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Covid-19 effect: Schools will become live labs, says Sonam Wangchuk

‘The pandemic has opened up the sector for digital communication with contents available from across the world’
The Covid-19 pandemic will leave a lesson of leading a simple life enabling all to simply live, said Sonam Wangchuk, Innovator and Education Reformist, who was the inspiration behind Aamir Khan’s character of Phunsuk Wangdu in the movie ‘3 Idiots.’

The pandemic has taught that through a simple life, people can live happier. The rivers became clean; the air became pure and the sky was blue only because of less use of power and machines. “I hope this will change the way we look at life. It is not about consuming more and more to be happy but lead a simpler life that can enable other living beings also to live,” said Wangchuk in conversation with Ashwin Mahalingam, Department of Civil Engineering, IITM, at Sangam 2020 organised by the IIT Madras Alumni Association.

Giving an example, Wangchuk said that last year in Ladakh a movement called ‘I live simply’ was launched as the glaciers were melting away in the region due to climate change. The farmers were facing water shortages. The answer had to come from lifestyle and behavioural change. While it is difficult to fix the water issues with artificial glaciers, the lifestyle needs to be changed in big cities, said Wangchuk, an Indian Army veteran and founding-director of the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh.

On education, Wangchuk said things have not changed for a long time while the entire world around has been changing. While students have been used to the traditional way of class-room learning, the pandemic has opened up the sector for digital communication with contents available from across the world, he said.

However, digital alone is not enough for true learning to happen. It can happen only if you teach things in real life to solve real problems; connect with real people; collaborate with others. For this, schools and institutions will still be needed but not for the same old purpose of delivering the content through lectures. While digital learning will be used for concepts but using the best of the lectures in the world using things like illustrations, animation and games will make content interesting, he said.

Schools will change their roles by becoming live labs where students and teachers come not for lectures but for applications hands on. The roles of schools are going to be more important than ever, he said.

Armed forces

Wangchuk has been doing many experiments for the Indian Army for many years. But, now as the Army’s presence has been enhanced in the Ladakh region due to tension in the borders, he has recently been working on making rapid construction techniques for shelters; residences and offices for the military that will be ready with high efficiency in thermal performance, solar heating.

“While we have been doing this for nearly 30 years, now we are focusing more on prefabrication that can be quickly assembled,” he said.