India’s rank in Global Innovation Index (GII) 2021  

India has been steadily climbing up the global innovation trajectory demonstrated by the Global Innovation Index (GII) released by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The GII is a significant reference point for all the countries to assess their innovation capabilities and readiness. It is based on various parameters including human capital & research outcomes, infrastructure & sustainability, market sophistication & knowledge creation etc. In the recently released 2021 GII index, India has been ranked 46th. The steep climb from 81st position in GII 2015 to 46th in 2021 interestingly coincides with the setup of Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) by the Indian government’s policy think-tank, NITI Aayog (formerly Planning Commission) as also conceptualization and devising of multifarious initiatives by AIM to promote and enhance innovation. Of course, a whole bunch of governmental & non-governmental agencies as well as industry & industry associations have also contributed to this innovation jump. Visionary programs, objectives and mission-mode projects like Atmanirbhar Bharat, 5 Trillion US $ economy, make in India, Startup India and Skill India have also reinforced efforts towards creating knowledge capital and enriching the national innovation ecosystem. Towards this, scientific and educational ministries & departments of the government such as Space, Atomic Energy, Science and Technology, Biotechnology and Education have also pro-actively brought out complementary policy-level interventions to promote and enhance innovation.

Atal Innovation Mission (AIM)  

The NITI Aayog has been working tirelessly to ensure the optimization of the national efforts for bringing policy-driven innovation in different areas such as electric vehicles, biotechnology, nano-technology, space, alternative energy sources, etc. The India Innovation Index, the latest edition of which was released last year by the NITI Aayog, has been widely accepted as a major step in the direction of decentralization of innovation across all the states of India. A constant thrust in monitoring and evaluating India’s position in the global rankings has been provided by the NITI Aayog, including in the GII.

Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) was set up in 2016 by the NITI Aayog to promote a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in India. Its objective is to create a favorable ambience and environment for transformation of ideas into innovative solutions at schools, universities, research agencies, startups and industry including MSME. In other words, move from idea to product and product to startup with the help of seamless public-private partnerships. AIM also provides policy inputs to NITI Aayog and various Government bodies, create awareness and provide knowledge inputs in creating innovation challenges and funding mechanism to government; and also develops new programs and policies for fostering innovation in different sectors of economy. The first allocation for AIM was made in the budget of 2015-2016. The AIM report card in the last 5 years has been nothing short of spectacular:

  • 10000+ Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL) selected with 8700+ operationalized in 680+ districts in India benefiting 4 million children
  • 68 Atal Incubation Centers (AIC) fostering over 2200+ Startups of which 625 are women-led Startups with 30000 jobs created
  • 24 Atal Community Innovation Centers to spur community centric-innovations addressing rural India, Tier2, Tier3 city’s needs.
  • 56 Atal New India Challenge (With Government Ministries) & 15 Atal Research & Innovation for Small Enterprises {ARISE} (MSME challenge)
  • 40+ international and national partners including innovation collaborations with Australia, Sweden, Russia, Israel, Singapore, Denmark, USA, France
  • One of the largest voluntary Mentor India network with over 5000+ mentors

A vibrant AIM innovation ecosystem has been created with the active participation of schools, universities, industry, Startups and MSMEs, state and central government, civil society and non-governmental organizations. This will no doubt grow from strength to strength with the ultimate vision to evolve into an umbrella stricture to oversee innovation eco-system in India.

Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL)

