Tripura: A Science Teacher Is Not Only Igniting Curiosity In Young Minds But Also Preventing Child Marriages
National Teacher Awardee Santosh Nath, a science teacher in South Tripura, has left no stone unturned to spark scientific curiosity in his students, many of them girls, who are on the way to becoming researchers, doctors, and engineers.
Sayantani Deb 22 Sep 2023 11:28 AM GMT
Priyanka Nath who belongs to Siddhinagar, a remote village in South Tripura, never ever thought she would one day be pursuing a PhD at IIT Indore in Madhya Pradesh, over 2,700 kilometres away from home.
“It is solely due to Santosh Nath sir that I have come this far and now I am doing my PhD. He convinced my parents and took me to various science competitions while I was a student at Chottakhola Higher Secondary School in Tebaria, where he was the science teacher,” Priyanka told Gaon Connection.
“I come from a village where the idea of a girl pursuing higher education was unimaginable. But, with Sir’s support and encouragement, I was able to break the taboo and get admission at such a prestigious institution,” she added.
The science teacher she refers to in such glowing terms is Santosh Nath, who is not only spreading the joy of learning science among rural students in Tripura but also fighting social ills, such as early marriage and superstitions that prevail in rural areas in the northeastern state.
The 58-year-old teacher started teaching when he was in his 20s, and has ever since done everything he possibly can to encourage scientific curiosity amongst his pupils.
His first job as a teacher was in 1990 at Puran Rajbari High School in South Tripura in the Rajnagar Block, and was then transferred to Chottakhola Higher Secondary School, in Tebaria in South Tripura, in 1996. That is where he taught Priyanka Nath.
He loved science and was somewhat saddened by the utter lack of interest in the children in the subject. “Students said they found science subjects boring. I realised that the school lacked the proper infrastructure and essential study materials. Children were not enthused to come to school and many of them dropped out,” Nath told Gaon Connection.
So, he got working and set himself the task of rekindling the curiosity and enthusiasm for science and mathematics amongst his students.
Experiments with science
He began by establishing a small laboratory within the premises of Chottakhola Higher Secondary School where he showed his students scientific experiments. The school authorities provided unwavering support, and soon the spark of scientific inquiry that he so wanted to ignite in his students, caught on.
Nath designed various 3D models. He used them to calculate the rate of photosynthesis under different coloured lights, to explain geometric shapes, demonstrate the colours of light, explain Newton's laws, explore the structure of DNA, and much more.
The science teacher designed the models with locally available materials like rod, cement, pipe plastic pipe, besides scrap metal and so on.
"The scientific experiments proved to be highly effective, and soon, school enrollment saw a significant uptick. Students were drawn to this innovative learning method and began attending classes regularly," said Nath.
In 2018, Nath was transferred to South Mirzapur High School in Belonia, where he now serves as the head teacher. However, changing schools did not alter his approach to teaching.
"I encourage all my students to participate in various state, regional, and national-level science fairs and exhibitions. The students not only participated but also brought laurels to the school, district, and state,” the teacher, who received the National Teacher Award in 2022, said with pride.
Nath’s commitment to get his students to fall in love with science has had a far reaching impact. Like Priyanka Nath, who is now a student at IIT Indore, there are other girl students who are daring to dream.
“Santosh Sir is our biology teacher, and to be honest, I fell in love with the subject because of his teaching style. He makes every lesson smooth and easy,”Antara Das, a class nine student of South Mirzapur High School in Belonia, and a daughter of a carpenter, told Gaon Connection. She wants to become a doctor, she said.
Fighting social ills
Nath also took on the challenge of preventing child marriages in villages where he has been posted. “When I took charge at South Mirzapur High School in Belonia, I was shocked to see as many as 20-25 girls between the ages of 12 and 15 years being forced into marriage,” he recalled.
The science teacher sought the assistance of the district administration and established the 'Balika Mancha' to educate girls about the harmful effects of child marriage. This year, there have been no incidents of child marriage in the school, he said.
Balika Mancha includes girls from grades 6 to 10 who raise awareness amongst the people about various social issues including harmful impacts of early marriage.
Sonali Das, a 15-year-old class 9 student, said she would always be grateful to her teachers for rescuing her from being married off. “About two months ago, my marriage was arranged and I felt helpless. I sought Nath Sir’s help. Without wasting any time, he met my parents and persuaded them to cancel the marriage and allow me to continue my education," Sonali told Gaon Connection.
Nath is viewed as a father figure, said Manika Majumdar, a senior teacher and chairperson of Balika Mancha. “Under his guidance, female students feel safe and more secure. They look on him as a saviour who will always extend protection to them,” she added.
Dispelling myths and superstitions
Nath has used his scientific temper to positively influence village inhabitants, who were often misled by superstition and myths.
During a malaria outbreak in the remote village of Dakshin Srirampur, he observed how people, instead of seeking medical attention, turned to ojahs or witchcraft practitioners.
"I organised public meetings to convince people about the benefits of visiting proper health centres for treatment. I engaged in one-on-one conversations with villagers, and, finally, after much persuasion, they acknowledged that visiting hospitals was better for their well being,” said the teacher.
He faced a lot of flak from the ojahs and an FIR was also filed against him by them. But nothing could deter the teacher.
Nath is presently the convenor of the State Science and Technology Department, and he is ensuring that the ISRO-Space on Wheels bus reaches every school in South Tripura district.
ISRO's Space on Wheels is a joint venture of ISRO and Vigyan Bharati and is an educational mobile exhibition bus designed to provide information on ISRO activities and space programmes to school students. A 40-foot-long bus equipped with interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations is scheduled to reach Tripura next month in October .
Ayan Saha, the officer-in-charge of the Science Center in Udaipur, South Tripura, lauded Nath's social and scientific initiatives. “Santosh da is doing commendable work. As a science communicator, he doesn't earn a single penny, yet walks that extra mile to popularise science without seeking anything in return,” Saha told Gaon Connection.