Published: 23rd December 2019
Inqui-Lab Zindabad: How 15 Telangana welfare schools are finding their scientific spark
The curriculum of the programme has been designed by Eshwar Bandi, Sahithya Anumolu and Vivek Piddempally. They have referred to open source material from Stanford and Harvard
In primary and middle school, remember how it was a privilege to be called up by the teacher to erase the blackboard? While the tall ones managed well to clean the entire board, what about the shorter ones? Let me give you another instance - getting wet in the rain was a complete no-no as a child unless you were brave enough to face the music at home. But what about the dreaded hand pain that would arise from holding up that big umbrella against the pouring rain? Does it seem like I'm making a list of trivial problems? These might seem trivial to us adults but not for children. And if students use what is taught in class and innovate, solutions can be found. Today, they might solve minor issues but tomorrow, these skills will help them develop a knack for finding innovative solutions to make their life and the lives of others a little more comfortable. This is the philosophy that drives Inqui-Lab Foundation, triggering the inquisitiveness in students so that they can open their eyes to the problems around them and find solutions for the greater good.
Sahithya Anumolu studied in BITS Pilani, while Vivek Piddempally studied in JNTU, Hyderabad
The three musketeers behind this initiative, which was launched in 2017, are Eshwar Bandi, Sahithya Anumolu and Vivek Piddempally — co-founders, comrades and confidants. Eshwar pursued his engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University in Bengaluru and worked in IBM for over five years before he decided to follow his passion for teaching and took up the fellowship with Teach For India (TFI), the NGO well-known for recruiting youngsters to teach in low-income schools. That's where the trio met. "TFI changed everything for me. Before that, my understanding of the field of education was sort of binary. I began to understand the problems at the grassroots level," says Eshwar who was born in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh.
They implemented a classroom project at Teach For India, where, every day for 30 minutes, children of Diamond Mission High School in Hyderabad were encouraged to paint, write, innovate and beyond. This knowledge came from what children had learnt in the classroom, for example, all that the students learnt about magnets were applied to find a solution to the problem of tires getting punctured by metal scrap and nails lying on the road. Hasan, a ten-year-old, designed a magnetic strip that could be attached to the bumper of any vehicle to attract small pieces of metal that could otherwise result in a puncture. "Hasan's father is a truck driver and he has faced this problem several times. Can you believe a 6th grader came up with this simple yet effective solution?" exclaims a delighted Eshwar. This was where the idea of Inqui-Lab Foundation started to form.
The small yet passionate team behind Inqui-Lab Foundation | (Pic: Inqui-Lab Foundation)
After TFI, the trio, who shared similar beliefs, started Inqui-Lab Foundation in Hyderabad. And on July 15, 2019, for the first time, Design and Innovation were introduced as subjects in 15 of Telangana's social welfare schools. With the support of the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREIS), Salesforce India (a company that offers Client Relationship Management solutions), Telangana State Innovation Cell and Hyderabad-based NGO Yuva Varadhi, the Think and Make innovation programme was launched for class VIII students - as many as 1,200 in total in 15 schools for a year. This weekly programme will encourage children to observe, ideate and then, prototype solutions for the problems they observe around them. And if this pilot is successful, many more schools will be introduced to the programme, informs Eshwar. They have even partnered with Mantra4Change and initiated the programme in five schools in Bengaluru. "What this programme does for children is give them confidence and encourage them to think that, 'If I can solve this problem, I can solve other problems that I see around me too'," he explains.
The kits consist of workbooks, batteries, mini solar panels and basic tools like hand drills, small knives and more
While there are players in the space who are focusing on encouraging innovation in schools, like Atal Tinkering Lab, Eshwar believes that they are industrial in their approach. "They will give you the material and ask you to come up with something. Infrastructure is fundamental for them, but that is not the case with us," he says. Every week, in the same classrooms where students study other subjects, they brainstorm and identify problems for an allotted period of time, which forms a major chunk of the programme. "This is because our end-goal is to encourage innovation, not churn out products or prototypes," he explains and adds that every team is given a basic kit, with the help of which they make prototypes. Simply put, some of the ideas might be simplistic or might suffer from implementation issues on a large scale, but if a student is able to use the concepts they learn to come up with a plausible solution, the foundation considers it a success. What's more? They do this under the supervision of their fellow-schoolmates who have been trained by the foundation to guide, mentor and supervise the students.
Sahithya training student-teachers on the five-step innovation process | (Pic: Inqui-Lab Foundation)
Holidays, leaves, logistics and other such challenges break the flow of their classes, but the team refuses to let anything get in the way of their purpose which is to create a culture of innovation. "Everyone talks about innovation but no one guides you through it. We want to not just guide students, but make them innovators for life," says Eshwar.
These are the innovative ideas that Inqui-Lab Foundation has helped nurture:
Arif | Age: 10
Problem: His disabled friend was unable to button his shirt on his own
Solution: Using magnetic buttons, it helps you button your shirts with one hand
Rakesh and Syed Safoora | Age: 10
Problem: Shorter students couldn't erase the board completely
Solution: To attach an iron rod to the duster
Jyothsna and Mahesh | Age: 10
Problem: Unable to hold a bag and other things while carrying an umbrella
Solution: A hands-free umbrella attached to the backpack
Jayanthi | Age: 10
Problem: Stuffy helmets that cause you to sweat and feel suffocated
Solution: Solar-powered helmet with a fan and light
Maithily and Harshitha | Age: 10
Problems: Empty coconut shells are a waste
Solution: Can be used as glasses
Chethan Suhas | Age: 10
Problem: It's hard for people in a wheelchair to get into a car
Solution: A car seat that swivels so that they can sit and then turn into the car
Arvind | Age: 10
Problem: Witnessed an accident that happened at a blind turn
Solution: Install signals near blind turns which can warn if a car is approaching
Jalal Khan and Furkhaan | Age: 11
Problem: Unable to wake up on time in the mornings
Solution: When the alarm rings, the bed starts vibrating and forces one to wake up
To find more, check out inqui-lab.org