A Science Educator Travels with His Telescope to Cultivate Scientific Temper in Rural Kids in Uttarakhand
Rakesh Bisht organises story telling sessions related to astronomy and has also set up an observatory, Kasar Nakshatra Observatory, in Almora.
Laraib Fatima Warsi 6 Dec 2023 10:08 AM GMT
Rohit Negi loves telescopes. He can reel off the names of far off galaxies and planets. The 10-year-old studies in class six and lives in Ramnagar, a small town in Nainital district of Uttarakhand.
“When I want to grow up I want to be an astronomer. I have so much more to learn about constellations, galaxies and the different types of telescopes from Rakesh sir,” the excited student said.
Rakesh Bisht is an unusual teacher who is often spotted riding his two-wheeler scooty, with his telescope, as he visits schools in the far flung districts of Uttarakhand. It is his passion to talk to the students about astronomy.
Bisht visited Rohit Negi’s town and sky-watching has never been the same since for the young boy.
“The first time I went to an event organised by Rakesh sir, there was a solar eclipse and he was talking about the myths about solar and lunar eclipses. The public event was at Almora town. There, I saw the sun through a telescope and solar filters for the first time,” Rohit recalled.
“I also prepared a two- minute long presentation on the solar system and presented it before an audience of about 50 people,” he added proudly.
Bisht organises story telling sessions related to astronomy and explains the wonderful world of planets to his young audience. He holds a postgraduate degree in Physics from Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Pauri Garhwal.
Bisht has set up a two-roomed observatory in Kasar Devi village in Almora district in Uttarakhand, in 2018, in the premises of Kasar Hilltop Cafe, a hotel there. He named it the Kasar Nakshatra Observatory.
“I have five telescopes which are worth Rs 5,00,000, there. We have rented the space where we also organise events and workshops,” the teacher said.
“I travel to villages across Nainital, Udham Singh Nagar, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar, Garhwal and Almora to dispel myths associated with celestial phenomena, and to educate rural children about our universe,” he added. And that is how 10-year-old Rohit Negi from Ramnagar met him.
“I tell children to be wary of superstitions. I tell them that looking at the moon during a lunar eclipse will not bring bad luck,” Bisht said, adding that it was his dream to set up an observatory where he could watch the stars and share his passion with children.
“I bought telescopes from the money that I earned from holding tuitions. I started the observatory with the help of five children, who initially used to come for my sessions and later joined my team,” the 30-year-old from Lobanj village in Bageshwar district, told Gaon Connection.
His observatory is well equipped with solar glasses and 3D models of the solar system, telescopes, models, posters, astronomical binoculars, infographics and a sundial. It is open to the public from Monday to Saturday with an entry fee of Rs 500 per person.
Cultivating a scientific temper
Bisht himself is from a government school in Lobanj village after which he earned a postgraduate degree in Physics.
“I set up the observatory to expose rural children to science and cultivate their interest in astronomy,” said Bisht, who also worked as a science educator with Azim Premji Foundation in Rudrapur.
When Bisht’s astronomy sessions in the villages came to the attention of the district administration, it became easier for him to hold workshops in educational institutions. He also found sponsors who kept his project afloat.
Bisht is popular amongst the children not just because he lets them use his telescope. He is a natural teacher and knows how to hold the attention of a bunch of energetic kids.
“It was breathtaking spotting Jupiter and Saturn through Rakesh Sir’s telescope. Sir had come to my school last year,” Vikas Singh, an 11-year-old student of class six told Gaon Connection.