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Transforming His District, IAS Officer Built Science Parks & 75 Sports Complexes for Rural Kids

Inspired by a visit to Nagpur's open science parks, IAS officer Vivek Johnson took it upon himself to build such amenities for the students of Chandrapur district in Maharashtra with hopes of instilling a love for science and play in them. Here's his journey.

Transforming His District, IAS Officer Built Science Parks & 75 Sports Complexes for Rural Kids

Born to farmer parents in the tribal belt of Chandrapur, Maharashtra, Naitik Charandas Rohane aspires to become a scientist. Recently, the 13-year-old discovered his fascination for science when he started frequenting his school’s ‘open science park’.

During lunch breaks and after school, he hurries to the science park where he not only enjoys playing on the swings but also engages himself in scientific games.

“As and when I get time off from my regular classes, I go to the science park as it is very exciting to learn so much about the subject. For instance, here I learnt about parabolic reflectors. In this, my friend and I stand at opposite ends of the reflectors that are 20 m far off. When he speaks at one end, the sound waves propagate to the other end where I listen to a high-frequency sound,” the class 6 student tells The Better India.

Established in an area spread across 6,500 square-feet, the ‘open science park’ has become the talk of the town. At least 28 such open science parks have been set up across Chandrapur district in a bid to boost interest in science among rural children.

Learning at these science park has been made fun using models to understand Newton’s laws, periodic tables, solar systems, and more.
Learning at this science park has been made fun using models to understand Newton’s laws, periodic tables, solar systems, and more.

Apart from this, 75 sports complexes have also been opened to tap into the potential of rural children in sports. All of this has been possible thanks to the district’s chief executive officer, Vivek Johnson.

Recently, the IAS officer was recognised for his remarkable efforts to transform the Chandrapur district. He was bestowed with the ‘Lokmat Maharashtrian of the Year’ award in the ‘IAS Promising’ category. We sat down with the IAS officer to learn more about his exceptional initiatives.

A move to get innovators from tribal areas

After completing mechanical engineering in 2014, Vivek went on to pursue a career in civil services. This quest led him to join the Indian Revenue Services where he worked for two years and later joined the Indian Administrative Services in 2018.

Originally from Malappuram district of Kerala, the 31-year-old was assigned Maharashtra cadre. Over the years, he worked in the Yavatmal district as an assistant collector and in October 2022, he joined the Chandrapur district as chief executive officer.

Vivek was recently recognised for his remarkable efforts to transform the Chandrapur district.
Vivek was recently recognised for his remarkable efforts to transform the Chandrapur district.

It was during his visit to Nagpur that he first saw the success of a science park. This inspired him to open similar science parks in his district. “When I visited Nagpur, I thought that my students should also avail the learning experiences of an open science park,” the IAS officer tells The Better India.

“Children in rural areas usually remain unaware of the scientific discoveries around the world. We aimed at providing a space where they could boost their scientific knowledge,” he adds.

Nearly a month after his posting, Vivek launched the Open Science Park initiative in Chandrapur to ignite a passion for science and nurture the next generation of innovators. Beyond rote learning, the parks are aimed at encouraging the exploration of new ideas, designing experiments, providing hands-on learning experiences, and fostering a research-oriented environment.

“These parks are transforming the way students engage with science. This will motivate the children of these rural areas for higher education and careers in science and technology,” says Vivek.

As of now, at least 28 open science parks are operational across the district and 50 are more in the pipeline. Each park has a dedicated team of teachers who assist students.

At least 28 such open science parks have been set up across Chandrapur district.
At least 28 such open science parks have been set up across Chandrapur district.

One such teacher is Sudhir Zade, who teaches science at an upper primary school in Muthara village of the district. 

He tells The Better India, “The science park is open for children 24×7. Here, we have provided models to understand Newton’s laws, periodic tables, solar systems, gear wheels, how to change the frequency of sound, and chairs to understand the workings of gravity. It is designed for children studying above Class 6.” 

“We have noticed that children have started finding concepts interesting with practical lessons at the open science park,” he adds.

Tapping rural talent in sports

Other than open science parks, Vivek launched Khelo Chanda Sports Complexes the same year in 2022. “During my field visits, I would meet several students in villages who complained that they lack a dedicated space to play so we decided to change that. I had grown up playing so I could understand where they came from,” he adds.

As part of the initiative, 75 sports complexes have been built across 15 talukas of the district. These sports complexes provide readily available spaces for rural school children to engage in physical activities. Every sports complex has running tracks, basketball and volleyball courts. The initiative’s focus is on development programmes to tap into the talents of rural young athletes and encourage their wider participation in sports.

Vivek was recently recognised for his remarkable efforts to transform the Chandrapur district.
Vivek was recently recognised for his remarkable efforts to transform the Chandrapur district.

“For this, we have utilised MGNREGA and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan funds. We used the amount for basic leveling of the ground, installing LED lights, setting up toilets and recreational rooms,” he shares.

“I received good feedback on the complexes as they are built near the schools. Many students have started playing basketball and volleyball for the first time in their lives. A large number of these tribal students did not even know the names of these sports initially,” he said.

“Today, they are preparing for the Khelo Chand Fit India competition,” he informs. 

In all, the district utilised at least Rs 25 lakhs to prepare each playground. It is estimated that at least 10,000 rural students are availing these sports complexes and open science parks.

For his remarkable works, the IAS officer was recently awarded the Bal Snehi Award from the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) department of the Government of Maharashtra.

Looking at the district’s transformation, Vivek says, “I was inspired to become an IAS officer in college as the canvas of this role is really big. We can change people’s lives. It is extremely satisfying to see that today, I am actually able to see that transformation. But this could not have been possible without the support of my Zilla Parishad (district council) team.”

(Edited by Padmashree Pande; All photos: Raj Hiware, educational officer, Chandrapur district)

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