I first met Arvind Gupta at a slum school in Govindpuri. Although he is a graduate of the institute in which I work, and has won many awards for his work in science popularization, an area in which I was myself working, five years into my new job I had not heard of him. In what is a common litany of co-operation in India, it was from Mitch Resnick in Boston that I first came to know of Arvind and his work. And then, when we were to conduct a workshop in a school run by the Katha Khazana , we invited Arvind to visit us.
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Over the years, India has been developing in leaps and bounds, thanks to its excellent human resources. Thousands of engineering, medical and management graduates are passing out each year, but their employability skills are pretty low. Various employability surveys have shown that engineering graduates actually lack analytical and logical thinking.
A culture of rote learning for exams has caused students to become engineering graduates but not engineers! Problem — Lack of Practical Learning Children are not learning science through practical methods, but only through books.
They are not testing each scientific theory they learn and understand the concepts behind them. Thankfully, many individuals and organizations have been developing educational kits and hobby learning over the years.
Among these, Arvind Gupta has reached the epitome of excellence through his educational toys from trash. Being a passionate science educator, he was perplexed by the lack of teaching material for science. In , he participated in the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme, where he realized that there is a need to make teaching aids that are easy to make and fun to learn.
In India, there is a living tradition of indigenous toys that are popular. Yet despite this tradition, learning crafts for children is the most neglected aspect of our cultural heritage. Understanding this tradition, Arvind Gupta emphasized on creating simple toys from trash. He created simple innovations to turn recycled waste material into seriously entertaining, yet well-designed toys that people can do it themselves — while learning the basic principles of science and design.
He believes that children mainly learn by doing things. By helping in organizing tools from trash really well, he enables them to have a hands-on experience with the basic concepts of physics. The types of toys that he makes covers a wide variety of topics such as: air and water; flying toys; electricity and magnetism; toys based on the concepts of pressure, light, mathematics, sound, Newtonian concepts; spinning toys; paper toys; motor and generator-based toys, etc.
These are some of the basic toys developed by Arvind Gupta: Matchstick models.
In fact, there are whole stores devoted to selling things like robotics kits , ant farms , and simple microscopes. In the developing world, however, such fancy toys are relatively scarce. Well, in the case of Arvind Gupta, they show the kids how to make scientific toys from trash. Upon graduation, he went on to work at Tata Motors, where he helped to build trucks. In , he took a one-year leave from his job, and took part in the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Program. I thought it was much more satisfying than making trucks.
Arvind Gupta: Teaching Science by Creating Toys from the Trash Can
During his time at IIT Kanpur, he was a part of the now infamous Opportunity School, a small group of students who would bunk classes to teach underprivileged children in the surrounding area. The world of education was calling. In these villages, there were no science labs. Children learned science through badly put-together textbooks alone. We wanted to change this situation by using local materials and see the possibilities of using things in everyday life to teach them right. It was during this time, 40 years ago that I made my first matchstick model.