Tinkering for learning

Students at Atal Tinkering Labs at Army Public School, Kamaraj Road, Bengaluru. DH Photo by S K Dinesh

The present generation of students don’t believe in sitting in the classroom and learning the same old theoretical concepts from the textbooks. They are keen on enhancing their knowledge and skills by stepping into the real world. They try to explore concepts or inventions beyond their standard curriculum.

Thus 21st-century learning recognises the value of information technology. As technology and creativity become a focus for schools, students need to be provided with innovative learning spaces to extend and challenge their skills. Technology can help students increase their concentration, retain knowledge and enhance personalised learning programmes.

Over time, all the stakeholders have also realised the need to introduce technology to the curriculum. They find it essential to make their children cope with the current technology-driven courses for students across the spectrum. Also, connecting with potential technical advancement in the curriculum would promote pedagogical changes that will allow students to participate in learning rather than just cramming concepts.

As a consequence, the development of labs plays a vital role in overcoming these challenges and build a world-class innovation and entrepreneurship environment in the country.

Vocational labs

Vocational labs such as Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL) help in the gradual shift from the marks-oriented habitual mindset to a problem-solving innovative mindset among school students. The lack of applying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in solving real-world problems until the graduation level restricts students from taking advantage of their full potential. 

With the establishment of vocational labs, Class 6 onwards students can experience the real joy of learning STEM subjects.  

According to FICCI’s report published in 2014, more than 250 million students have enrolled in 1.4 million schools in India. As of September 2020, more than 5,300 ATLs have been set up in the country. 

There is a need to establish millions of labs to enable students to access and tinker with innovative art tools and technologies like 3D printers, robotics, Internet of Things, miniaturised electronics and Do IT Yourself kits. 

Moreover, such labs stimulate problem-solving and innovative skills providing solutions to various problems seen around the community. Besides, the current lot of students having access to these labs are using them effectively to develop a prototype and implement their ideas into product form.

Cultivating innovation

Students undergo numerous experiences through tinker-centred learning, whether these experiences occur inside or outside of tinkering lab/studios. There is no doubt that students learn new skills and technologies as they build, tinker, re-design, and hack, especially when they do these things in a group. Such activities help children discover their talents and potentials and working in a team further builds their social skills that empowers them to engage with and shape their surroundings. 

However, it is also critical that labs adopt the right framework to ensure that students really benefit from tinkering projects. Initially, the students should be provided with customised and step-by-step learning. Also, they should be given a chance to understand theory in one session and explore its application in the next session. 

From learning STEM to getting practical exposure and turning a student into a kidspreneur requires end-to-end support from teachers and mentors. 

Another critical and supportive role is played by the parents who have to encourage their kids to proactively learn and gain experience of tinkering. Also, parents should understand the pressure points of their children, the challenges that keep them from giving their best, and the issues that play a crucial role in the progress of tinkering practices.

There is also an expectation that increasing access to technology at a young age would go a long way towards inspiring younger generations to lay the foundation for the new world of creativity and imagination. 

A unique education framework has been established with the creation of such labs, combining the traditional education system with experiential learning.

(The authors are co-founders of an educational technology company)