  • The conventional Indian education system, both school and tertiary education have not been able to address the fast-changing requirements of the industry, and the school education in India must be redefined with innovation.
  • The flagship program of AIM, the Atal Tinkering Lab (AIM) is the answer; a smart workspace of 1000-1500 square feet with state-of-the-art facilities meant for school children enrolled in schools from 6th standard to 12th standard.
  • ATL is equipped with cutting-edge equipment like robotics kits, sensors, IoT, 3D printer, miniaturized electronics, space technology, drone technology and other tools for tinkering, which are perhaps not seen even in majority of higher educational institutions and universities engaged in STEM education.
  • The vision of ATL is to disrupt the Indian education system by creating a paradigm shift, wherein children as young as 12 years of age are being introduced to the world of technology innovation. ATL’s objective is to develop a culture of Neoteric innovation, foster curiosity, imagination, and creativity through an integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in young minds.
  • The ATL program is designed to equip students with the 21 century skills such as design thinking, critical thinking, computational thinking, digital fabrication and collaboration. Tinkering lab activities are designed to spur the spark of creativity, and go beyond regular curriculum and text book learning. Tinkering develops the aptitude to explore, experiment and learn. Tinkering refers to an attempt to inculcate the “Let’s Try Something New” attitude among students of all age groups with the help of technology. Problem-solving becomes an integral part of their behavior.
  • AIM today has selected over 10,000 Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) to be set up in schools across 680+ districts spread across 34 states and union territories. This has become a nationwide mass movement to create millions of young high school innovators at the grassroots.
  • 8700 of these ATLs are now operational and functional, providing over 4 million young schools students access to emerging technologies & do-it-yourself kits, thereby enabling the acquisition of a problem-solving innovative mindset, a game changing transformation from a rote learning mindset. Over 70% of these labs are in girls and co-ed schools, and over 70% in government and government-aided schools. Over 90% of the districts in India have been covered including several 100+ aspirational districts. Based on the collaboration of these schools with ATLs with the ones without ATLs, it is estimated that 7 million children have been benefitted Pan-India due to this program.
  • Under the ATL scheme, grant-in-aid of up to Rs. 20 lakhs is provided to schools selected for setting up an ATL. The grant must be spent exclusively for the specified purpose within the stipulated time of a maximum period of 5 years, with Rs.10 lakhs for capital expense and remaining Rs.10 lakhs for operational and maintenance expenses.
  • The ATL has a structured curriculum with Training & Orientation on Ideation, Computational Thinking, Design Thinking, 3D design & printing, Physical Computing (IoT & sensors), Robotics, electronics development tools & IPR. This cutting-edge curriculum has been developed with the support and partnership of international and national partner. It is a 4-stage tinkering curriculum with adequate flexibility. And usually works with a monthly mentoring theme.
  • Other activities include competitions, seminars, workshops, tinker marathon, tinkerfest, community day with recognitions and rewards for the top performers like ATL school of the month, ATL wall of fame etc. More than 1.5 lakh student projects have been created as part of various regular ATL activities as also challenges like ATL marathon, ATL tinkerfest etc.
  • ATL Marathon 2020 saw 7200+ entries from 17,500 school children. ATL marathon is a national level innovation challenge wherein students identify community problems and develop working prototypes to address them. The inspiration of the 2020 edition was Atmanirbhar Bharat and aligning with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
  • ATL Tinkerpreneur 2021 saw almost 9000+ student participate in a summer boot camp specifically focusing on strategies to transform them to entrepreneurs.
  • Mentor India program is aimed at maximizing the impact of Atal Tinkering Labs. Also called Mentor of Change (MoC) Program, it is another citizen-led national movement being led by AIM, wherein skilled professionals provide pro-bono mentoring to young ATL innovators, with a strong sentiment towards nation-building.
  • 5000 mentors who are successful professionals from civil society including university professors, entrepreneurs, startup founders and industry professionals, have now been on boarded and associated as MoCs voluntarily
  • These mentors are acting as enablers, facilitators and motivators rather than instructors of these ATLs. Mentoring services may be in the form of guest lectures, hands-on training and guidance, support to student projects & developing prototypes, marketing and branding the student innovations, guidance in learning opportunities and any other mentoring support as requested by the school.

The ATL is no doubt a disruptive innovation which can equip students with tools needed to succeed in higher education and the workplace, like self-confidence, preparedness, innovation, creativity, imagination, tinkering & research skills, pitching and presentation skills. No doubt, a stable, multi-stakeholder, scalable and foundational framework has been created by AIM through these ATLs towards a New and resurgent India.

The need of the hour is to scale up this ATL model of AIM to include every school in India.

The policy makers need to redouble efforts to expand and accelerate this inclusive model for innovation by providing an equal opportunity to all regions and all children irrespective of the rural-urban divide and government-private divide, by public- private partnership and center-state partnership. Considering both the short and long-term benefits, all schools and their managements as well as principals and teachers need to be highly pro-active and enroll for this ATL program on a war footing as and when the next call for setting up ATL from AIM arises.