Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Innovation and Science Promotion Foundation - Toys from trash

Children love toys. They are children’s best companion. All of us know that. But little do we recognize that toys teach them much better than textbooks. This is because children find toys curious and textbooks largely boring!

I can vouch for this from personal experience.

I once taught physics to an under-qualified eighth standard class in a school; they couldn't add two decimal numbers, despite the best efforts of their math teacher. I taught them to experiment an alternate teaching methodology using Arvind Gupta’s toys from trash . After a few demos, I challenged them to build toys from scratch, prepare explanatory charts and present it at an intra-class competition in 15 days. I though that would be challenging but achievable. To my surprise, all of them were ready for the competition in two days! I realized how much difference enthusiasm can make. In this case, a demo of 2 hours has brought out what 8 years of rote learning suppressed! Curiosity, creativity and enthusiasm.

This kind of education should be mainstream! A little research quickly reveals that experts agree! Sir Ken Robinson, in his famous series of TED talks, said "Creativity should be treated with the same status as literacy". But in the current "industrial model" of education, "..children get educated out of it". Dr. Howard Gardner, famous for his theory on Multiple Intelligence, advocates (a) individuation -tailoring education to individual students - and (2) pluralisation - teaching an idea in different ways - to ensure that all children benefit from education.

Clearly, fostering curiosity, creativity and to revolutionize learning itself is the need of the hour. Innovation and Science Promotion Foundation ( is working towards exactly that! Two people, Mr.Vishal Bhatt and Dr. Procheta Malik, with support from the founders have given up promising careers to design toys from trash, conduct workshops in schools and other public forums. During their workshop they work with children and encourage them to tinker with and explore the toys made out of trash.

I visited their center in The Valley School, Bangalore. They have built over 200 toys (for example, DC motors, electricity generators from wind energy, 3D geometrical models) from items such as batteries, safety pins, cycle tubes, pencils, film-roll boxes and matchsticks. They spend their time in their center tinkering with the toys, coming up with improvements and variants that would help children learn their science without necessarily knowing that they are learning. Their work is inspiring! They owe their own inspiration to the pioneering work by Arvind Gupta, whose staff is primary among their advisers.

In their one year of existence, they have already achieved over 8000 interactions with children, each usually lasting around two hours. Sometimes they work with children for 15-20 hours over one week.

“Thanks to the conditioning around us, all of us come to believe that being scientific is the right of a selected subset of smart children. On the contrary, ISPF believes that humans are born scientific regardless of factors such as gender or family background. It's only a matter of sustaining the inherent interest and confidence to be curious, observant, experimentative and open minded.
Our experience says that toys are extremely engaging. In over 8000 interactions with children aged between 3 and 16 so far, we haven't met a single child was not engaged in the activity.”

Going forward , ISPF aims to create structured modules that can be integrated with the conventional school science and mathematics curriculum. Using these modules they propose to set up what they call "Rancho Llabs", where children will be encouraged to build, play, experiment, fail, learn and more importantly have fun with toys. The content itself is intended to be made available free of cost under the common license, but the real value would be to have the experience in the labs.

To this end, ISPF is open to tie-up with schools - private and public . They are also looking for funding from schools or any other institution. ISPF can be contacted by email ( Their facebook page ( provides updated information on what they are up to.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Smart city plan is an insult to common man's intellect

The definition of Smart Cities as envisioned by the Indian Government in their website is reproduced verbatim as under

By definition, if one is an unfortunate citizen of a "dumb city", one is not entitled to any of the above regardless of whether one pays the taxes and carries out other duties as a citizen. Why should any of this be exclusive to a "Smart City". Isn't any city, suburb or village in India entitled basic amenities such as adequate water supply, sanitation and safety? Isn't this another form of blatant discrimination?

By boldly posting the definition on its website and expecting endorsement, the government insults the intellect of the common man.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Education: A few thoughts and one radical idea

Lets think about education at school and its current status in India.

  • Our government schools are undesirable to us citizens. We send our children to government schools if we can't afford private schools, or if we are  government employees.
  • Our public education depends on budget allocation and hence driven by economy. 
  • Though there are improvements in public education (RTE, play-way methods and achievement of universal enrollment) quality remains sub-standard, it would be fair to say that it hasn't evolved fast enough to match the need.
  • Our private schools range from cheap to expensive ones. In general they prepare students to be the workforce for India's private and public enterprises. They prepare them for work, but not for life. 
  • Private schools are business enterprises and it’s a sellers' market. Schools dictate the price of the commodity,  they assess the quality of the raw material (read children) before being used as an input, and tailor the finished product (read students finishing 12th grade or equivalent) to meet a standard (read college entrance exams!). If it mandates, they have the free hand to get rid of the raw material midway, if they feel that not doing so would significantly diminish the perceived reputation of the business (school).
  • School expenses form a significant percentage of family expenditure regardless of whether  the school is a cheap or an expensive one.

I am no expert in education, even though I am interested enough to read, watch and discuss a lot about constantly. I think the above summary fairly captures the reality about today's education in India. Needless to say, this has to change. But how should education be?

