Anand Kumar is one of the best students in his class. But when it comes to practical examinations, he draws a blank — for no fault of his. His village school, in Uttaranchal’s Pithoragarh district, does not have laboratories.
But that might soon change, at least as far as physics goes. His school could be among the first of two lakh secondary schools in rural areas to set up virtual physics laboratories.
The Ministry of Information and Communication and Technology (ICT), in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Hyderabad, has prepared software that supports 40 interactive demonstration experiments in physics for classes V to VIII.
“Experiments such as those of mechanics and optics have been simulated on computer. In the absence of full-fledged, well-equipped labs, students can perform these experiments on screen,” said Shankar N. Goswami, the managing director of Media Lab Asia, as the ministry-IIIT venture is called. “The idea is to reach poor and marginalised schools with the best content.”
So far, 265 teachers have been trained in Andhra Pradesh to develop the multi-media content for these virtual labs, which will be sold at subsidised rates through NGOs and self-help groups to rural and marginalised schools. A dozen groups have expressed interest in doing the same. The process of is expected to begin in three months.
But there are hurdles, officials admit. For one, only schools that have computers can use these virtual labs. “The Ministry of Human Resource Development is taking care of that aspect,” said an official. Poor power supply in remote areas is a another hindrance.
Saurabh A., head of the physics department at the IITian Scholar Circuit, Delhi, said these virtual labs would work only if the teachers equate the concepts with things village children are familiar with. “For example, before performing a virtual experiment dealing with fulcrum, the teacher can take the see-saw as an example,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kumar is looking forward to understanding the concepts of simple harmonic motion, pulley, rotation and 2D collision in a virtual lab.
What might even give him an edge over others is that he will be able to set his own parameters for the experiment and perform it as many times he wants.