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January 11, 2021 Monday 10:57:47 AM IST

The Nation Seeks Innovation Leaders

Rajagiri Round Table

The world is going into a recession having already shrunk 5.2% by World Bank estimates. The Indian economy plunged sharply in the first quarter of this fiscal 2020-21 by 23.9% and 7.5% in the second quarter. The impact of the pandemic induced slowdown may continue for at least a decade and this will have a serious impact on job opportunities and employment.

However, India's strength lies in being the third largest in technology-driven product startups, after the U.S. and the U.K. The next level of India's entrepreneurial journey is supposed to begin at schools and universities in India. In the new context of the pandemic induced global economic crisis, the educational institutions must create an entrepreneurial culture that allows students to access advanced technology laboratories and experts to accelerate product and venture development, India can create a new generation of high-impact entrepreneurs, innovative platforms, products and solutions for its progressive future taking into account the new opportunities in various areas thrown up by the pandemic. The organising of hackathons and challenges for children of different age groups in recent years has created a pool of ideas and innovations that have even received seed funding.

The Indian government has initiated many skill development and innovation promotion schemes for students and Atal Tinkering Labs are one of the best interventions in education.

But, are these policies enough to bring high-impact entrepreneurship in India? What is the feedback from all stakeholders in education? How can a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship be developed in schools and colleges?

The 66th Rajagiri Round Table Conference held on 19th December 2020 via Zoom Meet became an insightful discussion on how to inculcate the spirit of the invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship among students.

Traditionally, the schools and colleges have primarily focused on the student attaining proficiency in certain subjects and grooming them to attend competitive examinations for coveted jobs in the government or private sector. Engineering, medicine, dentistry, and civil services remain the areas of choice for most parents and students. The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has laid emphasis on attaining 21st-century skills. Skills development and vocational training are given prime importance in NEP 2020.

The need for training students in innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship is now being voiced by educators and management experts even as the mindset of students and parents hasn’t changed with the times.

Start at School

Innovation and Entrepreneurship training should begin at the school level but it should not be confined to those who want to get into a business. Innovation and entrepreneurship have to be taught irrespective of the mode of engagement one will take up in life, said Mani P Sam, Professor of Rajagiri Business School.

The slogan for 2020-21 for CBSE is competency-based education. The emphasis has to be on skill-based learning and vocationalisation of education to improve the work-readiness of students, according to AG Prakash, Principal, Nanda Central School. Erode (TN). He said that we should follow the Finland model where students get a good grounding in entrepreneurship after twelve years of schooling.

“Education is moving away from the needs of society. That is why there is a mismatch between what is taught in schools and what is required by society. Employability is low because we are not imparting skills that are required by society. When I completed my engineering degree long back in Tamilnadu, it was said that for every graduate engineer there should be 15 diploma holders and 100 ITI trained persons. But out of profit motive in many polytechnics were converted to engineering colleges and thus we have a large pool of unemployable engineers,” Mani P Sam said.

Room for Innovation

Just as in regular classrooms there should be rooms for innovation and creativity of students in schools, according to Dr Sebastian Thomas, AGM of Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC). He said that when Korea and Japan provide the opportunity to children from a young age to assemble products. “In Korea, in a shopping mall, I found small kids making models of ships, telephone, and even assembling them.” In India, teaching financial literacy and discipline is also essential for children, he added.

Riya Jain of St Joseph’s Co-Ed School in Bhopal said that she had devised a multipurpose umbrella with a torchlight, fan, mobile charging system, water sprinkler, and the umbrella gets charged through a solar panel on top. She felt that there should be separate classrooms for innovation and they should be encouraged to take part in competitions for innovations are held.

Aswini Kumar, Class XII, Nanda Central City School, Erode said that their school frequently organises startup expos, and scientific exhibitions, and industrial visits. “We always get knowledge about entrepreneurship and management of any particular business. Curiosity and creativity are required to drive innovation and leadership,” he added.

