Sumit’s Story: A Different Track

In the village of Harriyapur in Uttar Pradesh, 13-year-old Sumit was more likely to be getting into trouble than attending school. His penchant for mischief was renowned, and the community—including the boy’s parents—had given up on him. He was, as one teacher put it, “on the wrong track.” That was before educator Surendra Kumar invited him to a Pratham exploratory science workshop.

“Invited” may not be the right word. More like “hounded.” There were many visits by Surendra to Sumit’s house to persuade him to attend a session of the program, which is part of a collaboration between Pratham and the local government designed to stimulate scientific curiosity among middle schoolers in rural India using Pratham’s philosophy of “learn by doing.” His persistence seemed futile until one day, Sumit just showed up at class.

At first, he was his usual self—refusing to sit down or talk, gazing at a model of a magnetic train rather than listening to the teacher. Then the lights in the classroom went off. A film projector came on. Sumit sat in the darkness, listening to the voice of scientist Arvind Gupta, mesmerized by images of the inventor’s experimental learning toys made from everyday objects: paper caps and houses…magical match sticks…a dancing man… Afterwards, the children were asked to make one toy of their choosing from the movie and bring it to the next session.

The following day, each child waited to be called on to present their toy. But Sumit couldn’t wait. “Look!” he shouted, holding up a series of objects one by one, “Magical matchstick! A crocodile! A house! Dancing man!” Sumit had created them all. He had even replicated the train that so fascinated him the day before. Stunned, Surendra asked Sumit to demonstrate his techniques to the others, which he was happy to do. With his passion for science awakened, Sumit went on to enroll in Pratham’s science camp. He’s on a different track now.