The HSTP story began in early 1972, when a group of scientists, engineers, educationists and social activists formulated a vision of developing a model of school science teaching close to the ideal envisaged in various policy directives. The Department of Education, Government of Madhya Pradesh, permitted two non-governmental organisations, Friends Rural Centre (FRC), Rasulia, and Kishore Bharati (KB) to take up a pilot project in May 1972 in 16 middle schools spread over two blocks of Hoshangabad district.
The main objective of the project, which came to be known as the HSTP (Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme), was to explore the extent to which innovative changes can be introduced within the framework of the government school system. To test this hypothesis, the HSTP undertook to investigate whether it would be feasible to introduce the ‘discovery’ approach to learning science in village schools in place of the traditional textbook-centred ‘learning by rote’ methodology. In course of time, the concept of environment-based education was included as an integral part of science teaching.
A basic assumption behind this effort was that learning science through experiments and field studies would help build up a questioning and analytical attitude in children. Since the programme also emphasised learning directly from the local environment, it was hoped that the children would eventually begin to question the traditional social structure of their village society.
The Madhya Pradesh education department played a special role in this nascent effort by giving administrative backing and academic freedom to experiment with books, kit, curricula, teacher training and examinations. This freedom allowed the HSTP to address innovation and quality improvement in science education as an integrated whole, focusing on all aspects of school functioning to facilitate innovative teaching. This unique instance of a state government accepting the role of a voluntary agency in changing school education within its own framework was a landmark in education in the country, enabling the HSTP to evolve as a model for innovative quality improvement in the mainstream education system on a macro scale.
The programme was academically guided through the active involvement of young scientists, educators and research students from some of the leading academic and research institutions in the country. The initial impetus was given by groups from the All-India Science Teachers Association (Physics Study Group) and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. They were joined in 1973 by a group from the University of Delhi, which went on to take over the academic responsibility for the programme. Other institutions of repute that contributed to the effort included the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), various universities and post-graduate colleges.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) granted fellowships to faculty members from Delhi University and other academic institutions to participate in the programme at the field level while the Madhya Pradesh government also permitted its college science teachers to interact on a regular basis from 1975. This synergy between the university community and school science teachers in developing academically sound curricular materials for village schools was also a unique feature of the programme.
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