Atal Tinkering Lab simulating innovation skills in school goers

New Delhi : Last Diwali, the students of DAV Public School at Vasant Kunj in New Delhi developed a motion sensor based lighting system which would switch on only if someone entered the lab. A group of Class 6 students at the same school also assembled a robot that had some basic mobility, and is used to welcome guests during school functions.

More than 3,000 schools across India have an Atal Tinkering Lab and DAV is one them.

The Lab is government initiative to simulate skills in newer areas, which children can eventually take up to become entrepreneurs. The focus is on exposing young minds to technology shifts that push them into lateral thinking than just rote learning.

In Pune, 13-year-old Geeta’s eyes light up as she talks about her pet project — a smart signaling system for rapid ambulance transit. She wants to fix a GPS in the ambulance that would connect to sensors in the traffic signals in such a way that entire route turns green for faster movement of the ambulance.

Ishwari, her classmate at the Jnana Prabodhini Navanagar Vidyalaya on the outskirts of Pune, has come up with a portable water purification solution that can be fitted into a bottle to purify water. These two projects are among the top 200 entries shortlisted nationally for the Atal Innovation Marathon challenge this year.

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Kalpesh Kothale, who heads the Atal Tinkering Lab at the school, says students have been spending a lot of time there, experimenting with ideas, and 3D printers, IoT devices and other cool technology since the lab was set up two years ago. “We’ve seen a lot more out-of-the-box thinking in the children.

Some of them have learnt coding in computer class, but now they are finding a way to apply it and use it create solutions to problems around them,” said Kothale.This, in a sense, is what the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) aims to achieve — a generation of curious innovators, who will go on to become job creators and entrepreneurs.

The Mission is government initiative aimed at building skills and helping children turn innovators. It expects to expand into 8,000 schools this year-end, from the 3,000 schools currently.

“We have 150 million students entering the workplace and 65% of the population is under 35. We have something very enviable for the rest of the world, but if not channelised properly, can become a major issue to deal with,” says Ramanan Ramanathan, Mission Director for AIM.

“The main requirement is how do you create job creators and innovators and move from being job seekers to job creators. That needs innovation, entrepreneurship and risk-taking,” said Ramanathan, who was formerly the MD of CMC, a unit of Tata Consultancy Services.

AIM is also setting up Atal Incubation Centers — both greenfield and boosting existing ones — across universities and private institutions, which will help create a mentor network to expose students to this setup.

Besides, there is the Atal National Innovation Challenge, which is being run in collaboration with various ministries to find solutions to existing problems. “We have put out 24 challenges and are looking only at startups who have a prototype, proof of concept or a patent,” said Ramanathan. These range from solutions for precision agriculture to rail safety.

The ATL model, if perfected and scaled up could bridge the skills gap once these students take up higher studies and get jobs, say analysts.

“They have perfected the ATL model and now need to expand it to more schools. If this can be extended to colleges as well, then it would help with skill development,” said Kiran Deshpande, cofounder, Mojo Networks and president, TiE Pune.

Ideally, the incubators should move beyond just academic institutions and shared workspaces and tie up with organisations that are deep into the startup ecosystem, he said.

The aim is to make sure students are abreast with emerging technologies that would disrupt workplace and businesses in the future, Ramanathan of AIM said.

“These labs expose the students to the latest technology — 3D printers, AR/VR tools, and will help to convert the rote learning to more lateral thinking,” he said.

The schools are given a grant under the mission to set up these labs and are required to provide access to other schools in the vicinity which do not have one of their own. Vandana Deepak, who is in charge of the ATL at DAV whose students created the mini robot, says the labs have provided a platform for kids with a high scientific aptitude to experiment with technology.

“Earlier, you could only be good at academics or sports — now this has opened up a new avenue for children to be good at something.”

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