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Breaking Superstitions with Science: How we engaged youth to generate scientific curiosity in villages

An eclipse is associated with many superstitions in India. To counter such superstitions and generate scientific curiosity among people, especially children, Pratham’s Science Program team designed many activities around the last solar eclipse of the decade, which was visible from India on the 26th of December 2019. The series of activities generated immense excitement among one and all. An annular solar eclipse, where the moon appears completely surrounded by the Sun called the Ring of Fire, was visible from some parts of southern India. The rest of India witnessed a partial solar eclipse.

We distributed 58,000 solar filters and reached approximately 190,000 people across 18 states, spanning different programs.

Staying indoors or not eating anything during the eclipse are some of the known myths. Hence, breaking these myths and encouraging the community to witness the event was a significant task. At most of the locations Pratham teams and volunteers spread awareness and explained the phenomenon of an eclipse.

Most of the activities in the hybrid learning program in 2019 were anchored through a ‘Coach’ – a young member in the village (between ages 14-18 years or above). Many of these coaches have been students of the hybrid-learning intervention. Over the year, they facilitated several activities in the villages – starting from assessments, to helping children resolve doubts, and push data on to the server.

This time, the coaches went a step ahead and broke a lot of barriers by helping the children in the community witness the solar eclipse. Dealing with the superstition around the eclipse, generating curiosity among children and helping them spread the message of science – were all part of the training we conducted for 1000 coaches.

The energy was at its peak since the beginning. In the preparation stage, the coaches participated with full force. One coach from each hybrid-learning village was trained in the various aspects of the eclipse. We gave every coach five solar filters and trained them in its usage. Moreover, the coaches were made familiar with the nuances of the eclipse through models and role-plays. After the training, the coaches trained children in the village, got them ready and also spoke to the villagers. They taught around 60,000 children who witnessed the annular solar eclipse.

Through Pratham’s Science program, a series of messages were circulated via social media a week before the eclipse. The message was to address the myths associated with the eclipse, and also inform people how they could view an eclipse. In addition to this, a manual was developed with a variety of activities and translated in multiple Indian languages.

The students of our Second Chance program also experienced the event. In Rajasthan, one of our tutors, who is pregnant, was not ready to experience the eclipse due to the associated superstitions.  However, she participated in our discussion and was finally convinced that an eclipse is a natural phenomenon and an opportunity which she should not miss!

And for those who have missed this event, Pratham teams are gearing up for the next solar eclipse whose occurrence is expected on 21st June 2020!