CIET lekar aaya tarang, tarang,
…khel hai tarang,
… paheli hai tarang,
… mazaa hai tarang.
Those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s in India would remember this track from ‘Tarang’ aired every Sunday on Doordarshan. We all remember the man who used to make toys from simple household trash and taught us the art of learning by experimenting. Arvind Gupta now well known the world over, thanks to his TED-INK talk, has also won numerous awards for his innovations which include teaching science through toys from trash. When I first reached out to him, he said he suffers from prostate cancer and long conversations would tire him out, but he gave us enough details to inspire our readers.
Arvind comes from a very humble background. During his growing up years, there were no books to read and at times there were occasions when the electricity or phone connection would be cut off due to non-payment of bills. “My mother sold some of her jewelry and sent us to the best school in town. She intuitively understood that good education would be the passport to our future. A rich relative gifted me a Mecanno set. It was my most prized possession and I played with it for years – inventing many more possibilities than had been listed in the brochure,” Arvind says, recalling his childhood. Despite all the odds, Arvind topped his district in the 12th standard.
It was in the early 70s when Arvind joined IIT Kanpur. “Unlike scientists in the West, scientists here were refusing to undertake research which would eventually lead to making warheads and bombs; most of them were searching for a meaningful role. I taught the children of mess workers and students from the adjoining village of Nankari for five years during my stay at IIT. This helped me discover my interest in education. Later, I spent time with the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP) which aimed at revitalizing science education in village schools.”
After IIT, Arvind joined TELCO (Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company) and worked on Tata Trucks for two years. Arvind did not like his job and thus took a break after two years of working. It was during this time he discovered his true passion for making science toys from easily available materials.
One of his professors from IIT Kanpur, Prof. M. M. Chaudhari who was the Joint-Director of the NCERT, invited Arvind to make programs on science activities for Doordarshan which were broadcasted under ‘Tarang’. Initially, these videos were dubbed in seven regional languages. Over the last 25 years, Arvind has made over 125 programs for ‘Tarang’ which were viewed widely on Doordarshan. “I am very happy about these videos because they have reached far flung village children where no other channel can be viewed. In a day, he records around three to four videos.
“I am privileged to be able to do what I wanted to do. This is a great blessing. When your passion becomes your source of livelihood then there is never a boring day. Every day is exciting and full of fun. Often I jokingly tell people that I hold the most coveted job – I play the whole day and still get paid! There could be nothing better,” he states explaining what drives him.
Arvind pays huge emphasis to making learning fun for children. “It is not learning unless it is fun. The emphasis should be on comprehension – understanding comes when children are able to relate their learning to life – to a wider social context. Then learning becomes magical. This also means that there should be unison between the head, heart and the hands. Children must also work with their hands and learn a lot of skills. This will make learning fun. The emphasis on rote learning must go.”
Arvind says his favorite toy is an electric motor which he made over 25 years back.
“When I first made it the thrill was enormous. For almost a fortnight I would get up in the middle of the night and run the motor for a few minutes before going to sleep!”
It takes less than 10 minutes to make this amazing motor which can be viewed on the link below:
Gravely concerned about the way science is taught in schools and homes, Arvind believes sending children to very expensive and elite schools does not mean that they are receiving good education. He says, parents must spend a lot more time with the children doing all kinds of activities and taking them to places of interest, and involve them in all kinds of household work – cooking, repairs and shopping etc. Children learn a lot of survival skills through these. In this context, Arvind shares a very interesting anecdote. “Many years ago, while visiting a school I sat behind in a class. After the end of one period the next teacher did not turn up. I thought with no teacher the children will act as children. Instead, the children remained silent. Schooling had robbed them of all self-activity. This was truly frightening.”
According to him, the government must first concentrate on teacher training institutes – which have become mass factories churning out bad teachers. In Maharashtra, the government has instituted a Teacher Eligibility Test – less than 5% candidates could clear it this year! “Unless we have teachers with good training how can we have good education? The number of students in a class should not exceed 40, and numerous aids and books should be used to capture the imagination of the children,” he feels.
Talking about the future, Arvind says he is planning to quit his job at the Children’s Science Center located at IUCAA in the Pune University Campus and looking forward to translating many of his books in Hindi.
Arvind shares a very strong message with us, “We have only one life. Do your heart’s calling. Life is too short to dedicate to someone else’s stale dream.” Which also reminds me of a dialogue from the movie, ‘Anand’, Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi, babu moshai.
Do you remember breaking toys from your childhood? Tell us in your comments.