Celebrating risk taking and failures breeds innovation and entrepreneurship: Sonam Wangchuk

Stressing on the need for changing the mindset of the society and parents that becomes a barrier for the youngsters who want to break free to face real life challenges, the famous educationist and innovator from Ladakh, Sonam Wangchuk said that schools in Jammu and Kashmir need to impart knowledge that can solve problems rather than provide information for the sake of information. 

“Our schools need to do lot more on applied knowledge. Knowledge that can be used to solve problems rather than information for the sake of information. And we have to makeup a lot in this field to be at par with the most of the nations,” said Wanghcuk, the real life Phunsukh Wangdu of ‘3 Idiots’ movie.

Wangchuk was in Srinagar recently to participate in a two-day conference, ‘Talaash: Skill and Entrepreneurship Conclave’ organized by J&K Skill Development Mission on May 12-13 at SKICC.

“But I feel more than need for the schools to change, we have the need for the society to change. It is in fact the mindset of our society, of parents that become a barrier for young people, who understand and want to break free from the tradition and want to do something different,” he said, adding, “Some young people may be infact inspired and ready to change but they face barrier at home when parents want them to become IAS, doctors and engineers without having regard for their innovations and creativity. And that is the reality of our nation.”

Wangchuk said apart from celebrating enterprises, we should groom the society to celebrate risk taking and celebrate failures that only breeds innovation and entrepreneurship.

“We need to groom our society to celebrate risk taking and failures because we may have the best of schemes but if the society looks down upon people doing things differently, we won’t be able to succeed. A sound education system needs to be set up which is more about learning and less about examinations and degrees,” he said.

The Rolex Award winner for 2016, Wangchuk was addressing the ‘Knowledge Economy and Grassroots Innovations’ session on the second day of the conference.  He talked about different initiatives and project, he and his team have taken at his experimental school in Ladakh.

“In Ladakh, we are trying with some children to encourage them to go for applied knowledge. Knowledge that can solve problems from what they learn in schools rather than a theoretical approach. Knowledge that can solve the problems of the mountain regions of the world, not just this region. Young people need not to only solve their own problems but become a resource for others. Prepare young minds in Kashmir not only to solve their own problems but help world in solving different problems and that is what knowledge economy is about,” he said, illustrating with certain examples that how his experimental school is extending its hand to help resolve problems in mountainous Skim and other such states.

He shared a few examples of how in Ladakh they are trying to persuade young people to focus on applied knowledge that can solve the problems of their regions and other parts of the world.

“In each place, young people need to specialise not only in solving their own problems but being a resource for other similar regions. For example, Ladakh is a Trans Himalayan desert and this geography is full of challenges because the schools and colleges do not focus on how to solve these problems. Therefore we need to gear up for the future by making the young people problem solvers for the whole world and that is what knowledge economy means,” said he.

As a case study, Wangchuk displayed a presentation wherein he expounded the methods they are using to impart knowledge to children in a more practical and interesting manner. He talked about the situations in late 80s and 90s when in government schools 95 percent of the students failed every year and how they decided to turn this into an opportunity and to make a statement about the system of education and employment in the country.

Wangchuk runs an experimental or alternative school in the outskirts of Leh for the students who fail in the school exams for which he founded the NGO, Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL).

“We have schools where the students run the system. If we want to teach them life skills then we don’t need to teach them from the pages of a book. We let the students run the school and they learn how to manage it. For example, they set up a small government every two months and run the school like a little country and that way they are ready for the future. They apply their mathematics, their economics; if they are producing milk then they use the statistics to track the productivity of the cows. Things can become unforgettable if they are taught in a way that touches not just the ears and eyes but also all the other sense organs,” he says.

 These schools are designed and built by the students themselves by applying the science you learn to solve various types of problems. From these schools, where people come as failures, have emerged many budding entrepreneurs who have opened their own startups.

“Some of these students have been now preparing this to become a more scalable industry with brief fabricated solar heater mud building which the Indian Army is very interested in because in the cold mountainous regions they need a lot of oil to burn which in turn is the cause for pollution. The earth is in need of such solutions so that we solve the problems, which are increasing at an alarming pace.  There is so much in high school science and math’s that you can solve many problems,” Wangchuk said.

Wanghcuk said it is the application of basic science and knowledge, which can resolve different problems. He also talked about another application of high school geometry that they have managed to utilize to come up with solutions to various kinds of difficulties.

“The fact that shapes like hemispheres and cones have a lower surface area for the given volume; we can use it to solve water problems in Himalayas. Making artificial glaciers to store winter water, which is not used by freezing pyramids or cones of ice which does not melt in June as does the snow on grounds. We could use this water to irrigate our fields and hence this was a solution to the acute water crises faced by the farmers in the months of April and May,” he said, while describing his famous innovation ‘ice stupas’.

The innovation of ‘ice stupas’ won Sonam Wangchuk Rolex Award for Enterprises in 2016 and he became the second Indian to win the prestigious award for which he received about Rs 70 lakh as prize money and one of the world’s most expensive Rolex watches engraved with his name. The award is given on every alternate year to the individuals with innovative ideas that make the world a better place to live.

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