How 25-year-old Monica Yadav is changing our education system through hands on approach

5th May 2016
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Monica Yadav, 25, believes that “When one teaches, two learn.” Two years ago, in 2014, she started Respire Experiential Learning (REL) in 2014 with the aim of making foundation-level education more hands on.

Using the hands-on learning experience and Do It Yourself (DIY) kits, Monica hopes to change the way children learn concepts and science at an early stage.

Her efforts got her the right attention, and an invitation to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting at Davos in January, 2015, where she was the youngest participant that year. HerStory spoke with her about her experience at the conference, the deficiencies in the Indian education system, and teaching children through practical learning and experiments.

Respire Experiential Learning

Based out of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, Monica and her team of four have reached out to more than 4,500 students and have done workshops with schools across different education boards in Ahmedabad. They also run after-school programme centres in Ahmedabad, and are now looking at Mumbai and other big cities in Maharashtra.

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While school workshops are more curriculum-oriented, the centers have an after-school course where any child can enrol. Monica says, “the workshops that happens in the center are more age- and skill-oriented.”

Their primary sources of income are workshop fees from schools, after- school programme fees at their centres, and the DIY kits for CSR / Marketing activities by corporates. The DIY kits are assembled within the premises and the team of four includes one design and R&D expert, two educators, one person who looks after operations, and an intern for marketing.

“We have hired them totally on area-specific interest and their skills; they also receive in-house training,” says Monica.

Monica conceptualises the workshops, makes new products, and helps the team with research and ideation. She also conducts theme-based workshops as an educator. “Of course I learned sales and marketing as the need for it emerged,” she says.

They have also collaborated with Teach for India fellows, Make A Difference, Yuva Unstoppable, and have also run a CSR programme with Intel Education for reaching out to maximum students with their DIY Science Kit.

Making things simple and easy

Born in 1991, in Chandigarh, Monica lived with her grandfather who was an Army officer. This meant she had to move frequently and change schools, whenever he was posted to a new place. After he retired, she moved to Ahmedabad to live with her father in 2002.

She graduated in 2012 from V.V.P Engineering College (Gujarat Technological University), where she got a degree in Biotechnology Engineering. While teaching school students part-time during her graduation, for pocket money and the experience, she realised the importance of hands-on experience while doing projects. “I saw other students completing final year projects just for a certificate, grades, and because it was compulsory. Meanwhile, I realised that introducing small practical lessons along with teaching made things easy and fun for my students.”

Despite the seed of an idea already being planted in her mind, Monica decided to not pursue it but went on to work at Abellon Clean Energy as an R&D Engineer handling international and government projects for developing biofuel and in the renewable energy sector from 2012 to 2014.

While working with Abellon Clean Energy, her idea stayed with her and towards the end of 2014, she quit her job and decided to start Respire Experiential Learning (REL).

“I realised that we could create a hands-on experience for every age group and help them understand science. I was passionate about science and engineering. I wanted kids to take this subject because of passion and not compulsion or the so-called best career option! I waned to give them the power to apply science in day-to-day life, and hence promote innovation. This way of learning gives them the power to take up engineering, medicine, or any other field with the idea of creating something new and optimising its application,” she says.

Response to hands on learning

REL has been a great hit among the students, parents, and teachers. Parents have pointed out how their kids are now motivated to observe science principles and their application in day-to-day life when they get home.

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For the teachers, it has become easier to teach scientific concepts after the workshops as the children have already been exposed to a practical workshop. Monica says, “For example, one of the teachers shared that she took less time to teach electric circuits after the kids attended the REL workshop at school.”

As for the students, she says, “Students have given a positive feedback. Learning by doing has a 75 per cent learning rate, compared to 45 per cent via visuals or videos. We have kids who have decorated their home during Diwali using science principles. We have students who have fixed a broken window lock using hydraulic principles after our workshop.”

Indian education system – deficiencies

According to Monica, “the foundation-level Indian education system is mainly following three curricula – CBSE, ICSE, and State Board, out of which 70 percent market is shared by the CBSE and State boards. These schools don’t promote practical learning when it comes to science. Textbooks do mention experiments, but most schools lack infrastructure to provide a platform to every student for performing the experiments.”

Monica also shares that there is a lack of trained teachers, and even if they are trained, they are not updated with the latest technology and inventions. Students are not exposed to updated methods and technology. Hence, one of the primary challenges she faces is to convince schools to include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and train teachers for it.

Girls in STEM

Speaking about women opting to study science she says, “We have 67 girls taking up science in higher education to every 100 boys in our country.” (Survey)

She is quick to point that though with the IT sector, the number of women in the field have risen, there is no increase in the number of females working in core field like aeronautics, biotech, mechanical, and research.

World Economic Forum –Davos

As one of the youngest attendees at Davos, Monica calls it, “one of the best professional experiences I had. It helped me in building value and collaborations to grow Respire Experiential Learning. Everyone could co-relate with the fact that India was always a pioneer in innovation and technology, and Respire was promoting innovation among young students to keep the cycle going. We had very positive feedback from people like Arianna Huffington, Adi Godrej, Azim Premji, and many others. We also had a discussion with Francois Hollande (President of France) about how hands-on education can help in removing problems like poverty and terrorism from a country.”

The road ahead

In the next five years, REL aims to develop an open-for all Makers Lab for kids in the city, add up retail products in the form of DIY kits, and reach out to more and more students with the teachers’ training module.

Innovation is the name of the game and it is, “The innovation that students do after our workshop, which is our source of motivation. It is this motivation that drives us to reach out to every student.”

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