Kerala’s school weather stations make geography lessons fun, help track local weather

Over 270 Kerala schools have set up weather stations to teach Classes 9-12 geography as a science, and to track local weather for forecasts.

Kerala school weathers stations are an initiative of Samagra Shiksha Kerala (Image Credit: Atul Krishna)Kerala school weathers stations are an initiative of Samagra Shiksha Kerala (Image Credit: Atul Krishna)

Atul Krishna | February 26, 2024 | 11:16 AM IST

NEW DELHI: In more than 270 schools across Kerala, a designated group of students armed with pens and notepads approach the school playground at 11 am every day. They head towards a caged structure that houses a set of instruments, including different thermometers, a rain gauge, a wind vane and a cup anemometer.

Together, they are the school weather station, where students note rain accumulation, wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity.

Initiated by the Samagra Shiksha Kerala, the state agency responsible for universalising elementary and secondary education, the school weather stations are miniature models that teach students in Classes 11 and 12 how weather patterns are tracked. The project has been initiated also to get them more interested in geography.

It also aims to keep a daily track of the localised weather and help improve weather predictions. However, at present, there is no system in place to collect and analyse the data measured by the schools. Teachers are hopeful that a centralised data collection and analysis system will evolve.

Kerala school weather stations

Samagra Shiksha Kerala set up the school weather stations in collaboration with the General Education Department and the Advanced Centre for Atmospheric Radar Research at Cochin University of Science and technology (CUSAT), which was the technical partner. Each school was allocated Rs 78,000 for setting this up.

The weather station contains five instruments – a rain gauge to measure rain; maximum and minimum thermometers to measure temperature; wet-bulb and dry-bulb thermometers to measure humidity; a wind vane to note wind direction, and cup anemometer to measure wind speed.

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The schools have followed the standards of the India Meteorological Department (IMD). For instance, the wet-and-dry-bulb thermometer is covered by an instrument called the Stevenson Screen and the floor beneath it is covered by grass to minimise reflected sunlight for accurate measurement.

Students are divided into groups of six and take turns to collect the data daily at 11 am. The measurements are noted down in a data entry book provided by the government. Geography teachers said these weather stations have generated genuine interest among students.

“Back when we used to be in schools, we could only see these instruments in pictures. But now students are collecting data using these instruments which is a great experience. It is also easy for them to understand and recollect. Also, the weather station is not limited to just older students. We even bring the younger students to the weather station to familiarise them with the instruments,” said Abbas PA, geography teacher at Government Higher Secondary School (GHSS) Villadam, Thrissur.

Since schools can pick from 30 subjects to offer as part of the humanities stream, geography is not a compulsory subject in all schools in Kerala. So, the weather stations have been set up in the 278 schools in the state that offer geography as an optional subject in Classes 11 and 12.

kerala school, kerala school weather station, kerala school news, kerala government schoolKerala school weather stations are now present in all schools that teach geography (Image Credit: Niju Velayudhan)

Geography as science

Authorities said that the weather stations have helped solve the problem of geography being treated as a social science subject. With the experiential learning and practical exams, geography as a subject is now being taught as it should be, they said.

“Geography actually needs a lab and the concepts should be taught with a scientific approach. However, in classrooms, it is still being taught like a social science subject where the teacher just reads it out aloud. It is being taught passively. That shouldn’t be the case,” said Sasidharan E, district programme officer, Samagra Shiksha Kerala.

“Geography is a practical subject in higher secondary and should be taught like one. There are labs for the subject but the custom is to visit the labs only when there is a practical exam,” he explained.

Now for practical exams, students can use the primary data that they themselves have collected from the weather stations. The exams test how the students have analysed the data which they can present using bar graphs, pie charts and other methods.

“Now we use data from the station. For instance, the data on rainfall of one year or even one month in Cherpu is used to create bar graphs or line graphs. Earlier, we handled secondary data. But now with the help of these weather stations, we get to work with primary data,” said Niju K Velayudhan, geography teacher at Government Vocational Higher Secondary School (GVHSS) Cherpu, Thrissur.

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“Now, students are more interested. Earlier they used to learn about instruments, such as anemometer and rain gauge, through pictures. But now they can tell if the Stevenson Screen is not propped up or if the wet-and-dry thermometer has enough water. So, they have gained an understanding of the instruments,” said Velayudhan.

In November 2023, the government had conducted a weather conclave where students from different parts of Kerala presented data from the readings they had collected with the help of these instruments.

School weather station data

However, there is no scope for predictive modelling – a primary function of all weather stations. What it does allow is localised data collection which can, in theory, be used to improve weather forecasting. This was one of the selling points of the school weather stations when they were launched.

But the data collected from schools is not collated anywhere. Although the schools make a note of the recordings in the data book provided by the government, there isn’t any collaboration among them. Nor is the data published anywhere, defeating the purpose of taking localised readings. The schools lack lab facilities to conduct such exercises.

The involvement of CUSAT as only a technical partner, which trained the teachers on how to use the instruments, further limits the scope of the programme. Nevertheless, teachers and authorities are hopeful that a centralised data system will be built soon to make use of this data.

“There are many possibilities. Since the climate is so fluctuating now, even one district might witness three different temperatures. That can be taught in schools. All the 21 schools in the district can do a comparative study and then an analytical study can be carried out for the climate. That was the idea behind this project. It hasn’t been long since the initiative was kicked off. The final installation was finished only in November last year,” said Sasidharan.

Currently, the teachers are uploading the data through a WhatsApp group created by the government. It is unclear whether this data is being centralised by the authorities. “They will soon introduce a system to centralise this data,” added Velayudhan.

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