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How Young Teachers Are Transforming Into Modern Age 'Gurus' The Government of India has recently launched a unique experiential learning based model of Atal Tinkering Labs in high schools

By Dr. Ayesha Chaudhary

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India's ancient Gurukul education system was based on the philosophy of immersing oneself into an intensive environment of knowledge and practical learning. The residential system of education provided an adaptive and customized learning to students, focusing on skill development. It included elements of spiritual, mental and emotional advancement and wellbeing, thereby creating young individuals ready to conquer the challenges of life. However, with the advent of colonization of India, the education system evolved into a more structured and theoretical curriculum based system, where multiple subjects were taught, but in silos, confining children to the four walls of a classroom, with minimal focus on the practical applications of the subjects into the real world.

With India's progression into the rote learning curve over the last few decades, teachers evolved into two broad categories. Those who consider teaching a six to eight-hour job, stick to their job description and do a reasonably good job. And another category of teachers, who believe that teaching is their way of contributing to nation development. They like to teach, and want to transform the society with their thoughts.They strongly align themselves with Chanakya, one of the greatest Indian philosophers and teachers of all times, who strongly believed that the future of the human generation is in the hands of the teachers and gurus. Such teachers are exceptionally driven and self-motivated. They inspire children to dream big and create a long-lasting impression on their soul.

Teaching is a unique and noble profession that requires one to invest the heart, soul and mind into it. With digital and technology advancements, lot of the learning process is shifting towards online machines, that provide only information, but not knowledge. And information can make one literate, but not educated. Therefore, teachers shall always stand irreplaceable by machines, because teaching is about building the future of a country, by molding the thoughts and actions of the young generation, who will contribute heavily to the economic development of the nation. The Honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji, in his special address of Teacher's Day in 2014, clearly emphasized on the fact that a student is the identity of a teacher, and it is the teachers that will make the future generation of India.

For most individuals, teachers are not confined to the four walls of a school classroom, instead one can find teachers in their Parents, siblings, friends, colleagues during college and professional life. In fact, every individual at some point in life plays the role of being a teacher and influencing someone's life, be it students in a school, children at home, friends or colleagues at work place and so on. So, teaching is a life-long process, where a unique emotional connect develops between the teacher and the student, which cannot be understood but can be only felt by an individual, when one goes through the phase. However, in the present rote learning model of India, the students and teachers are unable to build an emotional connect and the entire focus lies on completing the syllabus and scoring high marks in exams.

However, the Government. of India has recently launched a unique experiential learning based model of Atal Tinkering Labs in high schools. The labs are providing a culturally different microenvironment, that provides children the freedom to work on any problem of their interest.Tinkering labs are free from standardized teaching pedagogy. Teachers are empowered to design their own themes for hands-on problem solving, thereby enabling children towards learning the 21st century life skills of team work, analytical and critical thinking, problem solving, by following a "learning by doing'approach. The Labs encourage children of different age groups to work together in teams to identify various problems and develop innovative solutions, leading to a multi-disciplinary and an integrated approach.

The program derives its essence from the world's most successful Finnish education system, that lays emphasis on the exploratory self-learning methodology. The system allows flexibility to teachers to experiment with new teaching pedagogies and customize it as per the student requirement. The role of the teacher transforms more into that of a mentor. The system believes in promoting cooperation and not competition. Students can select their areas of interest and learn about them from different perspectives of science, math and social science, thereby providing freedom to grow as an individual.It also finds some similarities with the ancient Indian Gurukul education system, where teaching methodology was based on the principles of hand-on practical training, exposure to real world situations, reasoning and questioning. The ancient Gurukul system focused on the holistic development of an individual, going much beyond theory subjects. Teachers and children traversed the journey together to find solutions to life's problems. These Tinkering Labs are engaging with young professionals across India, in the form of teachers and mentors, to disrupt and transform Indian education.

"Fixing societal errors rather than coding errors is my mission" said Madhish Nilesh Parikh, an Atal Tinkering Lab teacher at BEST School, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Parikh is a computer science graduate, who considers education as a powerful tool that can transform the world, and hence chose to become an educationist over a software engineer. His children inspire him to innovate and create new methodologies for problem solving in the lab.

Another example is that of the young and vibrant Dr. Resham Sharma, who is a teacher-in-charge of Tinkering Lab at DAV Public School, Amritsar, Punjab. She has a doctoral degree in science, but chose to teach school children over university students, because she believes that holistic development starts in the early years. "Being a teacher gives me the power to connect with a variety of personas, and to become an agent of change', said the Punjab teacher.

Several examples of alternative teaching that have surfaced across India over the last decade clearly demonstrate that education is complete only when it equips its students with the skills needed to solve real life problems. And young qualified professionals like Parikh and Dr. Sharma who are in their late twenties, are beginning to emerge across multiple states of India, who are committed to drive holistic development of the youth, by adopting best practices of the Finnish education system and the Indian ancient Gurukul education system.They are strong believers of the philosophy of Dr. APJ Abdul, the former and late Honorable President of India, who was himself an exemplary and gifted teacher and a huge advocate of education being the primary force fordriving personal and national growth. They are adding new dimensions to the word "teacher' and are becoming an epitome of the modern world "Gurus', who are going beyond conventional teaching, and are helping young children to unleash their true potential and discover their true self. They believe in creating their own micro-environment in the conventional school system, where students and teachers connect with each other, share their common vision, and together co-create innovative solutions. However, the scale of the problem of the Indian education system is so huge that it will take several years to see a substantial and visible impact on ground.

Dr. Ayesha Chaudhary

Researcher and Entrepreneur, Atal Innovation Mission

Dr. Ayesha Chaudhary is with Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog, Government of India. She started her innovation journey with a doctoral degree in BioMedical Engineering, later co-founded a Medtech startup and has also explored the corporate world
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