NEW DELHI — India's railway system is one of the largest and busiest in the world. But it is not just for passengers. The Indian government is utilizing this vast network to provide children in the remotest corners of the country with a moving classroom.
Raghav Pandya loves science, so much so, that he spends six months out of the year on this train to help share his passion with youngsters across India.
“I am passionate about spreading and popularizing awareness regarding scientific knowledge and mechanisms that are surrounding us. People want to know why it is and how it is,” said Pandya.
Pandya is one of 40 postgraduates who make the Science Express train their home as it travels 19,000 kilometers throughout India from April to October of this year.
The train will stop at 62 different locations, including here in the Indian capital, where hundreds of students line up to get their chance to see exhibits focusing on biodiversity, conservation and climate change.
Crowds flock to Science Express
More than 8.5 million people have visited the mobile exhibition - a project that India’s prime minister launched in 2007 to attract young people back to science.
Department of Science and Technology advisor Chander Mohan was tasked with finding a way to reverse what he says was a growing disinterest in the field.
“Why not take science to the people instead of taking people to the science? And what better way than the Indian railway network, which is so vast that it is the largest network in the world. And it is stretched across the country. Each and every nook and corner of India is connected by the railway network,” said Mohan.
The train stops at each station for three to four days and young people have a chance to take part in the hands-on laboratory where educators help them conduct experiments highlighting math and science principles.
Educators reach out
For some of these children, particularly from small towns in the farthest corners of India, this is a rare opportunity to learn beyond the four walls of their classroom.
Seeing their reaction makes riding the rails worth it for educators like Pandya.
“Fascinating experiments or sort of things - when they come to know - they say ‘oh wow.’ So this 'wow factor' you see it in their eyes. In our childhood we have not gotten such sort of exposure,” said Pandya.
The Science Express train is making its way through eastern India, with stops planned in West Bengal and Orissa states in July. The moving exhibit is expected to attract its 10 millionth visitor by the end of this year.