While a rigid and structured curriculum in school is integral in acquiring a well-rounded education, a second perspective to learning is just as important. The latter comes from a more practical level of engagement with the physical and natural world. Exploring what is around them and asking questions is innate in children, especially when it falls within the ambit of science. Science motivates children to tackle challenges and make independent choices. While theory is best learnt under the supervision of teachers, understanding that scientific progress is more of a “social endeavor” can only be done outside the classroom.
Such is the importance of pursuing an informal education, so children are able to develop a degree of familiarity and comfort with their surroundings. They tend to be much less resistant without time and assessment pressures in informal settings. It has also been experimentally shown that such reflective and experiential learning leaves the deepest cognitive impact on developing minds. Children are able to accumulate knowledge from a variety of sources and foster their imagination and creativity. Means of informal education comprise everything from museum exhibits to field visits, from symposiums and conferences to widespread media and news campaigns.
As one of Pakistan’s most active science associations, the Khwarizmi Science Society (KSS) has pioneered a culture of science awareness and education for over two decades. KSS has accomplished widespread science popularisation through provisioning schools with experimental gadgets, kits, demos, and presentations, and has paved the way for organizing a plethora of public workshops, video interviews, animated lectures, interactive exhibitions, and conferences. As part of its National Science Movement, KSS has shed light on the use of science for national uplift, through stimulating observation and critical prowess in the youth. After hosting the Falikyati Melas (Astronomy Festivals) in 2009 and the National Science Movement Festival in 2016, KSS inaugurated the Lahore Science Mela (LSM) in 2017.
The most recent LSM, held in 2019, was a collaboration with Ali’s Institute of Education and attracted a crowd of more than 35,000 people from Punjab’s 36 districts. Attendees noted that “the excitement was palpable” and have described the interactive demonstrations as “marvels of everyday science”. The highlights of LSM 2019 include an interactive math exhibit, the LHC interactive play, and Cosmic Perspective’s planetarium. The event has been lauded for bringing more unconventional scientific disciplines to the forefront, including space science, aviation, genetic engineering, and geology.
KSS has utilized a variety of indigenous resources to set up sustainable science festivals, and a number of training and mentorship programs. It is now more important than ever to cultivate respect and intellectual humility through digital platforms, media campaigns, and constructive dialogue. Illiteracy, unrest, and a misconstrued representation of science in Islam, have all quashed the drive of an inquisitive young population. Despite that, KSS emphasizes the need to probe the “Big Questions” encompassing contemporary frontier topics, like extraterrestrial life, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering.