I had the opportunity to contribute to (the terribly named) Toycathon –  a competition to promote “AtmaNirbhar Bharat” and “challenge India’s innovative minds to conceptualize novel Toy and Games based on Bharatiya civilization, history, culture, mythology and ethos” 

A few observations (of course my own!) and  learnings follow:

  • I’m against the entire AtmaNirbhar philosophy — see Ricardo! but even otherwise, I find the rest of the motivation too muddled (see the “Focus” section on the main page). Much better to focus on one goal. The motivation above translated into muddled presentations (“we’re creating novel toys! “we’re promoting Bharatiya civ!” “we’re being eco-friendly!”) and muddled evaluations.
  • The website of course has plenty of scrolling items and animations, but overall I was very, very, impressed. It feels like GoI is comfortable online. Another example is the site for vaccination and the overall system for tracking RTPCR outcomes. The speed and scale has just become the norm now. 
  • It was very, very depressing going through the preliminary submissions. There was essentially no barrier to entry, so anything and everything was served up. It would be much better to have some sort of filter.
  • Developing innovative solutions only happens with a good understanding of the problem. I found too little focus on the latter. Also, very little focus on why successful products work. This is probably a good opportunity for students to learn about design thinking by practice.
  • We need to do a better job of getting our students comfortable with presenting their ideas. Competitions like these do give them the platform, but they shouldn’t be the first time that students are getting to present!
    • In my school and undergraduate career, I spent too much time copying old journals, and I’m sure if anyone tried to read them, they would not make any sense. Sadly, this is still the case today.
  • I would not have done even a fraction of what these kids did in the final rounds. However, too many ideas stopped at the ‘obvious’ solutions and could have benefitted with more coaching.
  • Too many presenters were stumped when asked about the finances. This wasn’t an aspect they considered important (on the cost side) enough to analyze, but more worrying, they were happy to give away their products for free (or nearly that) “for the good of the nation”. We need to edumacate ourselves that its better for the nation if we make a healthy profit so that we can utilize resources to build even more. Or simply motivate more people to bring up their ideas. Profits are good!!
  • The evaluators were very supportive and helpful. Some of the insights provided made me wonder why they were not coaching the teams as well. I should mention that they were taking a significant amount of time from their regular activities to support this, we should be grateful for this contribution.

Overall a good event, motivated many kids and I haven’t checked out the winners, but it was more important that people had an opportunity to participate. However, (and this is a pet peeve of mine), the bigger opportunity is in the work that should begin now for the next instance of the competition. Let’s use this as an opportunity to

  • Start developing a disciplined approach to understanding problems, existing solutions, brainstorming, etc. Provide participants with the resources to learn these skills (not as a boring course, but as a hands-on activity)
  • Help them improve communication and presentation skills. Start in schools – write your own reports, and have them reviewed. Write them again!
  • Introduce students to basic economic principles (hey, a man can dream…)
  • Let’s have a nominal (non-monetary) entry fee. Something along the lines of: if your submission is trash, you have to do some social service for a few hours.
  • Have a single theme for the next competition. Demonstrate to students how to focus!

 

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