachers descended upon the science fairs by the thousands. It became a matter of crowd control. Agastya’s first science fair in Kuppam, A.P., attracted more than 13,000 visitors – so many that two police constables were called in to ensure good order.
Initially, Agastya held about 20 science fairs a year; it now runs more than 100, adding mega science fairs to its programs. Three were conducted in 2014, attracting nearly 45,000 children, parents, and teachers. Today, Agastya reaches thousands of rural and urban Indian communities through the science fairs, which come into town with all the excitement of a traveling circus. For a few hours, young instructors demonstrate low-cost experiments and elaborate models to children from the local schools, drawing them into a learning experience that is creative, interactive, and fun.
The aim of Agastya’s science fairs is to spark curiosity and creativity in the children. In this they succeed brilliantly: the young students feed off of each other’s energy and enthusiasm, seeing science as a fascinating and enjoyable pursuit. Something else happens at these fairs – something equally important. As the children’s imaginations stretch toward new horizons, their sense of life’s possibilities expands, also.
After attending an Agastya science fair, one boy told his father, “Appa, I want to be a scientist when I grow up!” His father, a tailor, didn’t know how he would pay the tuition, but vowed, “I will manage somehow, now that I know his dream!”