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The Science Express: Chugging Its Way To Conservation

Description: 

The Science Express project (http://www.sciencexpress.in), a unique science exhibition, is traveling across India to raise awareness about biodiversity, climate change and science. This 16-coach, air conditioned train is raising biodiversity awareness across India. Since the project’s inception in 2007, the train has traveled over 141,000 kilometers and received 15.6 million visitors. It is the largest, longest running and most visited science exhibition in India. The project creates positive change, by bring science-based education to local populations. The project is the result of a unique collaborative initiative of India’s Department of Science & Technology; Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC); and Ministry of Railways. It has achieved six Limca Records (http://www.limcabookofrecords.in/). Although the project has been running successfully for the last eight years on different themes. This case study focuses on the results emanating from the project’s second edition i.e. ‘The Science Express Biodiversity Special’.

Problem, challenge or context: 

Addressing the direct and underlying drivers of biodiversity loss requires behavioral change by individuals, organizations and governments. For citizens to take actions and create the political will for conservation, they must understand and have awareness and appreciation of the diverse values of biodiversity. Given this, the Science Express has played a significant role in creating widespread awareness about biodiversity issues among the various sectors of Indian society, especially among students, across India. The project addresses Aichi Biodiversity Target One, which states that, “By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably’. The project also addresses National Biodiversity Target One in India’s National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBSAP). It states that, “By 2020, a significant proportion of the country's population, especially the youth, is aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably’.

Specific elements of components: 

Biodiversity values are not widely understood among the general public in India. As a result, its economic, social and environmental importance of ecosystem services and natural resources is often poorly recognized at the community and policy level. India comprises 2.4% of the world’s land area, but accounts for nearly 7% of the world’s recorded plant and animal species, and supports 18% of the global human population. India's large and growing population, rapid economic growth and industrialization are putting increasing pressure on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Protecting biodiversity is an urgent need with significant ecological and economic value, as millions of people are dependent on natural resources for sustenance. Without an awareness of the importance of biodiversity to human well-being, citizens and stakeholders are unlikely to take the steps needed to consider biodiversity in their daily lives and practices. The lack of public awareness of biodiversity values in India also contributes to the relatively low political priority given to biodiversity issues. The “Science Express Biodiversity Special” created awareness among India’s general public and youth about the rich biodiversity of India, conservation efforts, science, and the impacts of climate change.

The action taken: 

