What we want to do is make learning fun for children studying in poor schools,” says Lewitt Somarajan . “It’s easy for private schools to invest in technologies that engage students, but low-income schools do not have that luxury”. These schools, says the engineer-turned-educationist, require a completely new kind of pedagogy. That’s where their brainchild “LIFE-Lab” (LIFE stands for Learning Is Fun and Experiential) comes in.
LIFE-Lab is a not-for-profit project that identifies interested schools and community centers for a two-year intervention from LIFE-Lab to equip the school to provide students with a more practical education.
Teachers are technically trained and the school is supplied with a theme-based demo kit containing a series of do-it-yourself science experiments. More than the material supplies, LIFE-Lab’s training equips children to ask the right questions. According to Lewitt, the most attractive part about LIFE-Lab is that it is completely integrated with the syllabus. Activities are merged with what the teachers teach anyway, so the amount of extra effort that needs to be put in is minimal.
Nevertheless there are challenges every day. “It is difficult to motivate the staff in these schools to get out of their comfort zone, even if it means the effort is minimal.” But LIFE-Lab has begun its first year on a promising note. It currently works with eight schools in Pune and two community centers in Pune and Birur, Karnataka, comprising more than 2,500 students. The team, comprising Teach For India alumni, engineers and corporate volunteers, aims to reach out to 6,000 students by the end of the current academic year spanning more cities in the country. By December, Life-Lab will also begin an open-source content platform allowing educators anywhere to use the science activity resources developed by the team.
Funding was initially largely grant-based, with support from Teach For India, and as winners of the Hewlett Packard Educational Innovation Fund of India award 2012, LIFE-Lab looks set to give many more children the opportunity to change the way they look at science.
Lewitt approached Plustrust for support in early 2013 and received a fellowship six months, at a point when the Hewlett Packard grant had ended and other possibilities were taking time. They have since evolved its hybrid model of working, using grants and working with schools paying them to go government schools. Subsequently , Lewitt has an Acumen Fellowship to his credit.