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Redefining School Education With Tinkering And Innovation

Do we not all feel empowered when we learn something new all by ourself? It is this empowering feeling of self-accomplishment that also leads to confidence building in the long run

Photo Credit : Pinterest,

India is on the cusp of a revolution to create a 'New India '. Our Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly believes that with the skills of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, India's 1.2 billion people will help transform our nation into a 'New India'. To achieve this goal, what's essential is that we Innovate in India and Make in India. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution sets in, the manufacturing and production will transform with more efficient and economical processes. Automation will be the new normal,with machines helping humans become more efficient. From this, the question that arises is how is India preparing to deal with this?
 
In the past, it has been pointed out by several great leaders that scientific temper could serve as an engine for social as well as economic growth and development. Former President late Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam Ji, while addressing the  101th National Science Congress in Jammu in 2014,placed emphasis on the importance of developing a scientific temper . A scientific mind is an adventurous mind that may often contest several established systems of thought, beliefs and superstitions.
 
Hence, the challenge for 'New India' is if scientific temper is necessary for research and innovation, is our educational system evolving to allow development of scientific temper in schools? Along with this, can scientific temper and innovation enable India to harness the rise of technologies such as Artificial intelligence?

'Atal Innovation Mission' has been established as a flagship program of the Prime Minister of India, with an objective to create innovation and entrepreneurship as primary skills in the youth. More than 2400 Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) are being established in Indian schools to nurture the scientific temper and creative mindset of school children. Atal Tinkering Labs foster curiosity and let innovators start young. Students are free to think and explore, try and fail, even come up with something out of the box. The program is designed to equip students with the 21st century skills such as design thinking, critical thinking, computational thinking and digital fabrication. It will enable India to create a dent in the Global Maker's movement  and be a global platform for world class innovation.

One of the ATL teachers from a Delhi school shared an interesting observation that these Tinkering Labs have also attracted students with less interest in core subjects of science, math, history, etc. The reason for this may be that these students are probably the ones who want to explore new things; they do not like to follow a structure, a set pattern of the curriculum and syllabus. They are the ones, who have maximum curiosity about principles, theories, facts, but are usually discouraged or labeled as disrupting the class discipline by expressing their curiosity in the form of questions, some of which are really strange and never thought or discussed before. Thus, Innovation and Tinkering Labs are for people who want to foster their scientific temper and find answers to their questions.

The Tinkering Labs are being designed and formulated such that there is a fine balance between the conventional curriculum based teaching style and exploratory and interactive method of self-learning using existing reference sources around us. The unique aspect of ATLs is that it allows fresh ideas to flow in. Why are educational resources like Khan Academy  becoming so popular amongst students? Why was there a need to introduce a Khan academy in the first place? Because fundamentally, we realized that effective learning includes mixture of audio, visual and hands-on approach. Tinkering labs are designed to enhance the existing approaches of audible and visual learning, by offering an interactive environment which forces students and teachers to follow the hands-on approach.

However, this transformation will not take place easily. It takes a conducive ecosystem that consists of students, teachers, mentors, and working innovation labs to drive a change and create an on-ground visible impact. Introducing innovative labs alone will not drive development of scientific temper and innovation. The question is how we can engage all stakeholders significantly towards driving the change. While Tinkering Labs are disrupting this belief and mindset, there is a huge need for teachers to transform into becoming coaches and mentors. Teachers have greater knowledge than students, however mentors have greater perspective. Teachers would answer all three questions- 'What', 'How' and 'Why'? On the other hand, a mentor would start with 'What' and leave the rest to the student to figure out. They would challenge the students to find answers to 'How' and 'Why', thereby encouraging students to go beyond their comfort zone, and learn something new.

Do we not all feel empowered when we learn something new all by ourself? It is this empowering feeling of self-accomplishment that also leads to confidence building in the long run. This is a unique element of the 'self-learning' or 'do it yourself' approach of Tinkering Labs, which might seem directionless to some of the conventional practitioners of education. With Atal Tinkering Labs, Atal Innovation Mission is set to disrupt and redefine education to encompass several facets of learning basic science, math and other subjects. It includes elements of moral values, behavioral aspects, building social and cultural relationships, communication aspects, thereby leading to an overall innovator and entrepreneurial mindset development as the final outcome.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Dr Ayesha Chaudhary

The author is with Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog, Government of India. She started her innovation journey with a doctoral degree in BioMedical Engineering, later co-founded a Medtech startup and has also explored the corporate world

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