Much has been talked and written about experiential learning, AI, STEM et al. Even with Niti Aayog’s renewed focus on hands-on practical education is a case in point. Schools must accept that AI/STEM-based learning is no longer a luxury. Inter-disciplinary and integrated education at the elementary, middle and secondary levels leading to holistic perspective and a critical out-of-the-box thinking or a creative mindset would catapult the national no an ‘innovative new’.
It is quite a common sight to see companies hawking ‘activities’, ‘robotic gizmos’, ‘scientific puzzles and games’ or ‘exercises’ purporting to enhance performance. But is the excitement serving the cause of propelling creativity?
US based researchers have established, and it has proven worldwide, that immersing the child in contextual real-world challenges, instilling inquiry, exploration, allowing them to collaboratively address those issues, come up with indigenous solutions and in the process of finding solutions trigger concept mastery is the best way to inspire creativity.
In India, a structured CBSE/ ICSE aligned curriculum embodying modules or learning units pertinent to age/grade appropriate syllabus enables a student to master the Science, Math, linguistics etc. concepts, improve overall performance, secure better marks and acquire applicative skills.
Contextual issues need to be identified and then articulated in terms of modules encapsulating subject concepts aligned with a specific syllabus. India for instance has a plethora of contextual issues that students could relate to: pollution, flooding, water contamination, high-speed railways, warming et al. It is an arduous task but doable but this is authentic STEM capable of developing creators and innovators.
Over the past few years, successive leaders, lawmakers, educators, policy creators and enthusiasts have endorsed STEM for creative uplift. Yet the gains have been far from satisfactory primarily due to the fact that the efforts to propagate STEM have been devoid of structure, context and contextual challenge problem-solving experience.
Sporadic efforts or simply resorting to toolkit-oriented experiments or activities have failed to create an effective experiential educative environment. There is an imminent need to fill this void and catapult the STEM endeavour to its successful pinnacle through structured, contextual, challengebased, solution-oriented experiential learning.
Atal Tinkering Lab, an admirable initiative to engage students in a hands-on activity ironically does not have a curriculum. Thus students may dabble with ATL equipment but remain alienated from solving real-world issues through practical pursuits.
India has traditionally been a country of abundant creativity. From the invention of zero and numeral system to complex hydraulic engineering, carburized steel, cotton textiles, the radio/ wireless communication, quantum statistics, lunar water (water on the moon) etc., India is credited for innumerable inventions that helped shape the world we live in today.
Indians have excelled in Information Technology, yet the intensity of inventing talent has somehow been dormant. For couples of centuries, Indians proved to be wonderful emulators. No wonder, thepresent focus is on harnessing the fertile minds and launching them into a creative orbit.
The secret lies in catching ’em young. Human brains are most fertile in the formative years. In essence, therefore, the best results accrue out of learning programs introduced at elementary, middle and high school levels. Ironic that even though the education in the foundation age in India is strong, yet it is missing the innovative drive.
Maria Montessori, a noted Italian physician, propounded the theory that a child has innate traits to learn from the environment and tools around him. She went on to develop a spectrum of experiential kits for mixed age groups where peer to peer learning got accentuated. The books were replaced by hands-on practical projects which led to higher learning while teachers assumed the role of facilitators. Celebrity entrepreneurs and inventors like Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page & Sergey Brin (Google) and a plethora of stalwarts swear by and attribute their creative instincts to hands-on challenge oriented Montessori education.
STEM- an extension of tried, tested and trusted methodology
STEM pedagogy is a natural corollary to Montessori’s do-it yourself method of learning and it has proven to work towards elevating the understanding and application of knowledge. When a student explores a Math or Science concept through project based learning, it inseminates indelibly only to be gainfully applied in his future Engineering or Technological pursuit with an innovative flavour. This is the beauty of STEM- a process of self discovery triggered by inspiration fueled by inquiry.
Solution: Grade-wise STEM modules aligned to topics in the syllabus
Subject matter experts have thus coined the safe path of connecting and relating STEM modules to specific science and math concepts in an interdisciplinary fashion. While it is good, yet it still suffers from the versatility with which all concepts of certain grade level are purported to be explained. It depends primarily upon the exuberance and interest of school management to first accept and later to find the required resources to implement STEM – based curriculum.
STEM- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is an interdisciplinary and integrated approach to learning. It is challenge-based hands-on practical education which aims to foster inquiring minds, logical reasoning, and collaboration skills. STEM embodies the future innovative and creative geniuses of India.
It is aligned with government propagated missions like Startup India, Skilled India, Digital India, Make in India, New India and women empowerment. Niti Aayog, Ministry of HRD, CBSE, NCERT , NEP2019 and several state initiatives are all aggressively pursuing research and innovation geared towards harnessing the creative talent of Indian youth by making Indian education more experiential.
STEM has come to assume significance and is increasingly finding more followers every day. Yet the efficacy of STEM-based learning has by far been limited due to apparent lack of structure.