Is it a waste bottle? Is it a holder for spoons?
No, it’s a low-cost water heater prototype made from a plastic bottle and two spoons!
Proudly showing off his prototype, 11-year-old Ibrahim, a student of Class 6 at the Government High School in Amberpet, Hyderabad hopes that in the coming winter season, his mother will not have to heat water every morning for bathing.
He also credits the Inqui-Lab Foundation for giving him the opportunity to come up with this innovative solution.
Started by three former Teach For India fellows—Eshwar Bandi, Sahithya Anumolu and Vivek Piddempally—the city-based organisation was launched in 2017 with an aim to build a culture of innovation in government and low-income private schools that will empower students to go beyond classroom education.
Speaking to The Better India, Eshwar says,
During our fellowship, we realized that students, across demographics, gender and conventional academic performance, with consistent practice, have the potential to create a working product prototype for their ideas.
While kids in private schools have the resources to experiment, government schools often cannot provide them such a platform due to financial restraints. To enable them, we founded Inqui-Lab, once our fellowship ended,” he further adds.
Under their 25-week programme ‘Young Innovators’, Inqui-lab trains partner NGOs, school teachers or sends its own instructors to implement the programme.
They work alongside students to come up with cost-effective and simple solutions for everyday problems.
The programme, designed for kids aged 10-14, is divided into three stages – Exploration and Ideation, Designing and Planning, and Prototyping and Presenting.
The best part about the programme is that it motivates children to think of problems and solve them on their own.
Classes generally follow a ‘teach and learn protocol’ leaving no room for children to fuel their thinking process.Here, our only job is to guide them whenever they get stuck anywhere, says Sahithya.
In the first part of the programme, students are asked to think about problems that affect their immediate family or friends.
The severity of the problem can range from laziness, waking up on time, lack of electricity, water wastage to disable-friendly people not being to carry out basic tasks.
Once they have a problem, the students have to come up with solutions and make presentations in front of their classmates. Presenting in class motivates them to work harder and find smart solutions considering all eyes are on them.
In the execution stage, volunteers from Inqui-Lab provide them with resources or materials they need for their inventions. During this stage, the children can take help from volunteers.
Unfortunately, it is at this stage when most children decide to back out.
“These children have limited education and exposure to inventions, so they have a fear of failing. We try to help them avoid giving up. The children who are willing to continue their project go to the final stage, where the prototype is tested,” says Abhishek, core team member of Inqui-Lab.
The prototype, however, is not developed into a full-time invention for the outside world.
“Our main agenda is to ignite the minds of young children and help them take the first step. Due to limited time and financial resources, the project ends there. However, we plan to collaborate with organizations or companies who are willing to turn it into a product,” adds Vivek.
Here are five examples of ideas that have been converted into a prototype:
1) Problem: Arif’s friend was physically challenged and found it difficult to wear a shirt on his own.
Solution: Arif, 10, developed a shirt with magnetic buttons which can be easily buttoned using one hand.
2) Problem: Plastic waste was degrading the environment.
Solution: Haripriya, 10, upcycled discarded water cans to create a low-cost wash basin.
3) Problem: People avoid wearing helmets during summers due to sweating.
Solution: Jayanthi developed a solar-powered cooling helmet, with a fan and torch.
4) Problem: It is very difficult for blind people to walk inside homes and streets
Solution: Sagar, Archana, Srivani, Reshma from grade 6 developed a walking stick that helps the blind people to detect obstacles through sensors.
5) Problem: Heating water during winters
Solution: Ibrahim designed a low-cost water heater using a plastic bottle and spoon.
So far, the foundation has visited 40 schools in urban and rural areas involving 2,000 plus children that gave birth to 3,800 ideas, of which 600 were completed and converted into prototypes.
In terms of making an impact, many school teachers and parents are seeing a wave of positive change in children.
I now see that the children who were usually disinterested in their studies have now become eager and participative. Sometimes, we fail to see their hidden potential, but some activities allow them to bring their ideas to life, said Ms Aruna, the Vice Principal of Sri Siddhartha High School to TBI.
Echoing similar sentiments, Goutham K, Principal, Dayanand Group of Schools, Amberpet tells TBI, “The Inqui-lab programme gave my students an opportunity to learn and explore beyond their books. They got an opportunity to work on projects and solve problems which they never did earlier.”
Commenting on the hidden talents of kids who have undergone the programme, Sahithi Pappu who is currently working with the Government High School in Amberpet under a fellowship programme says,
“This is what an effective teaching looks like. From struggling to work in groups to working with classmates and creating incredible solution-oriented projects, the kids have grown tremendously. Their level of confidence and the ability to take calculated risk has increased. With this kind of exposure, I feel like my kids know there is a whole wide world of opportunities waiting to be grabbed.”
For their short-term goals, the organization is currently working towards creating an exit strategy wherein post the programme the schools can take full ownership such that student innovation becomes a part of the culture of the school and sustains even in the absence of Inqui-Lab.
In terms of long-term objectives, Inqui-Lab hopes to transform 500 schools through district level engagement with the Government, to engage 100,000 students by 2023.
As Inqui-Lab integrates more and more schools under their programme, the challenges to sustain the project are also increasing.
Among the many hurdles, logistics and finance are the biggest problems.
The cost borne by the organization per child was initially Rs 2,000 which has now been brought down to Rs 1000. They are currently working towards further reducing it to 500 Rs per child. While there are people and groups who are supporting them, it’s not enough.
“The fund flow for an early state NGO is minimal and CSR policies that mandate that an organisation has to be a minimum of 3 years old. Support from individuals who believe in this cause is needed. We are currently running a fundraiser to support children,” says Eshwar.
To help kids excel in their respective careers in future, the foundation is also looking for partnerships, “Many students who excel at innovations do not perform well academically. We wish to maintain Ideas and prototypes these students have worked through a digital portfolio that can add value to them. We are looking out for individuals or organizations who can engage these students either through scholarships or internships,” he adds.
Get in touch with Inqui-Lab Foundation firstname.lastname@example.org
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)