Arvind Gupta, the Toy-maker
This account is taken from an interview with Rasika Dhavse, published in India Together, 15.01.10
Arvind Gupta was born in 1953, one of four children whose parents had never been to school. He is now a major influence on science teaching in all India. He would rather be known as a tinkerer and a toy-maker, he says, but for him tinkering and toy-making are not only fun, but also a way of reaching scientific understanding. As a child he learnt by working toys from household trash.
After a successful school career he was accepted as a student at IIT, Kanpur, the Indian Institute of Technology, where he stayed for five years, gathering knowledge and according to him learning more from his peers than from the curriculum. Together they made many different all kinds of working models. Gupta also read a great deal. It was a politically volatile period, when Gandhi’s ideas were re-emerging and there was a drive to go to the masses, to start from what they knew, and to build on what they had.
After IIT he worked for two years at TELCO, but he did not find this work satisfying, and went to work for six months with the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP) in Madya Pradesh. The purpose of the programme was to revitalise science teaching through the discovery approach.
‘We have propagated a myth that science can only be done in fancy labs with glass burettes and pipettes,’ he says. ‘It has been made out to be a bookish affair in our schools – something in which you have to mug up definitions and formulae and spit them out in exams. But this is patently untrue. For children, the whole world is a laboratory. We have forgotten the task of bringing children closer to nature. If you can show them that scientific principles such as the laws of motion, or the principles of geometry exist in familiar daily-use objects around them, then they internalise science better and relate it to their daily lives.’