40+ innovations by under-privileged students

By Naomi Menzes, International Representative (India)

“Design thinking is a process for creative problem-solving.” - Coe Leta Stafford, Managing Director, IDEO.

Design thinking is the bridge between great ideas and the outcome of those great ideas - efficiently. It simply is the launchpad to turn ideas on paper into reality. Design thinking helps in the process of questioning: questioning the problem, questioning the assumptions, and questioning the implications.

Henna Khan and Meera Rathod decided to stretch the applications of Design Thinking to deliver better socio-economic solutions for social change. They started Universe Simplified Foundation (hyperlink: http://universesimplified.org/) with the idea of taking Design Thinking to schools to empower students to find innovative solutions to real-life problems through an inquiry-driven and hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. The duo realised that on one hand, society was leaving the next generation of children with a lot of challenges such as waste management, water and air pollution, limited electricity resources, etc. However, children were not being equipped with the ability to come up with creative and original ideas/solutions to address these issues. Universe Simplified Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that encourages students to think on their own; to think beyond rote learning.

Before launching her project, Henna identified the gaps that exist in the current education system such as:

1. Rote Learning - The current Indian education system is based on rote learning and exams with almost zero focus on critical thinking, problem-solving and innovation skills

2. Knowledge transfer from Teacher to Student - The current education system does not encourage children to ask questions and self-learn

3. Not equipped for 21st Century Jobs - The rate at which technology is evolving, the current education system is unable to prepare children for 21st-century jobs

To address the identified gaps in the Indian education system, the Foundation is setting up low-cost Innovation Hubs within schools for rural and urban slum children from economically challenged backgrounds. The curriculum of their program is based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) with a focus on hands-on project making, inquiry-driven learning, and collaboration. This encourages students to think on their own; to think beyond rote learning. There is a huge focus on using scrap, recyclable material, and available resources to prototype, as they believe that lower the material cost, higher will be the number of schools that will adopt to this model. The foundation works with students who are interested in STEM from Grade 7 to 9.

Set up within Zilla Parishad schools in rural and urban slums areas, the Design Thinking curriculum brings a human-centered approach to addressing challenges that students face in their daily lives. It equips them with the tools, techniques, and mindset needed to uncover new and creative solutions for societal issues while increasing their curiosity, and boosting their self-confidence.

So how do these Innovation Hubs really work?

Step I: The students are encouraged to observe their surroundings, identify a problem, truly understand the issue, develop empathy towards the issue.

Step II: The students (in groups of 3 or 4) then ideate possible STEM-based solutions to the selected problem.

Step III: The students design their ideas on paper and then make a 3D prototype using scrap/ cardboard to understand their design better.

Step IV: The students then build a working model using low-cost materials of the chosen solution.

So far, the Innovation Module process has yielded around 40 projects! The Foundation is currently working with around 300 children across 8 Innovation Hubs in and around Mumbai.

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A chair/bed made by 12-year-old students for hospital patients

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A low-cost wheelchair, a stick for blind people which detects obstacles, a kick bike, a manual washing machine

Universe Simplified Foundation has recently launched the USF Innovation Fellowship 2019-21 for youth with a passion for Science/Technology and Education who will have the opportunity to lead and manage the Innovation Hubs. The Fellows will receive intensive training for over 2 years, which will build their leadership and social entrepreneurship skills, and will additionally allow them to get hands-on experience with design thinking and program implementation.

You can find more details about the Fellowship Program here!