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Measuring the Immeasurable

Why is the sky blue? What are black holes? How did the world begin? Familiar questions to many parents. Curiosity plays a fundamental role in learning. It keeps you wanting to explore the world and constantly ask questions.

Agastya International Foundation works to spark curiosity in school children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in India through innovative hands-on science education.Using fully kitted mobile-science labs and science centres, it gives children the opportunity to engage with science in a direct, interactive and engaging manner.

Agastya views the school curriculum as too restrictive and sees sparking curiosity as a means to nurture creativity. They see creativity as not only a way for these children to access a better future but also as an enabler to help them find solutions to the real-world problems their communities face.

The uniqueness of Agastya’s interventions lie in its focus on curiosity as opposed to learning outcomes, unlike most education based interventions in the country. This uniqueness posed an interesting challenge to us as evaluators. challenge. When Agastya approached us to assess the impact of their Mobile Lab and Science Centre Initiative, their interest was not to measure changes in knowledge or educational attainment in the children, but to capture the curiosity generated from the project.

Curiosity captures the desire to want to learn more, to keep asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How’, to want to explore the unknown.It is a multi-dimensional concept that can have several manifestations.

We, therefore, employed a mixed methods design, keeping in mind the complexity of the issue being assessed – a change in curiosity levels. A variety of tools — from basic non-participant observations to student interviews — were designed and used, and we were able to demonstrate that Agastya had been successful in engendering a sense of curiosity in the children and encouraging experimentation and exploration.This was particularly true for children for whom such hands-on learning is a new and novel experience. Our findings also provided a more nuanced understanding of curiosity. For instance, simply playing with models is also an indication of curiosity.

As evaluators, we often come across a challenge as this — assessing something fundamental but abstract — and it’s a challenge worth taking. Every time. As social impact catalysts, we   welcome the opportunity to be curious, to have originality of thought, and to push the boundaries of what is possible.

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