Meet James John, Who Is Changing The Way We Look At Students” Creativity, Using Innovation

Posted on April 8, 2014 in Interviews

By Thomson Chakramakkil:

James John, Anthropologist and Chevening scholar is the founder-director of Innoaction. He was conferred National Award from National Innovation Foundation India in augmenting grassroots innovation in 2001. He talks to us about Innoaction and his vision about the students in our country.

What does Innoaction do?
Innoaction is a non-profit organization that works for the promotion innovations by grassroots and students. As of now, we are working towards creating an innovation ecosystem in schools by training the teachers to encourage creativity in students and by equipping the students to identify and develop their interests and strengths, be it in technology, music, arts or commerce.

James John with young innovator and 2013 Ignite Award winner Atheerth Chandran
James John with young innovator and 2013 Ignite Award winner Atheerth Chandran

What are your experiences with the students in our country?
I think we have a bright bunch of students here. I believe that every student is born creative. You will be surprised to see that, even with a basic training, students excel in harnessing their creativity, thinking originally and often coming up with ideas and practical solutions for problems that adults rarely think about. I particularly recollect the case of a group of students hailing from a small school in Kerala who went past constraints of finance and expertise in developing what they call a pen tester- a pen that can function also as a tester- a brilliant idea which went on to become a commercially successful model and a remarkable example of bold entrepreneurship. What I found particularly interesting is the fact that children from rural areas, with few or no basic amenities, tend to act more resourcefully and come up with realistic solutions than most privileged children do. I think this is an indicator of how children, when demanded and given the opportunity, can be great problem solvers for our country.

You stress on how you believe that children are innately creative. Why do you think there is need for additional training for students as far as innovation is concerned?
Yes, every child is inherently creative. But the problem is with our education system. More often than not, it fails to provide an atmosphere that facilitates thinking and creativity. While students are trained sufficiently well in theoretical aspects of a given subject, there is no encouragement to use that theoretical knowledge for practical purposes. Presently, the training given to students is too exam oriented to never really goes beyond helping the students to mug up information and throw it up in the examination.

Pen-tester Crew
Pen-tester Crew

What is the general attitude towards your training programme?
We get very positive responses from the students we train. Slowly, but steadily, the attitudes of the school administrations, parents and teachers are also changing in favour of training programmes that emphasize on bringing out the creativity in children. More and more schools are coming forward for availing the training for students. A notable example would be the Government of Kerala, which requested us to train the students at a state level. As of now, we are working with a local municipality in Kerala in eight schools and building a team of students and teachers in these schools to spearhead the innovation programmes.

From a street play
From a street play

Are you conducting any activities to follow up the training programme?
Absolutely! The intention of the training is to trigger innovative and creative potential in a child. At the end of each programme, we identify students who are the most innovative and mentor them to become leaders in their respective areas. We are also networking with various organizations to support and provide scholarships to the selected students so that they can excel in their respective fields.

Innovation workshop
Innovation workshop

How else do you reach out to innovative students?
We conduct street plays, road-shows, summer camps and workshops in association with organizations and individuals- particularly students- interested in promoting innovations. We publish a magazine called ‘Inspire’, featuring content related to innovations, which we circulate in schools. We also conduct competitions and talent hunts to promote and identify creativity in children. We encourage students to post their ideas on our Facebook page and invite interested individuals, schools and organizations to contact us if they require any assistance in scaling up innovations and ideas.

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