Meet the 22-year-old who went back to his village in Odisha and set up a 3 Idiots-level Innovation School 

A school where classes have a practical twist, there are no exams and special sessions like Jor Ka Jhatka are conducted — that's what the International Public School for Rural Innovation, set up by An
We track the inspiring journey of a 22-year-old innovator who wants to help rural kids discover their inner spark | Pic: Irfana
We track the inspiring journey of a 22-year-old innovator who wants to help rural kids discover their inner spark | Pic: Irfana

Born and brought up at 42 Mouza, Cuttack, Anil Pradhan, as a school student, used to cycle 12 km every day to reach school — since there were none in his area. His cycle would bear the brunt of uneven roads and, as a result, would give him trouble. The chain on his cycle was a frequent offender that would rust and act up. Pradhan would fix it in his own ingenious way (and we just don't mean oiling the chain). 

Pradhan is also a mentor at Atal Tinkering Lab and at the Regional Science Centre in Bhubaneswar 

It was during these moments that the 22-year-old feels his journey of innovating started. And then came the various school projects, admission to Veer Surendra Sai University of Technology, Sambalpur and into their robotics society. "Not only was the college an enabler, but my seniors also knew a lot about robotics, which really helped," says the 22-year-old. College put to test Pradhan's capabilities and he aced every challenge that came his way. He made news for being a part of the team that built a satellite to monitor the Hirakud Dam — the longest man-made dam in the world. He also helped design a robot that could climb electric poles and do tasks otherwise deemed too dangerous for humans. 

Every child is different and is capable of something different. We must look at what they are good at rather than imposing a curriculum

Anil Pradhan, Founder, International Public School for Rural Innovation

His name featured in the top ten student innovators of India with the National Youth Icon Award 2018 being the most recent title associated with him. "I am a civil engineering graduate but I have worked in the field of electronics, mechanics and am adept at coding as well," he admits. But perhaps, above all this, the achievement most dear to Pradhan's heart is setting up the International Public School for Rural Innovation (IPSRI) in the very village that he grew up in.

It's practically possibly
We all know that our education system can do with a heavy dose of practical application but the "engineer at heart" Pradhan did not only go a step ahead but took a giant leap when he decided to set up this school at 42 Mouza. He discussed this with his mother, who was a principal at one of the Kendriya Vidyalaya schools then. She agreed but wondered, "Chalega ki nahi chalega?" (Will it work or not?). "I was confident that it will work. We were trying to solve a problem and had the right solution in mind," reasoned Pradhan. The solution was giving a practical twist to every lesson taught in the classroom. In fact, their classrooms are more labs than your standard classrooms. 

They have recently introduced uniforms in the school and the medium of instruction is Odia, though they make sure that they acquaint students with English terminology as well

The two-storeyed school is built on 2.5 acres of land belonging to Pradhan's family. The construction began in 2017 with the help of all the scholarship money and the rewards from the various competitions Pradhan had won. Even his father and brother chipped in. No points for guessing that his mother was installed as the principal. The school is equipped with two 3D printers, drilling machines, cutting tools, wrenches, laser cutters, screwdrivers and more — which is a lot more than we can say for your average school.

Young innovator: Pradhan receiving his first award for Innovative City Planning

With all this in place, when Pradhan approached parents with the idea of admitting their children into IPSRI, they flat out refused. And why would they agree? Government schools around weren't just offering free education but their midday meal was a huge bonus for the families. "We were in a fix, but then decided to offer free education but made it clear that providing food would be difficult," recalls Pradhan, who is the Founder and Technical Educator at IPSRI. 

Next up, Pradhan is planning mobile schools. A bus will carry foldable benches and all the equipment required to enable innovation in remote areas. He even plans to tie up with government schools for this

Three students enrolled and he started the school with them and even conducted the morning assembly every day. Because, why not? "People were laughing at me when they saw that I was conducting an assembly with merely three children," he says. But slowly, reason dawned and now, they have as many as 250 students. studying from pre-nursery to class VI, "and with each year, we plan to add one class to our school," he says.

No exams in this school
For one of their lessons, children cut plastic water bottles and plant a seed and nurture it till it grows. "This teaches them not only about using leftover plastic but also about plant life and softer skills like responsibility," explains Pradhan. They alternate between Yoga and PT classes and even have a special activity class wherein, dance, music and many other different things are taught. But what will be taught is kept as a surprise. "If we can make children feel inquisitive, children will be drawn to school on their own," he says. 

Look at that: Project presentation to Governor of Odisha Prof Ganeshi Lal

Every day, they conduct a Swachh Campus activity, wherein, for ten minutes, every student helps clean the school. "All other schools do it on October 2, we do it every day," says Pradhan. They use CDs to learn about pie charts, colour association to learn the world map and they even have the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals painted on their staircase. "We encourage students to recite them as they climb the stairs and now, they know them by heart, serial wise!" says a delighted Pradhan. 

He also encourages students to participate in hackathons, makers fair, painting contests and other competitions 

Indeed, learning at his school is delightful, but we haven't even come to the best part yet. They don't have exams! They are asked questions in the class itself and graded depending on their answers. They don't have a marks system, instead of which they use graphs to show the improvement or fall in their academics. With a true temple of learning like this, we certainly don't mind going back to school again!  

Student innovators 

Basudev Bhoi, Class V

Basudev can be quite forgetful when it comes to remembering to take the various things in his pencil box. To counter this, he built an alarm system in the box, which rings every time he forgets something. "I want to grow up to be a policeman," says the 12-year-old

Samikhya Jena, Class V

Jena has built a robot out of lego bricks. "It took me about two months to make it, but now, I can assemble it in an hour," says Samikhya, cheerfully. The cheerful 11-year-old girl wishes to become an IPS officer when she grows up

What's in a name?

Pradhan gives edgy names to the sessions he takes to pique the curiosity of students. Three of them are: 

Kabad se Jugaad 
Pradhan places all kinds of e-waste like TV, car parts, refrigerators and more and doesn't give students any ideas. He just facilitates as they proceed to explore them and make something out of them

Jor ka Jhatka
In this electronics session, Pradhan teaches them to build small robots like microcontrollers and microprocessors 

Todh, Podh, Johd
In this session, students are encouraged to dismantle appliances and put it together again, just to understand how they work

Their own: Auto-detection recycle bin made by students

His calendar 

- November 2-8 
Pradhan will be representing India at World Youth Forum 2018, Egypt. He has been invited to present his views on innovative learning and STEM education. 

- November 15 - 17
Invited by UNESCO to present on disruptive learning techniques at Transforming Education Conference for Humanity 2018 (TECH). 

- November
Invited by IIM Rohtak to mentor start-ups and budding entrepreneurs

For more, click on

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