During COVID-19, NITI Aayog’s Atal Tinkering Labs, went online

Atal Tinkering Lab: As part of the Atal Innovation Mission, NITI funds Aayog labs in schools to encourage innovation and creativity. COVID-19 presents us with new challenges.

Deepali Upadhyay, Program Director, Atal Innovation Mission

NEW DELHI: With schools across the country closed for long periods due to the pandemic, a variety of virtual initiatives, training sessions, have been carried out as part of the Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL) program initiated in 2016 as part of the NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission (AIM). and boot camps introduced. As part of this, labs will be set up in schools to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in children by encouraging them to ‘tinker’ and develop skills. To date, more than 9,500 ATLs have been funded in 722 districts in India. Deepali Upadhyay, Program Director, AIM spoke Career360 on how they’ve used the pandemic to improve digital and entrepreneurial skills.

Q. How has the pandemic affected Atal Tinkering Labs?

The physical space and accessibility of the labs have been impacted by the closure of schools. However, AIM has been in constant contact with the schools through its various initiatives and communication channels. As things got better and schools reopened intermittently, the labs were also open to students. Along with other team members from AIM, I have visited many schools and conducted several virtual activities over the past two years.

Overall, as a program, we have continued to strengthen the ATL ecosystem including establishing new labs, onboarding new mentors, training ATL leaders, facilitating the annual ATL calendar of activities and initiatives, conducting virtual and digital bootcamps, workshops and hackathons.

Q. What new practices have been implemented?

Amid the country’s COVID-19 lockdown crisis, AIM launched the Tinker from Home campaign, where students could learn about new concepts and technologies and experience the joy of innovation from the safety of their homes. A three-week campaign included the launch of engaging resources via AIM’s social media addresses each week, followed by YouTube tutorials and weekly LIVE sessions to interact with students and solve their questions. During this time, more than 15 learning modules have been created to cover 21st century skills including Artificial Intelligence, Gaming, CollabCad, Design Thinking, Internet of Things (IoT).

In addition, YT sessions were held on World Intellectual Property Day and Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Unbox Tinkering, the teacher training program developed by AIM for the ATL In-Charges, has been transformed into a virtually assisted format to ensure continued capacity building of teachers even during the pandemic. AIM ran teacher training workshops with its industry partners on several emerging skills, including cybersecurity, AI and creative tools.

In 2021, AIM organized the first two-month digital skills and entrepreneurship bootcamp – ATL Tinkerpreneur. It saw tremendous participation from over 9000 students and over 650 mentors of change. AIM conducted more than 50 live sessions in 7 languages ​​for one to many mentors (with an audience of 4.5 lakhs) with industry experts. We have developed an exclusive digital student self-paced learning portal as a repository of digital and entrepreneurial learning resources, do-it-yourself content and easy assignments so they can create their own digital product and business. AIM hosted Mr. Narayana Murthy for the final live session on Ethics in Innovation. Students submitted over 650 business proposals by the end of the boot camp.

Another initiative that was conducted virtually was the ATL Community Day, where AIM organized a three-day virtual conclave with 51,000 participants from students, teachers and mentors. In total, more than 900 ATLs held a virtual community day in their regions. Our outreach activities included 7 live sessions on YouTube, 3 interactive skills sessions on – paper prototyping, animation, creating toys from recycled materials, 4 inspirational talk series by renowned speakers like Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar Winner 2021 (ATL student ).

The ATL Marathon is a national innovation competition organized each year by AIM in which students identify community problems of their choice and develop innovative solutions in the form of working prototypes. Despite the pandemic, we received the highest number of submissions ever – over 7200 innovations from over 1500 students. The top 300 teams of the ATL marathon had the opportunity to complete the Student Internship Program (SIP) and Student Entrepreneurship Program (SEP) with AIM’s industry partners and incubation centers to further improve their skills and bring their ideas and prototypes to the to take it to the next level.

Q. How do you ensure proper use of the labs, especially during the pandemic?

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, we had imagined the idea of ​​remotely monitoring ATL’s performance and results. To facilitate the smooth operation and monitoring of ATL schools across the country, AIM has developed an online monitoring tool – ATL Dashboard. Through the ATL dashboard, schools can update their activities in real time and submit reports monthly. Various ATL related items such as student innovation projects, workshops, events, advisory board meetings are recorded digitally via the ATL dashboard. The program aims to create a culture of innovation in schools across the country. It has done so well, and AIM has seen a steady increase in school and student participation in various craft activities even during the pandemic.

According to ATL Dashboard, we have more than 70,000 students working in ATL labs and over 2,000 innovation projects have been created. Several success stories emerge from the ATLs every day, where students have developed innovative solutions to solve community problems. Developing intelligent irrigation solutions for farmers, IoT helmets for road safety, converting noise pollution into electricity, eco-friendly robots to save time, a portable hospital to provide real-time medical care, and audio books for blind children are just a few examples. Many of these innovations come from students in state schools, remote areas and up-and-coming counties.

Q. What impact will this project have, especially after the pandemic?

We envision the labs of the future as a combination of physical space complemented by virtual and digital learning tools. The physical space will always be there for students to explore more. However, a virtual element will be added as learning media have shifted towards digital modes. We see a hybrid approach to ATL labs going forward, where technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other digital tools will play a big part in a student innovator’s learning journey. The design and idea generation process can therefore be carried out in a virtual format. But these makerspaces will be where students turn their ideas into prototypes (bring life to
their ideas!).

According to ATL Dashboard, we have more than 70,000 students working in ATL labs and over 2,000 innovation projects have been created. Several success stories emerge from the ATLs every day, where students have developed innovative solutions to solve community problems.


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