The joys of this Panchayat Union Middle School in Katrambakkam village in Kancheepuram district are two-fold. Recently, the project work done by the school's team was shortlisted as one of the 30 projects from the State that would participate in the National Children's Science Congress to be held next month in Jaipur. Besides, the team has also been selected for the Science Congress to be held in Bhubaneshwar. The team of five will exhibit its work on the ‘Effect of underground colony insects on the soil'.

“Many of these ideas that children present at such forums are promising. Encouragement, freedom and some funds are enough for the children to pursue innovation,” says S. Sakthivel, a teacher of the school, who has been guiding the members of the team.

As part of their project, the team comprising students of classes VI to VIII has been collecting soil samples from termite and ant mounds to find their physical properties. “We sent the samples to a laboratory in Kancheepuram,” says the teacher, adding we would continue upgrading the project.

Parents might dread project works given by schools, but experts say it could be the start of innovative thinking if children are given a free hand and allowed to “dirty their hands.”

Also a teacher can bring the much needed difference to inculcate interest in a subject. However, in government and local body-run school, teachers are hesitant to encourage students to participate in such forums because of procedures involved.

Nikita Anil Kumar, a student of IX of Vael's Billabong High International School, who is inspired to study more about quantum theory after reading and watching science fiction, says interest should overcome other challenges. “Also, schools can think of introducing zero hour when students work on project to inculcate innovative thought,” she adds.

To encourage the education system to provide more opportunities for students to innovate and design, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) recently constituted a committee to examine creation of a separate stream for National Innovation Scholarships.

The committee will also make recommendations to formulate a scheme at the secondary school level, where selected students would be guided by experts from institutions of higher learning.

While the scholarship will help in nurturing talent, R. Ramanujam, Professor, Institute of Mathematical Sciences and a member of the committee, says the actual challenge is in integrating innovation within a system where pedagogy and curriculum are equally important. Teachers say much of the emphasis should be to orient students through a practical approach while teaching subjects. Experts say that 10 to 17 years of age group is the best time to inculcate scientific temper in students.

The National Children's Science Congress organised by the National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC) Network, Department of Science and Technology (DST) has students aged between 13 and 15 as its participants.

But, innovation at the school level still has a long way to go, says D.K. Pandey, scientist, DST. “Children need to be encouraged to explore facts beyond the textbook and various stakeholders [parents, teachers and schools] should be part of the change,” he adds.

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Liffy ThomasJune 28, 2012