Stakeholders should recognize  that employability does not completely define success in education. It is only one dimension of success. What defines complete success of education is, in itself, is a worthy matter of debate, research and stakeholders are better of forming a framework for this. However, in my opinion, when a child turns sixteen, if she recognizes
  • her interests, has a general idea of how to pursue it,
  • that an unfamiliar situation makes her curious rather than insecure
  • how to handle a setback and use it as a lesson
  • that excellence can be attained through resilient pursuit, constant endeavor to improve rather than "high adrenaline, last minute" preparation
  • that mental, physical health as important as professional success
  • that social responsibility is relevant

the school would have played its part. Clearly, only academic excellence as the primary aim doesn't do justice to this end. If children right across the different strata of the society are to be empowered, the school system should be highly research-oriented, personalized, universal (inclusive of children with economic and learning disadvantages) and evolving.

To make it research-oriented and personalized, teaching position should be made reputed enough to attract in the best minds. Such individuals should be empowered by the stakeholders (government, parents, school administration) to design or modify the curriculum.

To make it universal, education should be decoupled from yearly budget allocations or reduction and the uncertainties of market economics. Education should be cheap if not free.

To make education an evolution, exams should be considered as much an assessment of teaching quality as it is of learning ability.

Countries and local governments best known for their education system already implement the above suggestion. Finland, considered to have the best education system in the world, offers free education with highly personalized curriculum designed and customized by empowered teachers. USA, despite a lot of criticism of its educational policies, has a lot of best minds like Howard Gardner, Carol Dweck and multitudes of school teachers and teacher-trainers devising, customizing and implementing teaching methodologies at all school levels.  A look at Edutopia would give an idea about the mind-boggling churn around education. I don't see this level of energy at the school level in any of the stakeholders here in India, though we do have positive outliers like Maduram schools, Barefoot college, Government Primary School in Motwada and Azim Premji University.

Following the footsteps of those who have tasted success is a good start, but devising our own strategy  in education is just as important to ensure quality. I would like to put forth one radical idea here - as a question rather than a suggestion. To my knowledge this isn't done in any other country.

Given that education has to be universal, economically insulated from the market uncertainties and unprejudiced, is there a good case for making education as the fourth branch of democracy alongside legislature, executive and judiciary? After all, judiciary is largely not affected by the prejudice of the government, judges and judicial staff do get paid even though they don't add any value to the market (nobody asks where the money comes from!) and education of our children play as important a role in the future of our society  as does justice. Doesn't it?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A chance to learn Storytelling!

As a student at school, how good a teacher taught directly affected whether I understood and hence whether I loved a particular topic of discussion or not. With a little experience at teaching under my belt, I hold an opinion that a good teacher is so significantly because she is a good storyteller.

As a father I try to surround my daughter with books and puppets to keep her engaged in stories told by humans and books instead of TVs and mobile phones. With limited success I must add, but that is a subject matter of a different post.

Chennai and Bangalore citizens have an opportunity to be better storytellers this August and September. Kathai Kalatta is organizing a Storytelling Festival titled, "Under The Aaladamaraam".
I hope that this would be a great experience for interested parents, teachers and creators!

Here are details of the event at Bangalore and Chennai. See you there! Have fun!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

This ad just floored me!

The ad "Chalk" just floored me! Take al ook!

Kids usually scribble on the wall or on the floor, but what he ends up drawing is unimaginable, unimaginable for us!
Posted by Best Ads on Saturday, 11 July 2015

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Congrats Indian Womens' Hockey team!

Oh cricket-crazy Indians! This is to bring to your narrow attention the achievements of the Indian Women's Hockey team. After a lone appearance in the Olympics 35 long years ago, the hockey eves are all set to make the cut again. This is following their credible victory over a much higher ranked Japan to finish 5th in the recently concluded Hockey World League in Antwerp Belgium.

"So, whats so great about finishing 5th?" you may ask, and your question may not be too unreasonable. There is still a lot of work to do before they can take on the might of the top-ranked Holland and  Australia (who they have managed to hold to a goalless drawn in the recent Hawkes Bay cup). And by "might", I mean not only the skill but also the muscle. I think Holland women's hockey team might even match a top-10 Men's team. But in spite of their visible shortcomings, Indian girls intent was clearly visible. Having FIH rank of 13, to beat Japan placed 3 ranks higher is very credible. Their loss 2-4 to Australia (world number 2) may not look great on paper, but their performance was their best of the tournament as they were the only team to have even pulled level in terms of scoring twice before eventually losing to Australia.

So, after following both the Men's and the Women's hockey through the Hockey World League Semifinal tournament, I find that the Indian eves are among the fastest improving sides (along with Italy). Men's team who finished a decent fourth, haven't managed to beat any better ranked team and had actually struggled against lower ranked teams like France, Malaysia and Pakistan before avoiding a loss (No complaints though. This only shows that Indian Men have neither over performed, nor underperformed).

I think due credit should be given to Hockey India who have provided good coaches during recent times.

Great going girls and all the best