Sonale’s famous five
Tejal Sudarshan Raut (11), resident of Sonale, a small village (pop. 812) in the Thane district of Maharashtra, had never stepped into the world beyond until a few months ago. But in December she was selected to represent her school run by the Quality Education Support Trust (an NGO promoted by Nilesh and Meena Nimkar), at the National Children’s Science Congress (NCSC) convened by the National Council for Science and Technology Communication, a network of state agencies. NCSC 2008 attracted 500 students from across the country, who presented their science research projects at the congress.
Young Tejal’s project was facilitated by a team of four students which included Nirgun Bholanath Tikhande, Shailesh Bhaskar Vishe, Sopan Dattatrey Mhaskar and Niranjan Ramchandra Tikhande, all class V children who worked on a project titled ‘Relationship between weather and agriculture’, guided by Meena Nimkar.
Under the rules of the NCSC competition, the project was presented at the zilla, zonal and state levels before it was accepted for the national science congress held in Nagaland. “Nilesh and I were quite amazed. We thought the best we could do was to qualify for the zonal round,” says Meena.
With the help of basic scientific equipment, the five children studied and recorded patterns of rainfall, wind, temperature and humidity in Sonale. On the basis of their research they concluded that while the monsoon was active over Sonale in the months of June-August, farmers should budget for poor rains in September. Rainwater harvesting and controlled irrigation therefore, is critical for profitable agriculture in Thane district, said their project report.
The road for these first-generation learners was not smooth. “We would place the rain gauges in parts of our village and the next day we would find that they had been thrown away by people thinking they are useless plastic bottles. We had to replace them at least 12-13 times,” says Tejal. Moreover, in Sonale village where 75 percent of the population constitutes illiterate Dalits and OBCs, parental support for the project was nil.
Nevertheless the school team’s utilitarian advice and good show at the NCSC has changed attitudes about the value of education in Sonale and its environs. When the Nimkars started Grameen Bal Bhavan here two years ago, it had few takers. “Thanks to the children winning national recognition for their research project, there’s renewed enthusiasm for primary-secondary education,” says Meena Nimkar, who is already shortlisting projects for next year’s NCSC.
Harshikaa Udasi (Mumbai)