A conducive environment involving latest technological innovations would interest the students to pursue entrepreneurship and solve real-world problems.
Science and technology form the foundation for a country’s economic growth and development. Former President A P J Abdul Kalam strongly believed that science and technological inventions can pave the way forward for India. He also felt that India should leverage its young ignited minds for the same. While the western world has been able to harness the power of human imagination in science and technology by building a strong connect between industry and academia, India has, by far, lagged behind. India has been caught in an incessant situation for years, where both industry and academia acknowledge the need for collaboration but have not been able to solve India’s biggest problems together. While the industry believes that researchers and academicians do not conduct need and market-driven innovation, the academia believes that industry does not value academia’s potential and blue- sky innovation approach.
Over the last few years, some strong connections have been built between the industry and academia. The industry has been supporting some research projects at top institutes and universities, such as the IITs, NITs, some CSIR, ICMR and ICAR R&D labs, to develop commercialisable technology innovations.
It is time now to scale up this approach and strongly align the ecosystem stakeholders including researchers, academicians, startups, small and medium enterprises, large domestic and global corporates, with the government system to transform India into a world-class innovation hub. There are some examples where the approach has been piloted in India. Stanford India Biodesign programme, now scaled up to the i-Fellowship, run by the Department of Biotechnology, is a commendable example of creating medical device innovations by bringing together a community of industry and government professionals. Similarly, NanoBios Lab at IIT Bombay is developing cutting-edge science technologies, which are being commercialised by industry partners. Such initiatives can eventually create a nationwide movement of connecting science and technology with societal outcomes.
With 50 percent of Indian population under 25 years of age, India’s way forward is to empower her young children with latest technologies. Several government initiatives are focusing on harnessing and nurturing the scientific and innovative mindset of children. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) grants innovation awards to school children to encourage creativity and innovativeness amongst children. Similarly, National Innovation Foundation (NIF), in association with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Society for Research and Initiatives in Sustainable Technologies and Institution (SRISTI) and various State Education Boards, conducts the IGNITE competition, where students develop innovative ideas to solve community problems. Another example is Initiative for Research and Innovation in Science (IRIS), which is an outstanding example of a public-private partnership to identify young innovators.
In a further attempt to rejuvenate the science and technology innovation wave in India, the Government of India has launched Atal Innovation Mission, with an objective to create young innovators and entrepreneurs.
More than 2,400 Atal Tinkering Labs are being established in Indian high schools to nurture the scientific temperament and creative mindset of school children. A huge emphasis is laid on connecting the schools with both home-grown and global academic and private organisations to share the best practices of technology innovation.
To enable this, AICTE has identified top higher education institutes of India that will mentor students in tinkering labs in schools, to leverage latest technologies of artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics to develop innovative technology solutions. Mentor India, a nation-wide strategic initiative has been launched by Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog to institutionalise the process to engage India’s motivated professionals with ATL’s young minds. The idea is to create regional innovation micro-networks, where higher education institutes, local and global industry partners and individual professionals mentor and motivate school children, to follow a different path to problem-solving, leveraging science and technology.
However, the question is what happens to these young innovators once they create innovations, and win awards, and how many of them continue to pursue their innovations and convert them into real-world products? National awards are a great beginning to create an exponential wave of innovation and entrepreneurship amongst school children, to identify the potential ‘schoolpreneurs’. However, we need more than just awards. Most of the students give up their entrepreneurial ideas to pursue higher education. Some who pursue are privileged to receive family and mentor support. One such enthralling example is from a school in Jammu and Kashmir, where students from Class X and XI1 have already initiated startups in robotics and web services, and the student co-founders conduct multiple workshops in other schools of the community.
To exponentially replicate such unique stories across the length and breadth of India, we need to institutionalise a mechanism, where high school students can work with university incubators to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas along with their higher education. Quarter zero, Launch X are handful examples from the West, which allow school students to launch startups. Therefore, the goal is to drive extensive forward and backward linkages within the stakeholders in India, to create a paradigm shift in the student mindset and prepare them to become young innovators and entrepreneurs.
We believe that the real tribute to Abdul Kalam would involve harnessing young ignited minds for conducting research and innovation in science and technology.
Article By: Dr. Ayesha Chaudhary