Thursday, December 07, 2017

'Tinkering' Awareness in Kashmir Valley Schools

Background

I have been aware of the Atal Tinkering Lab (ATL) program by Niti Aayog since May 2016 or perhaps a little earlier. I had an opportunity to share the details of this scheme with the teacher participants of the
Workshop on Bringing Computational Thinking to Schools held at DPS RK Puram on 20th June 2016. Subsequently, I helped a few schools to formulate and submit their proposals to Niti Aayog. By the end of 2016, 257 schools had been selected for the ATL grant. In early 2017, further ~700 schools were selected. 

Fast forward to August 2017, when it appeared to me that operating an ATL is a tough challenge for a school and that the benefits that one would have expected from an ATL would not fructify unless a strong and sustained mechanism to offer technical help to run the labs, is provided to the schools. The current ATL model does not allow for any such mechanism and expects the schools to manage their lab on their own. I wrote an article Atal Tinkering Lab: Building Inventors In Classrooms highlighting the issues, problems and possible solutions.

'Tinkering' for Army Goodwill Schools

Someone in the Indian Army was taking note of these developments and they contacted me to introduce this concept of tinkering to the many 'Army Goodwill schools' that Indian Army runs in the state of Jammu and Kashmir as part of Operation Sadbhavana.

Eventually, a three day event was planned at Army Public School, Srinagar from 4th to 6th December 2017. A total of 14 schools with their teachers and students were expected to participate. The event had two components: a tinkering sensitization workshop for students and teachers for the first two days and later a day with the teachers and Army officers in charge of each goodwill school to understand the ATL application to be submitted to Niti Aayog to get the ATL grant at a future date.

We were to be the guests of the XV Corps of the Indian Army in Srinagar.  We (Me, Sangeeta and two of my students - Akshay Goyal and Nishant Arora) planned to take all our embedded electronics projects for demonstration as well as a gift box, for each of the participating schools. This took up two large suitcases as seen in the following pictures.


The gift box had several individual project kits as seen in the pictures below.

Arriving in Srinagar

We arrived on Sunday, the 3rd December at the Holiday Home in Badami Bagh camp. It was bright and sunny with fresh air, so unlike Delhi! The camp is self contained with shopping malls, parks, cinema theater etc. and one does not need to venture out in the city except for a few touristy things. The mess assigned for our meals had excellent cooks and we enjoyed every single meal.

The first day of the workshop on 4th December started slow but it was amazing. The host school, the Army Public School from Srinagar had, understandably, the biggest turnout of teachers as well as students at the workshop but the rest of schools were from small towns and rural areas of north Kashmir and were represented by a teacher a few students each. At the beginning of the workshop, I suspected that language could be a problem so I decided to switch between English and Hindi as required.

The Workshop and the Meetings

Introducing myself, my team and NSIT was followed by a customary question - What do you want to be, when you grow up? 'Corps Commander, IAS officer, IPS officer, Engineer, Journalist, Doctor...!' a wide variety of choices and options, unlike what you may hear from most city kids. I was touched by the kids' curiosity, innocence, simplicity and absolute absence of guile even in these trying times!

We could only demonstrate 50% of our projects on the first day. Also, one of our suitcases which contained the gift boxes had been held up at the Delhi airport due to our own mistake - it had a power bank that is not allowed on checked in luggage any more! Thankfully, It still arrived later on the first day of the workshop itself, courtesy, the skillful handling of the situation by the involved Army officers!

For the day, the icing on the cake was that even after the workshop closed for the day, host school kids kept bringing their classmates in droves to see and play with the projects on display!



On the second day, we completed the project demonstrations and then distributed the gift boxes to each school. I went through the list of component inventory in the box to explain the details of each and every component to the teachers and students. This was followed by a demonstration of the LED Kaleidoscope from this gift box and then we had each school perform all the three projects from the kits in the box: wind the long copper enameled wire on the thread spool to make a Faraday generator, test the homopolar motor and then build and test the DC motor. The DC motor was a bit of a challenge to get to work, but finally, everyone got every single project working. The joy, satisfaction and pride on the kids' faces was quite evident. Many participants wanted more kits. I promised to send them more, much more, once they gave me evidence of (i) using all the components from this kit through pictures and reports and (ii) teaching other students from their school in the process. All in all, a great learning and sharing experience. We bid goodbye to the student participants on 5th December, with a promise to meet again somewhere, somehow!







On 6th December, we had a quick meeting with the teachers and Army officers to explain the ATL grant application. Later, we had a meeting with our hosts to discuss the way forward and then we rushed to the airport to catch the early evening Vistara flight to Delhi.

My Assessment

In my assessment, the situation regarding science education and awareness in Kashmir is excellent. At no point, did I feel that the students assembled at the workshop were any less knowledgeable or less curious than students anywhere else. They were equally eager to work with their hands and build whatever we offered. They had as much glint in their eyes when their projects worked, as any other kid I have seen anywhere else! And all this, in spite of the current situation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Kudos to the Indian Army for doing a commendable job in providing a healing touch through education for the local children. The way forward is for all the Army Public and Goodwill schools (as well as other schools too) to approach Niti Aayog to request an Atal Tinkering Lab in each of their schools. This will provide much needed material and encouragement to kids in far flung areas. It will bring them closer to technology that they can touch and feel and play with, in a fruitful manner to enrich their own understanding of science and compare favorably with whatever they get to read through social media.

I appeal to everyone involved in this ecosystem to help bring ATL to these schools!

Jai Hind, Jai Hind ki Sena!


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Post script: We came back on 6th December and Kashmir is calling again already! :)



2 Comments:

Blogger vr hari said...

Awesome DVG. May be one day we will call you to our studio, help you reach larger audience.
Keep going..

7:41 PM, December 07, 2017  
Blogger CHANDRA SHEKHAR BORKAR said...

That was an amazing experience shared by you. Making students from far flung and remote areas part of benefits provided by the Central Government is key to upgrade their knowledge and in this direction, your efforts are certainly commendable and equally commendable is the efforts of Indian Army in encouraging students in their endeavour to learn and educate themselves.

3:19 AM, December 08, 2017  

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