Education Technology

8 Questions Explaining AIM, Selection Criteria of Atal Tinkering Labs, Grant-in-Aid & More

Lavanya Bahuguna
8 Questions Explaining AIM, Selection Criteria of Atal Tinkering Labs, Grant-in-Aid & More

The ‘new India’ is about innovation and Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) aims to foster this exact spirit in the young minds, who’re responsible for the future of this country. With more than 5,000 Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) across India, the govt. is encouraging children to come up with unique innovations and ideas in the field of STEM. In fact, the initiative is also inspiring teachers to become master problem-solvers and excellent mentors leading the way as ATL-in-charges, who're boldly challenging traditional teaching methods today.

According to Shri Ramanathan Ramanan, Mission Director, Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog, “With these new schools, NITI Aayog’s AIM envisions strong growth in the collaborative ecosystem created by the ATL initiative, where students, teachers, mentors and industry partners work to facilitate innovation, foster scientific temper and an entrepreneurial spirit in the children of today, who will go on to become successful contributors to nation-building tomorrow."

Let's learn more about the transformational initiative here.

What are AIM and ATL and how are they connected to NITI Aayog?

The National Institution for Transforming India aka NITI Aayog was formed via a resolution of the Union Cabinet on January 1, 2015. NITI Aayog is the premier policy 'Think Tank' of the Government of India, providing both directional and policy inputs. 

The prime responsibilities of the NITI Aayog are: 

  • To evolve a shared vision of national development on priority sectors and develop strategies with the active involvement of states, in light of the nation's objectives
  • To develop mechanisms to formulate credible plans at the grassroots level and aggregate these progressively at higher levels of government
  • To pay special attention to the sections of our society that need special attention to enable them to join the national economic progress
  • To design strategic and long-term policy and program frameworks
  • To create a knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurial support system through a collaborative community of national and international experts, practitioners and other partners.
  • NITI Aayog has also been nominated as the nodal agency by the United Nations to monitor, coordinate and effectively implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals across the country to bring about the desired transformation. 

Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) is a flagship initiative of the Government of India, housed at NITI Aayog, with a focus to build an innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem across India, with public-private partnerships. 

Former Indian Prime Minister, late Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, believed that the future of this country lies in the hands of youth. Keeping in mind his vision, Atal Innovation Mission was named after his legacy. 

The Atal Tinkering Lab (ATL) introduces technology, innovation, problem-solving, Artificial Intelligence to students as young as 12. It provokes creativity, innovation, critical thinking, ethical leadership and cross-cultural collaboration in young minds who’re the leaders of tomorrow.  

What is the mission and vision of Atal Innovation Mission (AIM)?

AIM promotes innovation and entrepreneurship in India. AIM, under NITI Aayog, is envisaged as an umbrella innovation organization that would play an instrumental role in the alignment of innovation policies between central, state and sectoral ministries, by incentivizing the promotion of an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship at various levels - higher secondary schools, higher education and research institutions, and SME/MSME industry, corporate, and government ministerial level, by a public-private partnership. 

For example, through the Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL), AIM is fostering innovation at the school level, wherein students get an opportunity to experience design thinking and widen their intellectual horizons in pursuit of solutions to day-to-day problems and showcase their innovations at prestigious platforms. 

On the other hand, AIM's Atal Incubation Centres (AICs) are creating world-class ecosystems for start-ups to flourish, with the required handholding including access to mentoring and investor networks.

Other programmes include Atal New India Challenges (ANIC), launched by AIM in collaboration with five Ministries of the Government of India, that provided innovators with an opportunity to propose technological solutions in 24 different areas of national importance, and AIM-Atal Research and Innovation in Small Enterprises (ARISE) that encourages the Ministries to invest in research and innovation and thereby accept innovation from small enterprises into the public system, through a comprehensive framework for procurement.

How many Atal Tinkering Labs are there pan India and how does the grant-in-aid work? 

As of September 2020, more than 5,300 ATLs have been set up and 14,916 schools are selected covering 86% of all districts and 98 Aspirational Districts.  These labs, established in both government and private schools with a majority in co-educational and girls’ schools are serving as community hubs of innovation while transforming the way India learns, thinks, ideates, and innovates. As per the ‘Strategy for New India’ published by NITI Aayog, AIM is on its way to establish over 10,000 ATLs in the country.

Under the ATL scheme, grant-in-aid of up to 20 lakh 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 lakh for the capital expense and remaining Rs.10 lakh for operational and maintenance expenses. 

What is the significance and objectives of Atal Tinkering Lab for India?

These labs are all about combining the traditional teaching methodologies with today's experiential learning to create a unique blended education system in India. It aims to make an ecosystem that nurtures futuristic skills like complex problem solving, critical thinking, adaptive learning, computational skills in children, with a vision to create 1 million neoteric innovators, with the ATL initiative. 

Its objectives include:

a. To create workspaces where young minds can learn innovation skills, sculpt ideas through hands-on activities, work and learn in a flexible environment.

b. To empower our youth with the 21-century skills of creativity, innovation, critical thinking, design thinking, social and cross-cultural collaboration, ethical leadership and so on.

c. To help build innovative solutions for India's unique problems and thereby support India's efforts to grow as a knowledge economy. 

