I must admit that I enjoyed the experience of being the judge at the science exhibition organized by NAL’s Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), although there were moments when I felt decidedly unequal to the task.

 We started tentatively – we have been judges much more often for graduate students — and it took a little time to come to terms with the fact that we were looking at 14-16 year olds! In fact, we were probably very severe with our first student and asked him rather difficult questions (I was therefore happy to note that this student still got a second prize).

 The exhibits covered wide ground although there was a marked preference for projects relating to environment and pollution (“this is a good sign”, we told ourselves). It was clear in most cases that the exhibit idea came either from a parent (actually in every case from the father; surprising that no mother was involved) or, less often, from a teacher.

 Some of the exhibits that especially impressed us were a ‘solid state airconditioner’, an accident detection system, a simple demonstration of how to get eucalyptus oil, a ‘homemade’ FM radio, a traffic management system based on sensors, and an explanation of how emails reach their destinations so efficiently.

 Although we didn’t plan it that way, we found that most prize-winning exhibits involved a working 3D model with enough explanatory posters. So there were light bulbs going on or off, alarms or tiny fans coming on or off, cardboard chambers getting hotter or cooler etc. Some students brought PowerPoint presentations on a CD and a few even brought in their ‘dad’s laptop’. But this didn’t impress us too much.

What we found most appealing was the demeanour of these young boys and girls: earnest, excited, breathless and so charmingly sincere (I wonder when and why this innocence goes away). Their opening sentences were well rehearsed and obviously worded by an elder; later they opened up to become themselves. Our probing questions ‘beyond the boundary’ (you could call them “out-of-syllabus questions”) evoked interesting reactions. Some kids quickly said, “I don’t know, sir” – while this was honest, it was also disappointing because they didn’t even attempt to respond. Others showed reckless daring (“yes, sir, it can be done … yes, I am very sure”) and, not surprisingly, got into big trouble. But there were a few who made a sincere and honest effort to answer, responded encouragingly to our cues and even beamed joyously when they “got it!”

 The KV exhibition was therefore an enjoyable experience. It was also a reminder that we were getting rather old ourselves. When we asked a young student about the likely year of a certain discovery, she replied: “oh, it was very long ago”. “How long ago?”, we asked. “I can’t remember sir, but I think it was during Rajiv Gandhi’s time!”

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