Vigyan Ashram: DIY For Rural Youth

Vigyan Ashram

“I hold that true education of the intellect can only come through a proper exercise and training of the bodily organs, e.g., hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, etc.” –M.K Gandhi

The theory of ‘hands on learning’ has been proposed by many educationists and thinkers alike. Centuries have passed and we are still struggling to understand it in its truest form. Why do our schools keep vocational and curricular education so distinct and apart? Many studies suggest that only when the child is completely and physically involved in learning something does s/he learn best. And one such organization that seems to have taken this idea to heart is ‘Vigyan Ashram.

Vigyan Ashram— an ashram type institute to promote non-formal education for rural youths, especially the school drop-outs was set up in the year 1983 by Dr. Shrinath Kalbag in Pabal, Maharashtra. Dr. Kalbag held various degrees and accolades in the field of Science and technology including a PhD (Food Technology) from the University of Illinois. Through his endeavor he wanted to target the so called ‘school drop outs’ who he also considered the weakest link in the existing education system. Designing a curriculum rooted in the villages and suiting the sensibilities of the Indian rural communities, he tried to demystify Science and Technology.

Dismantling machinery, tools and equipment to put them together again is a common learning scenario at the Ashram. At any given point, students at Pabal can be seen doing physical labor like building a poultry farm and making use of the geometrical formulas and algebraic expressions showcasing how real learning is not subservient to the four walled classroom set up and infrastructure.

picture2Tally Classes at Vigyan Ashram

The organisation began with an idea of promoting non-formal education for the rural youths but the most notable innovation of the Ashram is its IBT (Introduction to Basic Technology) programme. It is designed to function in the existing school set ups of the rural areas and in real sense of the word makes way for hands on learning and community involvement.

The IBT programme is fully government recognized and is operating in 122 schools (across Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka) as a compulsory subject. The programme is completely run through community involvement where the initial cost of setting up the lab etc is borne by either the people together or a funding organisation. Also the parents are charged fixed monthly fees for the course that together helps make the programme sustainable and practically viable. This fee varies from Rs 40-50 per month to Rs 1000 per annum in some school depending on the paying capacity and school restructuring. The fee also adds toward the monthly honorarium that is paid to the instructors.

As per the Vigyan Ashram team, the IBT curriculum is ready and can be replicated in any rural set up of India and 100_7842
even abroad. The goal of the Ashram today is to build collaboration and partnership with various government/ non government bodies and act as a centre of innovation adding life and more value to the existing curriculum on a regular basis. A couple of impact studies have been conducted at the content and the delivery format of the Vigyan Ashram. Some agencies involved in the study are- Central Institute of vocational Institute, NCERT, IIT- Powai and Lend -a-hand-India. And their major findings are : –       

1) Students’ interest in vocational courses increased. It is almost twice that of schools without IBT.                                                                        

2) Girls going for technical courses also show significant increase over control group not taking IBT.

3) Increase in daily student attendance as well as enrollment.

4) Better test scores of students especially in Science and Mathematics.

The ashram is also on the cutting-edge of technology. They established the first Fablab outside of MIT, a concept pioneered by Dr. Neil Greshenfield. They aspire to create mini-Fablabs across India to provide hands-on building and design experience to all.

FabLab_CEPT-small-minFirst Fablab outside MIT

Vigyan Ashram is an NGO that is currently run on the donations and funding provided by various individuals. Through its initiatives it has affected the lives of about 10,000+ students through their DBRT (Diploma in Basic Rural Technology) and the IBT programme but there seems to be many scalability related challenges that the organisation faces at present. Discussing the same with Dr Yogesh Kulkarni, Ashram’s Executive Director, we were informed that it is the acceptance of such a programme in the school set up by the parents and the society that they seriously need to work on. He said, “Parents often do not understand how doing this manual labor (also considered menial in India) will their children gain anything in life. The teachers too in their paranoia of syllabus completion find these tasks a waste of time, effort and energies.” Mindsets seemingly need to be broken.

Vigyan Ashram has been around for a long time. While it has had a strong local impact we hope that it is able to make a national (or global) presence. Making people aware about its presence and highlighting the positive impact is the first step. What do you think this organization should do in order to expand its outreach?

Image Credit: Vigyan Ashram

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