The action taken: The Science Express first travelled across India, displaying the marvels of science from 2007 to 2011 (Edition I). The train was then re-designed on the theme ‘Biodiversity’, and travelled as the ‘Science Express Biodiversity Special’ from 2012 to 2014 (Edition II). Since 2015, the Science Express has been again re-designed on the theme ‘Climate Change’ and is running as 'Science Express – Climate Action Special’ (Edition III). The first train was inaugurated on 30 October 2007 by the then Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh and German Chancellor, Dr. Angela Merkel. Two events catalyzed the re-design of the train in 2012 to focus on biodiversity: (1) the United Nations declared 2011-2020 as the Decade on Biodiversity and the Decade for Deserts and Fight against Desertification; and (2) India hosted the 11th Conference of Parties to Convention of Biological Diversity. From 2012-2014, the train travelled as ‘Science Express Biodiversity Special’ (SEBS) and was well-received as the brand ambassador of CoP11 to CBD. SEBS was launched on World Environment Day (5 June 2012) by Delhi’s Chief Minister and the Minister of Environment & Forests. The state-of-the-art exhibition aboard SEBS created widespread awareness on the unique biodiversity of India, climate change and related issues, among various sections of society - especially students. Of the 16-coach exhibition onboard the train, eight coaches designed by Centre for Environment Education (CEE) for MoEF CC showcased the biodiversity of India’s distinct bio-geographical zones. It included: the Trans-Himalaya & Himalaya, the Gangetic Plain, North-East India, the Western Ghats, Indian Desert, Semi-Arid Zone, the Deccan Peninsula, and the Coasts and Islands. India’s Department of Science & Technology (DST), contributed exhibition in the second half of the train on the themes of climate change; biodiversity and water; sustainable environmental use; energy conservation and science education. There were a variety of interactive exhibits, short films & videos shown on LED TV screens, large format displays, kiosks and back lit panels. A Kids Zone in a coach included fun-filled activities, games and puzzles in science, mathematics and environment. A separate coach was dedicated to a hands-on ‘Joy of Science’ lab, where students performed various experiments to better understand concepts in environment, science and mathematics. Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VASCSC) has been managing the Science Express project on behalf of DST across India since its inception. VASCSC’s team of qualified, trained and highly motivated Science Communicators travelling with the train explain and interpret the exhibition, answers queries, facilitate the visitors and conduct complementary activities. Community activities were planned ahead of time at all station halts, to reinforce the project’s message to visitors across all age groups. Outreach programmes were conducted at local schools and institutions associated with the National Environment Awareness Programme (NEAC) and National Green Corps (NGC) of MoEF CC, as well as associates & partners of DST. A variety of informative takeaway material was made available for wider distribution among visitors. As part of the biodiversity awareness campaign, the SEBS team helped clean the beaches and other public spaces. After seven successful tours across India, in October 2015, the ‘Science Express’ was redesigned around the theme ‘Climate Change.’ It now runs as 'Science Express – Climate Action Special (SECAS)'. SECAS traveled across the country for seven months, from 15 Oct 2015 to 7 May 2016, stopping at 64 locations in 20 States, and covering 20,000 km. The exhibition conveys a strong message about climate change and generate dialogues and discussions.

Key lessons learned: 
  • The Science Express is an excellent example of a unique successful collaboration between different Ministries of the Government and several institutions. Multiple organizations worked together seamlessly to make the project a grand scale success over years. . The idea of using a train as a mass outreach programme helped spread the message of biodiversity far and wide, from cities to the remote corners of India. Science Express was the talk of the town or a popular attraction.
  • The project’s approach of targeting schools through outreach programmes and train visits, has proven to be an effective method for generating curiosity, creating spark and spreading the message of biodiversity awareness across the country.
  • Interpretation of the exhibits by the trained science communicators and the complimentary activities on platform and in local schools along with the take-away material in local languages has been a unique feature of this project. This has helped in reinforcing the message and making biodiversity a household term at the places where it halted.
Impacts and outcomes: 
Over the last eight years, the Science Express has received: 
  •   Total visitors: 15.6 million 
  •   Schools: 38,081
  •   Students:  .47 million 
  •   Teachers: 184,656
  •   General visitors: 10.62 million 
  •   Students:
    • Joy of Science lab: 422,122
    • Kids Zone: 178,105
    • Platform & Outreach activities: 613,590
  •   Distance traveled: 141,000 km 
  •   No of halts: 455
  •   Six Limca Book of Records (http://www.limcabookofrecords.in
  •   Over 250 trained science communicators
  • Print, electronic and digital media outlets promoted this programme - there have been over 1000 news items on the train, in most leading national and regional newspapers, television channels and websites across India. 
The Science Express is a remarkable partnership of many unique stakeholders, including: Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt of India; Ministry of environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC); Vikram A. Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VASCSC); the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; the Max Planck Institute of Germany; Indian Railways; the Indian National Council for Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC); and the Centre for Environment Education (CEE). The knowledge partners for the SEBS include Bombay Natural History Society; Centre for Ecological Sciences; Indian Institute of Science; G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development; Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education; National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management; National Museum of Natural History; the Wildlife Institute of India and Wildlife Trust of India.
Contact details: 
Dilip Surkar, Executive Director, Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad - 380 009, Gujarat, India, T: +91 79 26302914, 26306160, 26306497, E: vascsc@gmail.com; sciencexpress@gmail.com, W: www.vascsc.org
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Language: 
English
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