Institutes are moving beyond the campus, enabling tangible change

Research projects are providing solar power technology to villages, opening up digital markets to craftsmen, helping farmers get better rates.

Updated: Sep 12, 2018 20:30:09

By Dipanjan Sinha


Education is stepping out of the classroom in interesting ways, as students and faculty collaborate with local communities on projects and research initiatives.

A system to harness solar power, created by students and faculty of IIT-Madras, is lighting up homes in villages in Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Manipur; a project of the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) is helping pig and silk farmers in two districts of Assam to take their products directly to markets, thereby increasing their profit margins; students of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) are helping craftsmen in Goa and Kolhapur market their products and skills online; and National School of Drama students are collaborating with artistes in villages across the country to stage productions of traditional theatre forms in the metros.

For faculty and researchers, projects like these are an opportunity put their knowledge to practical use; for students, it is a chance to gain experience in their chosen field and experience places and meet people they would otherwise not have had access to.

“My journey to villages in the Niligiris district of Tamil Nadu was life-changing and shaped the course my career would take,” says Anusha Ramachandran, who completed a Masters in electrical engineering from IIT-Madras and is now working with a healthcare startup. “The struggle of carting our equipment around and the sheer joy of being able to help people with your knowledge were all part of the learning curve.”

Ramachandran was a part of the IIT-M Solar DC Project where direct-current or DC micro-grids were used to directly tap electricity from solar panels.

“We use solar panels and batteries that are inherently DC. This way we cut the energy loss that happens during conversion from AC to DC by about 50 per cent,” explains Prabhjot Kaur, CEO of the Centre for Battery Engineering and Electronic Vehicles (C-BEEV) at IIT-M.

The team, which currently monitors the equipment from Chennai, is a mix of faculty, researchers, alumni and students. Their project helped power 71 villages in in Rajasthan in May 2017 and was later also used to power over 4,000 homes in districts across Assam and Tamil Nadu.

At NIFT, Mumbai, meanwhile, a team of six Masters students led by assistant professor Rashmi Gulati decided to survey craftsmen in Goa on their challenges. On the basis of the information, NIFT holds an annual workshop where they bring in experts on digital marketing, GI status applications etc.

At institutes like IRMA, intervention is the objective. “There are three parts of our course which involve field work: village field study, which happens in the first year, development internships in the second year, and management internships, also in the second year. The development internship segment is aimed at bringing about tangible change,” says professor Pramod Singh. Last year, a group travelled to Dhemaji, Assam, with professor Singh where they worked with local silk and pig farmers to create systems that would allow them to sell directly to the market by 2019, for a better price. To be part of projects like these adds a differentiating factor to the resume of a student, says Fatima Agarkar, co-founder of education consultancy KA Associates.

“They teach life skills, which students cannot learn in a classroom. They teach you to think on your feet and deal with unforeseen challenges in real time, something you won’t get even in most industry internships,” she adds.

First Published: Sep 12, 2018 20:30:09


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