Ideas and Solutions

Some schools have already taken a lead in implementing innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship programmes in a structured manner and thus becoming role models for the entire nation. Noteworthy among them was the Vidyodaya Innovation Nurture Scheme (VINS) of Vidyodaya School, Kochi which was started in 2015 and ran continuously till early 2020. Usha Kumari, Biology Teacher and one of the teachers in-charge of the initiative said that the programme done in association with KITCO Ltd was started with the objective of kindling a spirit of entrepreneurship and nurture young minds to explore technology. VINS helped the students generate ideas, develop projects, and present them at various platforms, she added. Among the prize-winning innovations by students include Air drums, a Walking stick for the blind, line-following robots, a gas lighter than senses gas leakage and sends an alarm to the mobile phone, and a Flood Mapping Project. The students devised a Smart Flood Detector that can provide real-time water-level data in rivers and dams through an app. A college in Bhopal demonstrated how entrepreneurship training can become part of the curriculum. Priyanka Lalla, a student of Bhopal School of Social Sciences said that her college had a separate incubation center and entrepreneurship development cell. The college also had started a UGC approved diploma course in Essentials of Entrepreneurship. Students with ideas are guided on how to get funding and whom to approach. Regular workshops, skill development courses, and seminars are offered by the college. Entrepreneurship development is a compulsory subject for first-year undergrads, she added.

Agri-Rural Business

Vani Parvathy, Class XI student of Bharath Mata CMI Public School of Palakkad talked about the promotion of turmeric cultivation in schools and homes by her school. Children learned about its numerous medicinal properties especially anti-carcinogenic properties. The school had also promoted the cultivation of plants, trees at home and school, and KarshaSree awards were given to students. Eco-friendly projects were initiated in school whereby students segregated plastic and paper waste on campus. Eco clubs and exhibitions help create awareness about a sustainable eco-system.

“There is a need to promote agri-business among students because we have all the climatic conditions across the country from Jammu to Kashmir to grow a different kind of crops and agribusiness is a great opportunity for the youth,“ Mani P Sam of Rajagiri Business School said.

Yankiumong, Class VIII and Tsunlunla, Class VI of St Christopher School in Chessore, Nagaland said that despite being far off from the capital city of Kohima and with limited resources, the school children are encouraged to convert locally available wood, bamboo, and cane to useful products such as a fruit basket, paper trays, flower pots, wooden ax, and such other things. Panelists felt that such creativity should be promoted and turned into small business ventures.

Patenting

When promoting innovation and skill development, schools should also put emphasis on getting inventions of students patented, according to Philp Daniel, corporate trainer, and management consultant.  There are reasons why India files a lesser number of patients compared to the US or other developed nations.

“This is because of our regimented education system which does not allow children to think out of the box. Support systems are important when someone fails,“ Philip Daniel added. The success of FANGTs (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Tesla) is the single-minded focus on their passion by its promoters and the ability to innovate.

“The job of educators is to find passion in students. Don't throw water on their passion. With the NEP 2020 in place, we need to have teachers who kindle the passion of students so that we have more innovators means more patents. More patients mean more business and technology leader is what India can be. And we have the demographics for it,” Philip Daniel added.

Nicy Mathew, Project Manager of Pallikkutam Online School said the new futuristic Pallikkutam Pedagogy based on National Curriculum Framework is useful for entrepreneurship training for students of all age groups. It equips children with problem-solving capabilities, empathise with others, takes risks, be creative, and accept failures as part of the growth process. The learning happens in five stages of creation, celebration, challenge, collaboration, and campaign, she added.

Entrepreneurship Vs innovation

People tend to confuse entrepreneurship with innovation. Every innovator need not become an entrepreneur but most successful entrepreneurs are innovators too, according to Philip Daniel. While Jaydeep Mandal, MD of Aakar Innovations and an award-winning social entrepreneur said that innovation and entrepreneurship can go hand in hand but can also be looked at separately.

“When I was working with Honeybee Network and National Innovation Foundation (NIF), there were 250,000 ideas documented in NIF database. Maybe 5 or 6 were turned into a business. Sometimes, innovators can give their technology to someone to turn it into a good business.  An entrepreneur has to innovate on a daily basis especially in Covid times because the business world is changing.”

Killing Creativity

Mani P Sam said that children are born creative but start losing it as they enter school. “Nine out of ten sentences a student may hear from the teacher is ‘don’t do it’.  “Stop telling students to do this or that or prevent them from doing something thereby killing the initiative,” he added.  Many times we impose many things on students, according to Jaydeep Mandal.  “But if you let them pursue their interest areas be it science, maths or even sports, they will excel in life. Teachers and parents have to support the students in their passion and interests. Students can also become intrapreneurs, an entrepreneur within an organisation,” Jaydeep added.

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