Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) – The Innovation Revolution finally hits Indian Schools- A Teacher Writes……By Robolab Technologies In Atal Tinkering Labs ATL, More Info, Robotics
Hectic buzzing throughout summer vacation, routine school work days, weekends and winter break, round the clock (we actually have no clocks – you don’t need them here !) networking with engineers, innovators, mentors, teachers and loads of excited kids across all age groups and backgrounds popping in and out of our first floor 1500 sq. Feet space of dreams, desires and activity ! Yes, that’s our workstation where anyone walks into, with the most outrageous ideas, followed by random grouping, cupboard and boxes being scanned and suddenly, a few minutes later, I am being pulled into different corners and directions with animated chatter and voices, ” Ma’am, look, we made a fan running on sunlight !” or ” Ma’am , ma’am, look I made a doodler or an egg beater or a paper filer or a car which is a garbage sorter too or an IoT (Internet of Things) based sensor system (yes ! You read that correct!) For so & so…, or, or….well, the list is Infinity! The senior students enter the area poised, but soon in the frenzy of so many circuits, microprocessor boards, sensors, language programming, are suddenly transformed into thinking, full of promise young adults. Bottom-line- ‘There is something for every student here’. A year ago, this was ‘ your average lab space’, but now, as the founder ATL- in- Charge at my school, D.A.V. Public School, Lawrence Road , Amritsar, Punjab, most days begin with Challenge identification and Ideation followed by prototype sessions and some really original DIY (Do it Yourself) projects in full swing. Sponsored by Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) – NITI Aayog, Government of India, this STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) lab is the first Integrated Work station of my school, also the most happening and live-wire area where no student is judged by their grades or their written or spoken skills. In fact, as a teacher some very ‘academically average’ students with so-so examination skills have been quite a revelation to all of us with their very strong hands-on kinematic and tactile skills. They “Communicate via Creation”. Suddenly, these students have a new identity, a latent talent of practical skills have been discovered! That gets me thinking, if CBSE and NITI Aayog will soon tie up and offer them course credits for ATL working (setting them free from the confines of traditional subjects they are not good at), providing them an opportunity to strong academic incentives and motivation?
Such 500+ ATLs all over the country take forward the broad vision of generating some really easy, cost effective solutions to India’s energy needs, agritech, waste & water management, health & deteriorating environment challenges. That brings us to the ultimate aim of technology- finding scientific solutions to social & economic challenges with empathy and equity. ATLs are a very positive start in this direction and we are experiencing the inculcation of research in the academic fabric at a very grass-root level. This mission may transform the face of Research & Development at the topmost level (Institutes and Universities) in a few years’ time with some really ‘thinking and one of a kind’ youngsters being grown at ATLs, taking on science as an academic career by choice rather than just leaving the country or joining the corporate sector for plush jobs and fat packages. Coming to the corporate sector, here too there lies a catch, through the mentor-ship programme, ATLs will be adopted or taken under the wings of fresh start ups or established biggies or both so as to bring the entrepreneurship opportunities at our doorstep. As a teacher working in close association with a few thousand students at ATL, I am actually looking forward to this mentor-ship programme to commence so that some of the original prototypes can be developed into actual products or services to be used in the public domain. Recently we successfully completed the Tinkering Marathon prelims in November- December 2017 with 10 best entries in different core areas and started the New Year with a bang after getting selected in top 100 innovations (Agritech).
As a teacher, I learn everyday with the students, innovation perhaps has become a reflex response- but there are many challenges in this journey. Constant interaction with fellow ATL mentors and teachers has brought forward some common hiccups that can easily be avoided or offered solutions for: We need to understand, that ATLs are now a part of our school curriculum but each school is customizing it according to their own resources and understanding, it will be much appreciated, if NITI Aayog collaborates with CBSE, ICSE & other state boards and introduces ATL in the curriculum uniformly. Secondly, ATL Credits if introduced in classes 6th to 12th will be add on motivational incentives for the active student volunteers in the lab as balancing academics with lab working is a challenge faced both by teachers and students. Lastly, the academic calendar doesn’t allow room for Outside school events or summits during pre-boards and board exam months of February and March, followed by entrance exams such as NEET & JEE in April- May, as ‘in the lab tinkering’ is being done by non-board classes, but going outstation, becomes a “what to do” situation as none of the ATL Schools want to skip the summits or events by AIM but, academic duties cannot be ignored too. So, if ATL events are held in compliance with the school and board academic schedules, no such clashes shall arise, it will be much appreciated. To conclude, overall, ATL has added the much needed dimension to our conventional education system where, ‘going beyond the books’ and ‘experiencing technology for real’ was a raging demand, till now. This is a wonderful opportunity by the government and should be embraced with open arms by all schools for matching up the changing face of education and skill development. And as we say at the ATLs, Keep innovating, keep tinkering, keep evolving – the new mantra for 21st century India is here now, for sure.