KATHMANDU: He goes by the name ‘Bisfotak Master’ on the popular short-form video hosting service TikTok and holds a treasure trove of pure sciences knowledge.
Pharmacy undergraduate, Rajat Kumar Das is a Teach For Nepal Science Fellow 2020 who has been able to pique the curiosity of science students and enthusiasts in Nepal through his teaching and mesmerizing science experiment videos uploaded on his TikTok channel.
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Physics, chemistry and biology, evidently, drive the Science Whizz and his spirits.
“Alot of physics, chemistry and biology is going on in me,” he said, stoking this scribe’s thought that a host of physical, chemical and biological processes are at play within and around us all the time.
He even has tattooed composition of two molecules on his upper arm. One of them is of Oxytocin i.e. a bonding hormone, also known as love hormone, and the other is RDX (Research Department Explosives), which is usually used for mining, road construction, among others.
Determined to change other’s lives and committed to instill the knowledge of science among Nepal’s future generations, the Bisfotak Master (Das) has slightly over 5,000 followers on TikTok, who, according to him, are mostly young children and science teachers of schools in the country.
As one of the Science Fellows, he taught the discipline to students at a remote Ashrang school in Bagmati Rural Municipality of Lalitpur district for the past two years.
Having spent considerable periods of his life in the flatlands of Nepal and India in the course of school education, later his father’s cancer treatment and again as part of undergraduate studies, Das sought placement in hilly areas for his teaching job.
Accordingly, he was assigned to Shree Bidhyadhishwari Secondary School in Ashrang, where he taught and conducted several experiments and documented them as well.
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In the school, he says, “Not only the students but also parents and the locals gathered around the window of the school laboratory to witness science experiments out of pure fascination.”
The remoteness of his duty station — an area in Lalitpur that lies about 60 kms away from Kathmandu Valley — bewildered him.
“After reaching Ashrang, one gets a feeling of being in a geographically remote part of the country like Karnali Province despite the fact that it lies in Lalitpur,” he says.
Availing an Indian Embassy Complex Scholarship from Nepal, Das obtained a Bachelors of Pharmacy degree from Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences in Allahabad, India.
A student exposed to India’s vibrant educational environment, he has demonstrated exemplary performance of his education at personal and professional levels in Nepal, and strives to continue to do so even in the future, having completed the duration of his fellowship recently in 2022.
2020-2022 were not normal times, given the COVID19 situation that kept the masses under strict lockdowns, bringing everyday life to a grinding halt.
The education sector in Nepal, too, was not an exception to the global pandemic.
“My Fellowship journey commenced amid a deadly raging pandemic,” Das recalled along with numerous other challenges posed to teaching-learning activities.
From wearing face masks himself, to asking students to put on their masks at all times in class and maintaining social distancing in classrooms, a lot of regular norms had completely changed.
The disruption to regular academic sessions and shortened school years posed another set of hurdles to smooth teaching-learning as doubts rose about timely completion of course and keeping the will for learning alive in students.
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“But implementation and adaptability towards change is the marker of the dynamic nature of our brain, its working and its learning process. We should always be open to change for good and also in the situation of emergency that might be temporary or permanent thereafter,” said the Science whizz.
Being a science teacher, Das constantly told his students that “whatever we learn will be useful and you’ll be able to feel every bit of it in daily and practical life. Whatever I’ll tell you will be the ultimate truth and nobody in this universe could deny those facts.”
He devised a new teaching method to impart knowledge of the discipline and keep the class interested and named it LSDDT (Listen, See, Do, Demonstrate and Teach).
The method quite helped him in the first year of his assignment at Ashrang. The method is simple enough: firstly, students listen to what the teacher says.
After that, students get practical examples of the implications of the topic. Thirdly, students engage in carrying out topic-related tasks, and finally demonstrate and teach it to other fellow students in the class.
Undoubtedly, science is perceived as one of the most difficult subjects by children. And devising new and interesting teaching-learning methods are inevitable to inculcate a hunger for science in students.
Karuna Sapkota, who appeared in Secondary Education Examination (SEE) from Shree Bidhyadhishwari Secondary School last month, said her favorite subject had been Social Studies until she was in Grade VIII.
She shifted to Bidhyadhishwari from a basic school, where classes were only available up to Grade VIII.
The year Sapkota enrolled in Grade IX at Bidhyadhishwari, Das took up his teaching assignment from Teach For Nepal.
“The whole class used to go quiet and we were all ears in Rajat sir’s class. Science practical was something new to us and very exciting,” she said, adding that Science soon became her favorite subject.
Another student Purnima Lama of the batch pretty much said the same thing, agreeing with Sapkota.
Saiba Rana, another Teach For Nepal Science Fellow for 2021-2023, often seeks the Bisfotak Master’s advice and suggestion in the course of her teaching job.
She has been assigned to Shree Secondary School Kalakhola in Kalakhola, Tulsipur Sub-Metropolitan-7, Dang.
Having completed Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) from Modern Indian School in Chobhar, Kathmandu, and BTech (Food Technology) degree from Shooilini University, India, she recalled that she got through her secondary education mostly by mugging-up most of the content.
“Now that I am teaching myself, I realize we did not have the practical knowledge and inner-workings of the subject back then,” Rana told Khabarhub over phone from Dang.
She, too, is a follower of the Master’s TikTok channel and derives inspiration from the science experiment videos on the channel.
“Most of us — Teach For Nepal fellows — are his followers on TikTok,” she shares, admiring Das’ knowledge and embrace of the discipline. “The videos are truly amazing and inspiring.”
On the status of science education in Nepal, Rana said theoretical teaching-learning is the dominant paradigm.
“Adequate practical demonstrations are limited to books. Importantly, even if science laboratories of limited school are to be made well-equipped and resourced, a shortage of skilled manpower — able to flawlessly demonstrate experiments — is felt,” she shared.
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To bridge this gap between theory- and experiment-based teaching-learning, she seemed optimistic about the government initiative to provide 10 days training to teachers of late.
In the meantime, Das is there for her when it comes to conducting new experiments, introducing various topics in a fun way and providing teaching-learning perspectives that are able to gain the attention of children in class.
Das’ contribution to motivate and get students hooked to Science in Ashrang and elsewhere is commendable.
Nevertheless, in a science-laggard country like Nepal, more science whizzes, freaks, nerds — pick a nickname — like him are needed at different levels of society to educate not just the children but also the public and society about the powers and magic of sciences.
Though the country serves as biodiversity hub facilitating cultural and social experiments, the national discourse should also give space to modern science and its prospective applications for achieving national aspirations of development and prosperity.
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