Dr Hemant Pande, National Co-Convenor, Vidyarthi Vigyan Manthan, initiated by Vijnana Bharati (VIBHA) in collaboration with Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous organisation under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) an institution under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India, shared his ideas with Higher Education Plus on how to inculcate innovative thinking in Indian students
-By Merun Mukherjee
Q. What is IRIS and how is it strengthening the base of innovation in India?
IRIS (Initiative for Research & Innovation in Science) is an important programme designed by the Department of Science & Technology (DST) and the Government of India to nurture the innovative abilities of the students.
The programme caters to school students from 8th standard to 12th standard and is an APEX Science Fair where the top 20 students from every national fair participate. Then on we again select 20 students who represent India in the International Science and Engineering Fair held in US every year.
The most interesting part of this fair is that out of 100 awards given to the students, approximately 25 of them are bagged by Indians. That means we have the brains, but are not able to build a trend. If any student has any idea, we should be able to nurture the idea. We need an expert who can help; I can give examples as well.
One of the students from Chennai – Raghavendra Ramchandran has bagged the highest award till now with his basic idea that, “If from glucose molecule I remove Oxygen, what is left is hydro carbonate and that is nothing but entirely fuel.”
It was significant innovation because petrol is a fossil fuel, which is going to vanish sooner or later, to counter that we were able to design a simple formula that will generate fuel in an alternative way.
Through his idea, Raghavendra Ramchandran got a scholarship and is working with a Nobel Laureate in Germany.
Q. What kind of hurdle does Indian academia face while walking on the path of innovation?
Lack of awareness towards innovation. It is the absence of knowledge of innovation with the right kind of guides or teachers that I am pointing at. Students do have the ideas, but we are not able to nurture them.
The teachers today force the students to study whatever is mentioned in the course curbing their ability to express their ideas. When a student goes to a reputed institution, their mindset is different. Their focus is on the end result, which is a good job and better salary and when the focus is money, the chances to learn, imbibe and innovate becomes less.
Among the other reasons are the coaching classes. These centres only guide the students on how to crack the examination, but there is no understanding.
For example, there were a good number of students coming from the states of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, but when we started assessing them in a different way they failed, because they lacked the ability to think out-of-the-box.
Q. Even while working and getting into practical learning based
curriculum, the student’s mindset is to get admission in a reputed institution, rather than imbibing from the practical learning. What do you have to say?
I choose to differ on this perspective; it is not the student’s mindset but their parents’. The child wanted to do a project and did it, because they enjoy working and learning that ways. However, it is the parent who raises the question.
We need to think on the lines of why an IITian needs to do an MBA? Majority of the IIT pass outs move towards IIMs for MBA, and today they are working in banks. A professional who has a degree from these reputed institutions and also good communication skills, is able to bag these jobs, but what is the use of that?
Q. In the practical scenario a student does dream of a better job that will pay them well and buy them a comfortable life your thoughts on the same?
All that is possible when you understand what you are doing or working on. I will give you an example of two girls from Delhi who did a joint project. It was based on the question of how to identify between a naturally ripened mango and an artificially ripened mango?
When this question arose in these girls’ minds, they started seeking ways through which they could find out the answers. They started analysing the chemical composition of these mangoes, took the pieces to their laboratory and tested the samples, and came up with a strip that when touches the pulp of the mango changes its colour.
With this innovation these innovators girls participated in the IRIS programme and also applied for patent. They have started their own company today.
There was another boy who had this idea of using physio-electric material to charge the mobiles. He put physio-electric material in his shoes and connected it with a wire, while walking it produced electricity and charged the mobile. With this idea he has started his own firm today.
This means that there is talent in every corner of India, but it is the teachers and the parents who are not allowing them to come up.
In IRIS, if a student comes up with their projects and ideas we are there to help and guide them. We have a pool of scientists and have developed a technique that helps children to convert their innovative ideas into projects and further into technologies.
Q. How should educational institutions should inculcate the idea of innovation?
Give them freedom!
Do not unnecessarily burden the students with studies and other tasks. I would also like to endorse this wonderful programme that has already been imbibed by many schools.
I ask the management to keep an innovation box, have a talk with the children during assembly and ask them to put their ideas in the box along with their name and other details.
The institutions can make a group of likeminded teachers who can go through all the messages and letters and short-list candidates. Even if your group is not able to decipher the idea, they can contact a scientist or a school of science and converse with them or else they can even write to us.
I would say that there are ideas, and we have the potential to innovate as well, but we need to provide a platform and encourage the students to come up and showcase their ideas, IRIS is one such platform.