Today morning I got a mail from a student of 11 class from Madhya Pradesh who had made a model of wireless electricity transfer. Several channels had covered it and called him another “Newton” . I want to discuss today t the role a school teacher should play in such cases. It is quite possible that the teacher was also not aware of open source tools/circuits available at Instructable and other web platforms to make such models. When we say ‘great’, when only ‘good’ will suffice, ‘wonderful’ when great will suffice, we may be generous but we may also extinguish the desire to improve, learn and work hard, be humble, and avoid taking false provide in replicating a known circuit or design. I wrote back to the concerned creative student, requesting him to explain the novelty in his circuits over what is known already. By appreciating ‘imitations’ as not just skill building exercise but as an innovation activity, we do great harm to the future growth of creativity and innovation benchmarks in our country.
Most children are curious but some pursue their curiosity through experimentation and exploration.
Let me suggest what we can do when organizing idea contest among children and gather new ideas (some they can implement and some may be beyond their technical competence). The first step is to help them do a search on the web about their ideas, has anyone else come out already with that idea or even converted that idea into practical utility. Grown-up children can help younger children. I am amazed at the ability of toddlers to find music or cartoon on a phone. it should not be very difficult for 6-8 class children to do a search. Then let us help them take pride in the fact that they could imagine an idea without knowing if somebody else had thought about it already. It is not their fault that they did not know what was done elsewhere in the world at that age. But then their challenge is to think of adding some feature, function or form which earlier innovator had not thought about. Their creativity will lie in adding value to what is known already through incremental innovations. By letting them be satisfied with the lesser expectation of originality reduce their ability to benchmark globally.
Next thing for teachers is to recognize that children learn most when they do exploration themselves. Giving their own ideas in children’s name or helping them remember the explanation of models built by them or third party does a great injustice to the children’s spirit of inquiry and experimentation. Anybody familiar with the science exhibitions and so-called innovation contest knows how serious is the problem. The market of model builders has grown into several hundred crores. If not more. When children learn to claim as something of their own when they know it is not their idea, the very ethical foundation of society gets eroded. Later when we expect them to do original work in college, many of them have a guilty conscience. I have written about it many times earlier but somehow we have not started an open dialogue at school, district, stated and central government level. But this is something where we have to persuade teachers and also parents to understand the long-term implications of pushing their children, no matter how many corners they cut in the process. Contrast it with the situation of those children who may be first-generation learners and whose ideas even do not often get articulated, much less recognized except perhaps at Ignite contest at NIF, HBN CRIIA contest by GIAN and children creativity workshops by SRISTI. May the virus of originality and social relevance spread among millions of children.