What is the selection criteria to provide grant-in-aid for ATL? How can schools reach out to apply?

The selection of schools for ATL comprises of three distinct stages and the entire process takes around 6-8 months to complete.

Stage 1: Inviting applications via the online application portal (3-4 months)

Schools are invited to submit online applications for ATL. The ATL online application portal is a seamless platform developed for schools to submit their ATL applications. The online application broadly consists of four sections including contact information of applicant school and principal, basic information related to the identity of the school, the performance of the school in terms of scores and participation in competitions and other ATL related information such as the existence of basic infrastructure and so on. Applicants are not allowed to make more than one submission each and they must refrain from furnishing false/ inaccurate information in part or in full. Moreover, submission of applications does not, in any way, guarantee selection.

Stage 2: Screening of applications (1-2 months)

The selection process for ATL will be in 2 stages - screening and final evaluation. Received applications would be processed on the basis of eligibility criteria, which includes the availability of built-up space of 1000– 500 sq. ft., minimum enrolment of students, dedicated mathematics and science teachers, basic infrastructure including the availability of computers and internet connectivity, steady electricity connection, science lab, library and playground, and regular attendance of staff and students. 

Stage 3: Final evaluation (1-2 months)

After the screening, selected applications will be evaluated further for final selection, based on a weighted average, on parameters, but not limited to district coverage, school participation is in science, technology, arts and creative festivals and awards won, existing mentor and alumni engagement. Data for all the aforementioned parameters are captured in the application form, and it helps us to assess how committed is the school to utilize the ATL as a platform to transform their school into a local innovation hub. After the final evaluation, the list fo the selected schools shall be communicated through the AIM website and via email communication to the selected schools. The schools will be required to complete the compliance process, including documentation related compliance and PFMS related compliance. Both of these steps are detailed in the next section.

What sort of difficulties can the ATL in-charge face?

Challenges are usually regarding the introduction of technology in teachers’ life and training them to become self-sufficient in order to inspire children to innovate and create. Take the example of Dr. Dhananjay Pandey from Government Higher Multipurpose Senior Secondary School, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh.

His first exposure to innovation was at a training program in Raipur at the J R Dani Government School’s ATL. Someone who has never heard of design thinking and problem solving, being a part of the hands-on training sessions that discussed 3D printing, robotics, etc. was like an adventure for Dr. Dhananjay.

It was quite challenging for him to motivate students to visit the Atal Tinkering Lab initially. Most of the students at the government school were from the poor socio-economic background and did not attend school regularly as they were engaged in part-time contractual jobs to earn a living for their families. Adding to the agony were Dr. Dhananjay’s fellow teachers who advised him to let go of the Atal Tinkering Lab initiative in their school.

This made him determine to prove otherwise, that the government school students, when given an opportunity and coached in the right direction, could also be an outlier. "I live and breathe my tinkering lab. I feel like I belong to this lab, and I am born to mentor students so that they can excel in life,” he says. Today, within a span of 12 months, he has established one of the most promising and outperforming ATLs of the country with the students creating wonderful social innovations and winning prestigious accolades at the national and international stage. 

Who are the other partners helping ATLs reach the goal?

The community plays an important role in the successful implementation of the ATL as the local hub of innovation. This includes parents, students from the community, non-government organizations (NGOs), volunteers, and government bodies that contribute towards providing support and creating awareness about the ATL innovation activities. 

This includes:

  • Orientation sessions for parents and students outside ATL school.
  • Collaboration with local NGOs, community centres, volunteers to reach out to the extended community
  • Seeking assistance from local government bodies to identify meritorious students with proven innovation potential, who could be involved in ATL activities. A special timetable to accommodate such students and other students from the community could also be designed. 

Apart from this, many corporate houses have supported AIM under NITI Aayog, for example, Intel, IBM, DELL, Learning Links Foundation, FICE, KPIT, Microsoft, Network Capital, SAP, Stratasys, tGELF, AICTE, Workbench projects, Maker's asylum, etc. 

What are the primary responsibilities of partners adopting ATL schools?

  1. Assigning a Resource Person (RP) to manage ATL related activities in school like ensuring successful implementation of the ATL initiative, facilitating teacher training programs, student workshops and boot-camps, conducting community outreach sessions to increase awareness, etc.
  2. Bringing in volunteers who would take mentoring sessions for ATL students and teachers, which will eventually lead to the creation of technology innovations. 
  3. Conducting events/competitions/exhibitions/workshops and encouraging ATL students to participate in various innovation events/competitions, challenges. 
  4. Supporting ATL schools to increase their social media presence.
  5. Planning mentoring programs during which experienced professionals could spend time with the young innovators, helping and advising them on furthering their innovative ideas.
  6. Organizing Teachers Training Program in different ATL schools, to educate the ATL-in-charges on the ATL mission and impart hands-on learning on the different equipment that the lab shall house.

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