Raising Young Innovators through Conceptual Research Experience

By Dr. Sarvjeet Herald and Dr. Poulomi Ganguly

Innovations are directly linked to the innovativeness of people which is the prerequisite for growth, prosperity and economy of a nation and its citizens. However, in a country, that is India, where 46.6% of population is below 24 years and literacy rate is 74.04% – Innovative Culture, Innovations and the link between them are missing.

Globally, India is ranked among the lowest countries in terms of their capacity for, and success in, Innovation. On the other hand, China which is an emerging economy similar to India is ranked in the upper quartile of Bloomberg’s Innovation Index and Global Innovation Index as an innovative nation. It is rapidly progressing towards being an economic powerhouse similar to USA, but India is not. Therefore, educational institutes and policy makers in India need to reconsider their strategies for raising young innovators.

Make In India

India is home to one of the largest education system in the world. It has more than 1.4 million schools and more than 230 million enrollments. But our young minds lack original and critical thinking, creativity, collaboration & communication skills which are essential for overcoming dynamic, complex, competitive and uncertain conditions in the real world. They lack these important skills because our culture emphasizes on memorizing (learning by heart) the subjects for scoring marks, instead of focusing on deep learning for improving conceptual understanding of the students and ability to apply their learning into new situations.

It is of critical national importance that we enable our youth to acquire and interpret information through critical thinking and improve their cognitive abilities, which will embed Innovation culture in our society and allow research and development of (a large number of) original and innovative process and products in India. Their dissemination globally, as research based outputs (in the form of publications, patents and/or products), will build the brand “Made in India” and allow us to rapidly become an economic powerhouse.

While efforts like robotics, science fairs, design for change, model UNO do give the school students a platform to explore their talent, there continues to be a pressing need to provide student glimpses into their careers of interest through hands-on experience. As traditional schooling does not adequately equip students with Learning and Innovation competencies (i.e., Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration) as defined by P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning, CL Educate Ltd. has started a novel Research-based Learning program for school students known as The Conceptual Research Experience (CRE).

Process Flow Chart
Figure 1: Process Flow (left to right) of Conceptual Research Experience Program for Students

CRE methodology aims at inculcating original thinking, creativity, problem-solving skills in students from classes 7th to 12th. As shown in the Figure 1, the students are encouraged to identify a cutting edge topic of their interest. This could be related to any area such as science, engineering, medicine, law, commerce and humanities. After topic identification, students undergo experiential learning for 26 weeks, through milestone focused research process, to deliver a high calibre concept paper which is fit to be selected in a national or international conference of repute.

Imagine our pride and admiration when our students, all of just 12-17 years of age, from India take the stage and showcase their original, novel research at international conferences in front of world renowned domain experts in areas as diverse as Nanorobots to gravitational waves to pesticide regulations. The young innovator gets a platform to interact with the best of the best role models in his field and realize the essence of the journey to become that world class scientist, economist, teacher, doctor or entrepreneur.

A student of Kothari International School in Noida, for example, working on ‘Use of Thorium for Generating Electricity in India’ aims to help Indian policy makers in decision-making through his research paper, whereas a student of Indus World School in Indore is exploring a new method to detect faint signals of Gravitational Waves. The response of the students to the on-going CRE program has been very positive, with 88% of the participating students feeling that they have improved their comprehension, problem-solving, creativity, writing and presentation skills. It had made them more engaged with their areas of interests, passions and studies.

Learning

CRE provides skills, knowledge, expertise and support systems that students need to acquire to become successful leaders, workers and global citizens of tomorrow. The early stage opportunity to explore their interests and passions helps them raise their profile, plan their career wisely and become more productive citizens of India. However, in order to embed Innovation culture among students, schools must motivate their student to take the first baby step of being an innovator through Research-based Learning.

Private schools in India will play a very crucial role in raising young innovators who develop new processes or products of social or commercial value at an early stage. This is because the decision to implement a new program rests with the Principal (or Committee/Trust/Society) running the school, in contrast to the Government schools where multiple entities are involved, the process is lengthy and also time consuming. It is easier for a private unaided school to introduce Research-based Learning as a part of the school curriculum because they enjoy the flexibility of creating their own curriculum by the Indian Government. On the other hand, aided schools can easily introduce a Research-based Learning as new Club (similar to cricket/dramatics/science club/ work experience class) for raising young innovators and driving Innovations in India.

Another important factor which makes the role of Private Schools very important within the Indian Innovation Ecosystem is that, when considering only the secondary and higher secondary school segments, enrollments in private schools account for 63% of the total in contrast to the Government schools which have low student/parent interest. Since, private schools in this segment account for 56% of the total schools in India, they are ideally suited to provide early-stage research and Innovation experience to large number of Indian youth, improve learning outcomes of the students and develop linkages to higher education and industry for transfer of student knowledge and skills to the next level.

Therefore, it is imperative that our corridors of education, that is Schools which are second home of the children, rise up to the occasion and play their role of developing young individuals with an Innovation mindset.  Only then can we, as a nation, expedite our growth to becoming one of the largest economies globally by leveraging Innovation as a key driver for growth.


About the Author

Dr. Sarvjeet Herald

Dr Herald is Chief Innovation Officer at Scientific Research and Innovation Foundation and is an expert in analyzing patterns in multimedia content types to improve the digital ecosystem. Dr Herald has served as Researcher & Lecturer in several leading Universities including University of Hertfordshire, UK & Northumbria University and is also a Marie Curie Fellow, University of Southampton.

Dr. Poulomi Ganguly

Dr Ganguly is a techno commercial professional and an expert in Product Development and Commercialization for Emerging Economies, Innovation Pipeline Management, Intellectual Property Strategy, and Strategic R&D Consultancy and is currently Director of Research at CL Educate Ltd. She holds a PhD from Texas A&M University and is a Business Certified Scholar from Texas A&M University – Mays Business School.