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Giving back to the community Series

Science, Society, -

Giving back to the community Series
India has one of the largest numbers of Universities, Institutes and Colleges, still many in India are uneducated, unable of avail of the facilities provided by the government. Scientific institutions that impart knowledge to many are often times looked upon by the common man as elusive and indifferent to the community at large, isolated within their world of science. This series beginning with Prarambh & Disha is aiming to highlight some of the community activities being carried out either by the faculty or students of a scientific institution in India. The first of the series is about a volunteer activity done in IISER Pune. If your institution/university/college is housing community activities and you would like IBS to write about it please do not hesitate to contact us http://indiabioscience.org/contact


Athulaprabha Murthi & Nagarj Balasubramanium

‘Prarambh’ a beginning in educating the lesser privileged children, is a community program that is being operated out of IISER, Pune. Prarambh was started in 2005, by a group of professionals in Pune. In 2011, when lack of space and volunteers almost shut down this program, IISER stepped in with the generous support from the Director, Dr. Ganesh, and Prarambh got a fresh start. The main aim of this program is to educate children in the nearby bastis. Though these children go to municipal schools, the education is at times substandard and certainly not tailored towards students who are lagging behind.  Students were especially found to be struggling in English and Mathematics. As part of this revival of Prarambh a team of faculty, graduate and undergraduate student volunteers from IISER joined hands with these young professionals from largely the IT industry in Pune to spend a few hrs each sunday morning tutoring these children. Prarambh meets every Sunday, around 10 am, as the kids are picked up from the nearby bastis in IISER’s bright yellow bus.

The kids range in anywhere between the ages of 5–15 (classes 1st to 10th). Based on their math and English skills, judged using a specially designed question paper, these children are divided into four levels –1 thru 4. This ensures that the class they are in at school doesn’t influence the coaching they need and get at Prarambh. Each volunteer works with around 4–6 kids whom they coach in English and Mathematics. As the children get better in their level, they are re-administered the test and promoted to the next level. This not only enhances their confidence, but also provides a sense of achievement. Further, interaction with the scientists and professionals also provides a much needed mentorship as well as role models for these kids which is often lacking in the majority of the places. After the classes, the children are led to the dining hall, where they are fed lunch along with the IISER students and faculty. Though a little ironic, the major attraction to the kids is definitely the lunch/food and everything else from cold water to liquid soap in the wash basins. After lunch the bus drops off kids back to the basti and the week begins again, both for the volunteers as well as the children.                 

Prarambh Website: www.iiserpune.ac.in/prarambh/



Krishna Anjuna, Edited by Nagaraj Balasubramanium

While, Prarambh is primarily run through volunteering scientists and professionals, students at IISER, Pune have taken the mantel, and run a voluntary organization called Disha. Disha was started and is run entirely by student volunteers who travel to different parts of the city after their daily lecture-hours and spend time with lesser privileged children, teaching them basic English, Math and Science. Though, the initiative started as a moonlighting exercise by a few students in 2010, new volunteers and the abundance of such bastis has led to the growth of Disha into a more visible structured initiative at IISER Pune, with support from like minded faculty as well.
To make things simpler for the children, Disha helps students with their curriculum at school, but does so by teaching in innovative ways with games, activities and generally promoting interaction. The volunteers aim to bring a friendly and free atmosphere in the classroom so that students shed their fears and speak up without hesitation. Each session begins with a few sports and games and ends with the cleaning and tidying up of the classroom after classes. Although the focus is on core subjects like Mathematics, English and Science, Disha takes care not to shun the importance of the creativity, imagination and fine arts. For this purpose, every week various light sessions are conducted including a session on arts and crafts where the kids are taught different techniques, a movie screening and training in the techniques of using a computer.  Along with the students Disha has had a great impact on the volunteers as well.
With the aim of increasing visibility and interest in the localities where they work, Disha has organized one-day Science camps in all these communities packed with activities and fun approaches to Science, drawing inspiration and a lot of help from the renowned scientist Dr. Arvind Gupta. There were also specially designed games for children to promote team-work and co-operation, along with enviable prizes.  With logistical support from IISER and encouragement from faculty these events turned out to be a great success attracting large crowds of students and parents, something that Disha hopes to build on in the months and years to come.

Disha Website : coming soon

AM represents IBS, NB is a Assistant Professor at IISER, Pune and Volunteers for Prarambh, KA is an undergraduate student and volunteers regularly for Disha.

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