Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL)
“Engineering, medicine, management” is the tried and tested mantra of success in an Indian society. But we aren’t even acknowledging the elephant in the room when we don’t talk about the lakhs of students who get engineering degrees every year and are awfully underemployed or worse, unemployed because they refuse to take something up which is lower than their standards. Government intervention, foreign investments and establishments simply cannot scale at a level to solve this problem of unemployment. The only viable alternative is to have more start-ups, which will not only make in India and solve Indian problems to earn money, but also hire in India and strengthen the economy.
Wait, I am not saying that you should participate in/encourage your kid to participate in ATL only if you want to be an entrepreneur. The skills that can be learnt in ATLs are very relevant to the job market as well.
1) Problem solving and thinking out of the box:
In the age of AI, almost all jobs are getting automated. This is happening too fast, before we have a good enough idea about what to do with all the humans who aren’t needed in the economy anymore. But quite clearly, the jobs which aren’t just stable but are also expanding are the ones where employees are creative problem solvers, know how to keep learning new things and are able to generate and execute ideas. This is the foundation principle of a tinkering lab.
2) Understanding what engineering really is:
Fed with continuous eight figure salaries and crazy expectations, students get into engineering year after year, having no idea what it is, how they should study, what they should be doing to succeed at it. There are an almost equal number who never give it a shot thinking that it is too complicated for them, often a majority of girls. As a result we miss out on the crazy and brilliant combinations of fields. Our problems today are too complicated to be solved by a single field. We need more students who know the basics of technology and can mix with psychology, law, accountancy or whatever and create revolutionary products!
3) Getting mentored:
A decade ago, children were forced into sports, not because they’d be future sportspersons but because the coach can have a great positive influence on the child. Teacher-student ratio in most classes is too high. Children thrive on attention and recognition. Often, a mentor is the best thing that can happen to a student to bring the best version of the student out. Allowing the mentor to guide one through a learning process helps the mentor understand the student better, give more concrete feedback which is almost always applicable in general too.
4) Being a part of a group:
Sports, choir, dance are all so popular as they help children create an identity for themselves. Children are adults in the making, similar factors drive them. All of us like to be a part of a group and feel valued in the group. The tinkering lab can create such an atmosphere. The tinkerers will be the next choir group, after spending so much time together on projects, talking, fixing things, friendships are bound to happen.
5) Making a portfolio:
The world is only getting more and more competitive day by day. It is important to differentiate ourselves and our skills. Participating in the tinkering lab, learning new tools, building projects that can be shown and talked about in future applications and interviews is a win-win scenario. In the process, the student’s understanding of themselves and their interests becomes clearer too.
I know that there will be labs out of the 900 where none of the above things will happen. But there will be some where all of these things will happen and more. Also, learning is not binary. There are infinite levels in between not getting anything and getting everything. Besides, more the strength and enthusiasm of participation, the outcomes improve. If we don’t even try, we’ll never be able to fix the possible shortcomings. So, I strongly urge you to find your closest ATL, find a point of contact, stay updated with their activities and participate whole-heartedly. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. Happy Tinkering!