Life in the industrial era with automation getting more powerful each day, can get boring, if all we do is to repeat a well known method, and use that to create products and services. At some point, this could lead to complete stagnation.
So what is the antidote? Innovation could be incremental, leading to the creation of newer products and services that make life better, and to keep our brain cells active – whether it is new technologies to power automobiles, trains, aeroplanes, going green on every aspect of our life, or a new way to communicate. Empower and enable students with some of the critical 21st century skills such as creativity, design and innovation and you can be assured of India moving up the global innovation index.
What are 21st century skills?
|20th century education||21st century skills requirement|
|School centered||Learner centered|
|Curriculum based||Project based|
|Textbook based||Web based|
|Slotted learning||On demand learning|
|Rote learning||Learning that fosters creativity and innovation|
The four Cs of 21st century skills – collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking.
Intelligence vs creativity
Here is an unorthodox definition of intelligence and creativity: Intelligence is the convergence of many thoughts into one idea while creativity is the divergence of one thought into many ideas.
While our focus has generally been on the IQ of a child, we need to make a paradigm shift towards CQ (Creativity Quotient) if we are to leapfrog into the elite club of designers and innovators.
History of design and innovation
Scientists and engineers for a long time have pursued design and innovation to bring out better products to solve some of the challenges that the human civilization faces.
World over we have seen inventions ranging from steam engines, motor cars, airplanes to telephones, radio, computers and variations in technologies like mobile phones, etc. Innovations and improvisations followed basic product designs, which means that something like the steam engine has seen tremendous changes to give us our bullet trains, maglevs, mono rails, hyperloops, etc.
In the earlier days, inventions were sometimes accidental, sometimes a sustained effort. The current generation makes any design or innovation intentional and follows a method to achieve those objectives.
Design thinking process
Ideate —>Validate —>Prototype —> Test and Final Implementation.
Why design thinking?
Research has shown that countries like the US, Europe, China, Japan, Korea, Singapore which are high on the global innovation index have design inclusion in the curriculum at schools. School children have a high creativity quotient at that age and with a simple design course, students can nurture their creativity and innovation skills.
Lack of design thinking in Indian schools
Year: 1977. Place: St. Anthony’s High School, Himayatnagar, Hyderabad, maths period in 8th class, name of the student: G Shiva Sunder…. The maths teacher was teaching square root of a number, when, suddenly Sunder as we call him had his “Eureka moment” and went up to the teacher and showed her a simple method of finding a cube root of a number. What Sunder had done was to modify the method of finding a square root and extended it to the cube root. The whole class got excited and we were trying to validate the same with different numbers and every time the answer was perfect. Alas, that was the last we heard on that topic. Six years later, Sunder wrote to NCERT and the Ramanujam Institute of Mathematics, Chennai and got a response from Dr. Rangachari of the Institute who invited him over to Chennai and along with a research scholar refined the algorithm for the same. Later this was published in a leading maths journal.
Year: 2014. Place: an Engineering College in Mysore, a student had just developed a prototype for the cheapest 3D Printer in the World (under 10,000 INR). He was invited by many colleges and research bodies to demonstrate the product. But that has still remained on the drawing board.
What the above two examples show is that we don’t have a defined process to identify, nurture, mentor and take ideas from prototypes to production. If the Sunders of the world knew where to seek guidance and develop the idea, things would have been different.
India is ranked 66 on the global innovation index for 2016. This is a huge red flag. At the same time it is an opportunity to course correct.
Lack of design and innovation in our school curriculum is our biggest challenge. A design inclusion helps students prepare for their life journey with a very clear direction and objectives. In India, design is introduced at the graduate engineering level and most students do not take design seriously.
Design and innovation thinking are closely aligned to the STEAM concept (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).
Design thinking can be applied to any aspect of our life and helps in critical thinking and problem solving. Hence whether a student wants to be a medical doctor, chartered accountant, lawyer, software engineer, artist, gaming professional, or engineer, design thinking can help in enhancing their creativity thereby helping them in their chosen field.
Design touches every one of us in all areas of our lives. It can be as simple as designing your garden, its layout, optimization of sunlight, etc., to complex automobiles, jets, spaceships, robotics, medical equipment, prosthetic arms and legs and so on.
What schools need to do
Imagination is more important than Knowledge – Albert Einstein.
A school needs to identify a Design and Innovation Thinking (DIT) champion from one of the staff members. The school should allot at least one period every week, ideally for classes 7 and above.
DIT can apply to science, maths, languages, engineering, IT, fashion technology, music, art, cookery, finance, etc.
Some activities that DIT teachers can easily conduct:
- Quizzes on discoveries and inventions – past and present.
- Focussed group discussions on new idea generation in a chosen area.
- Assign tasks of re-organizing the computer lab to optimally use the space (you will be surprised at the ideas).
- Landscaping the school garden.
- Costume design for the annual day.
- New music score for the annual day.
- Video and photography for school events.
- Finally conduct DIT competitions in 2-3 broad categories amongst student groups.
The objective is to unleash creativity and make students consciously think of a new idea and improvise on existing ideas.
Design is an integral part of innovation and creativity. Good design principles must be human centric and have a clear understanding of the end use and the problem that it solves. Environmental compliances should be an essential component of any design activity.
Schools and teachers need to encourage students to establish a relation between their subjects or concepts taught in schools and real life situations. For e.g.: Fractional distillation and petroleum refining. Inter-disciplinary design concepts encourage collaboration and communication between diverse interest groups.
Conventional design vs digital design
A conventional design process involves converting an idea into a sketch/drawing, building models, prototyping, testing, modifying before going in for final implementation.
However, computers, software and 3D printers have revolutionized and simplified the design process.
Digital design and prototyping is the new process. Using 2D/3D design software, an idea or design can be sketched and converted either into a 2D or 3D drawing using basic CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. For instance, a building design can be first conceptualized with a 3D software, and using other software the design can then be rendered. This rendering and visualization helps in providing a walk through effect of the building even before it is actually built.
A structured design and innovation thinking curriculum equips the students with basic design concepts, simple digital drawing and digital sketching tools, using a design software and simple projects.
An advanced course can be taken in a specialized field depending on the student’s interest – civil, architecture, robotics, automobile design, digital arts (media and entertainment).
Why we must be prepared for the design and innovation revolution
Automation and robots are going to take over many activities that humans currently perform. I recently saw how a swimming pool was being cleaned by a robot. The engineer explained that the first time it would take approximately eight hours for the robot to scan the entire swimming pool, criss-crossing along its breadth and length. Once this is done the data is stored in its memory and the robot can clean the entire pool in less than 45 minutes. In houses, cleaning robots are programmed to dock and recharge at a power socket and continue cleaning floors and carpets.
A country’s growth and economy is going to be largely dependent on the skills of its workforce. One of the key indicators would be local design and manufacture. Hence it is essential for us to align to the Indian government’s “Make in India” and “Skill India” initiatives.