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An ecosystem for education

Sunday, 17 February 2013 - 4:37pm IST | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA
There's no disputing the fact that an attractive classroom with good chairs and other essential infrastructure plays a vital role in making schools a little more welcoming and education less chore-like for the students.

There’s no disputing the fact that an attractive classroom with good chairs and other essential infrastructure plays a vital role in making schools a little more welcoming and education less chore-like for the students. Most urban schools catering to the middle- and upper-class community pay attention to this. But rickety benches, blurred blackboards, bare walls with peeled-off paint, and zero shelves are regular features at the classrooms of most rural and government schools. That’s where Poorna Kaksha intends to make a difference.

Poorna Kaksha aims at creating a positive learning environment by providing design solutions for better school infrastructure in rural and urban schools with poor or negligible infrastructure in India, says Achyutha Sharma, the man behind the project. He is a design graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology. He had worked in the design and retail industry and found it perplexing that not enough attention was being paid to the role of art and design in the field of development. With his mother, an artist, he set up Sulochana Development Trust in 2009 to fund and nurture arts and design projects aimed at social development. Poorna Kaksha, meaning complete classroom, is a project supported by the Trust.

Sharma used to take weekly classes at the slum schools in Bangalore. “I saw that even  basic infrastructure was lacking. That made me realiSe the value of education, infrastructure and exposure that my education gave me. I discussed the idea with my friend Varsha Jadhav, with whom I had worked on a retail project earlier. We decided to come up with innovative and socio-culturally rooted design solutions to tackle this issue, starting with ergnomically designed, comfortable desk and seat for a student.

We roped in another friend, Ishan Roy, who has a furniture design background,” Sharma recalls.
“Poor furniture and especially, the furniture of the wrong size can actually be a barrier to learning. If education has to be a process of acquiring and creating knowledge, then active involvement of students, promoting their curiosity, motivating and encouraging their creativity become essential. This requires a certain minimum amount of comfort in classroom,” Sharma says.

The Poorna Kaksha team plans to design furniture for affluent schools and use the income to develop economical solutions for low-income schools. They, initially, came up with three different design modules for high-income schools, mid-income schools and low-income schools. Their first project was done for Hippcampus Learning Centre (HLC). Developing interesting low-cost solutions within a budget of `5,000 was their challenge.

“We experimented with a lot of value additions, alternative material options, production scalability and ergonomic friendliness. For example, we designed a lap-desk—a desk without legs, which has handles and provisions to hold stationery—for just `500. These lap-desks can be turned into regular desks with legs too,” Sharma says.

The team completed the prototype last year—with a student unit, teacher unit and a library unit for `1 lakh and conducted a design standardiSation workshop to help HLC implement the new designs successfully across their 100 centres in rural Karnataka.

Simultaneously, Poorna Kaksha pitched design modules for schools in rural Maharashtra. The state’s rural development minister has expressed interest in the project, and the team is now waiting to try their pilot projects at the zilla parishad schools in Pune and Thane. They are in talks with schools in Kolkata and Delhi too.

Sharma envisions Poorna Kaksha as the first step towards meeting holistic-education needs in an economically viable manner. The next would be Poorna Pathshala, which would include everything about the school, including the play area for children, says this young innovator, who was a finalist for the British Council’s 2012 Young Creative Entrepreneur Award.

“Poorna Patshala would lead up to Poorna Shiksha—a complete educational ecosystem,” he says.


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