After Padma Shri Arvind Gupta’s exit from IUCAA ‘science toy making’ comes to a halt in Pune
The Science With Toys programme initiated by Arvind Gupta at IUCAA has not seen a new addition to its innovative toys since he left the institute in 2014pune Updated: Feb 04, 2018 14:38 IST
The Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) has decided not to promote the creation of science toys as was done by science educator and engineer Arvind Gupta who was recently selected for the Padma Shri.
The Science for Toys project at the Pune-based IUCAA grabbed national headlines when Gupta was among those named for the Padma Shri on January 25. An alumnus of IIT Kanpur, the 65-year-old Gupta and his small team created around 1,000 toys, art pieces and scientific experiments for children, conducted free workshops twice a week and visited schools to conduct programmes during his 11 years at the institute.
Most of these toys which were created out of trash, helped explain scientific principles to children. Step-by-step instructions were also put up on the Internet. Working out of a 400 sqft room, the activity was generously supported by the Tata Trust which initially gave an annual grant of Rs 5 lakh for the first three years and then raised this to Rs 35 lakh for a three-year period.
While Gupta resigned from IUCAA in December 2014 on health grounds, all of this has now come to a halt.
A recent visit to IUCAA on the Savitribai Phule Pune University campus revealed that new plans are being drawn up for the centre. Science educator and astronomer Samir Dhurde explained that IUCAA is an astronomy research institute with the objective of generating interest in the subject. “We have been busy with a proposal for a Teacher Learning Centre in Astronomy on campus,” he said.
He confirmed that no new toys were being made and the focus had shifted to teacher training. The funding from Tata Trust had also stopped as IUCAA had not applied for it afresh, Dhurde said.
“We are focussing on teacher training and every project has its steps and it has to culminate,” he said.
Under the new plans, textbook lessons based on the toys were being created which would be distributed to schools and colleges. “Earlier we had a dedicated staff for research on Science for Toys project. But not anymore. And, we have other things to focus on, in which we would definitely include the Science for Toys initiative to make learning fun,” he said.
He explained that the Science for Toys project was born out of an initiative by Professor Jayant Narlikar and the late Marathi writer Pu La Deshpande to address gaps in the science education system. “To add something from our side to the system, we extended from astronomy outreach to the science outreach programme.” This was when Gupta was invited to undertake the project which “has found its culmination with several hundred resources being made here and documented very well. We have also trained many teachers who have adopted the learnings in several schools,” he said.
When contacted, Gupta said that he, along with his team members Vidula Mhaiskar and Ashok Rupner, worked passionately on the project for a good 11 years. He acknowledged that the toys were not the area of focus at IUCAA. “They are an astronomy institute and there are chances that the space might shrink.”
He suggested that the citizens should take it upon themselves to spread the initiative. “All the resources are available online and the materials are readily accessible. So, housing colonies should come together and promote the cause in their spaces. This is how I foresee the future of Science with Toys.”