3D printing is a bit like a conjuring trick, especially for technologically challenged folks like this writer. Imagine this: a printer that doesn’t print documents (or photographs) but brings conceptual designs to life by adding layers of the printing material atop each other. Sounds magical, doesn’t it?
The possibilities are immense. Scientists in UK are creating 3D printed cheese a Russian engineer recently even built a tiny house using the technology (in 24 hours!). Closer home, Indian doctors are now incorporating 3D printed body parts prosthetic surgery and organ replacement while a young startup is using the technology to reinvent education in Indian schools.
3Dexter is an initiative by friends who incorporate 3D printing to provide enhanced technological education in schools and colleges.
According to Shantanu Kwatra, one of the founders of 3Dexter, they decided to look into 3D printing during a casual discussion in April 2015. Their research left them amazed. He says, “We wanted to go deeper in the research and we thought about experimenting with this technology and started working on the hardware and software aspects.” They used the profits from an earlier venture, a travel company, to fund their research.
The venture started when Shantanu and his friends were still in college. They juggled coursework with research (occasionally bunking classes too) and it took them almost six months to understand the nuances of the printer and its uses for various industries. They also worked with children, which led them to research the educational impact of the technology.
“We all worked in various organisations with children and developing various experiential learning courses for them,” Shantanu says. “This made us research on the educational front of the technology, as to how we can add value if we bring this technology to classrooms and add physical experience to learning. We created a small curriculum for classes 6 to 8, integrated with CBSE curriculum, and tested with one of the schools in Delhi with around 300 students. We taught the curriculum, through dedicated trainers, for three months which gave us great feedback on our curriculum, costs and operational details.”
Following on months of research and practical testing, 3Dexter started operations in April 2016, setting up 3D printing and design technology labs in five schools. “School markets are difficult to tap but we managed to somehow increase our sales and crack few good deals to start our early traction,” adds Shantanu.
Almost one year later, 3Dexter has spread to 32 schools and catered to over 10,000 students.
In a four-step process, 3Dexter begins with a workshop in each school, followed by upgrading existing computer labs to 3D enabled units. The courses are aligned with the respective school curriculum and periodical assessments help the team to assess the performance of students. They also offer college-level courses for older students.
Shantanu suggests it as a great means to boost creativity and enhance other skills like problem solving, visualization and critical thinking.
He says, “Students in our partner schools are making prosthetic hand supports as a social impact project; through traditional methods these cost tens of thousands of dollars, but using 3D printing it can be done in a few thousand bucks. They are also making a dustbin for their classrooms using their own designs and IoT: whenever someone goes near the dustbin, it opens automatically. Other projects like smart cities, strategic games, rainwater harvesting projects, smart watches all are possible now due to these mini factories in schools where students are producing their own custom designs through the help of this technology.”
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According to the founders, spreading 3D technology-enabled education in India is easier said than done. In a developing country, awareness remains a major issue, as people must understand a technology before accepting it particularly in sectors like education. Shantanu says, “After meeting a lot of educationists we have observed that it’s hard for people to accept new things and adapt. A lot of denial just comes purely because it’s a new thing and they want someone else to try it first and then get their hands dirty.”
In spite of the challenges, the founders report a six-fold growth over the last year fuelled by growing interest and investment.
The startup is confident that 3D Printing is eventually going to be established at all educational institutions across India.
3D printing is an expensive technology and Shantanu holds that government intervention is crucial in order to introduce such facilities in every school. “In recent times government bodies have launched schemes like ATL (Atal Tinkering Labs), which provides fund to 500+ schools to set up such labs which will empower the students to tinker with futuristic technology,” he says. “We are looking forward to more such schemes to come in the future which will bring more innovation at the school level.”
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The startup also hopes to partner with corporations to support the initiative through CSR activities and take it to underprivileged children and small schools too.
Currently focused on adding to their team and reaching out to more schools, the startup has a simple future plan—improve the curriculum continuously and develop the business sustainably for the future.