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Giving space to Innovate: from corridors of malls to innovation space

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 28 January 2016 00:01


Our youth appears to have a problem, though they may not exactly understand it. In the new Colombo, hanging out perhaps is a common sight of course with the smart phone in hand and with wires dangling down from ears. I am quite sure that they are not enjoying the day’s quota of TED talks, though maybe the appearances are deceptive.

The youth in Colombo may be having the time of their lives and only a few may understand that in most situations, the time and the lives are wasted. The nation certainly are not getting any return from such existence; really a poor return for the invested oxygen. We may not have the Mall of the World equivalents but yet the corridors that we possess appear to be well utilised. One needs to understand the needs and aspirations of the generation rather than pointing fingers. The issue may be that they lack spaces to express themselves differently and today are drawn to the only existing space which perhaps tends to dull the person in the long run and some may not even have a long run to their lives.


It is also interesting in technical and vocational education, it is pursuing beauty culture is what more of a hit than biomedical technologies. While the space and equipment provided in the latter gathers dust, the application of ointments on skin in a multitude of ways, is pursued with such diligence and attention, you may expect Cleopatras to be present in this city of ours in plenty. It is important however to indicate that the modern archaeological evidence points to a different image of the famed queen quite contrary to the widely held opinion.

Event over substance

Knowledge and understanding runs a poor second to whims and fancies and the pursuit of trivia commands respect and gets you the position of a ‘normal’ person in society. While we distribute free textbooks and at times more expense is incurred over the ceremony than the whole amount of books handed over during the event, we run the risk of providing outdated knowledge to the student. This is due to the fact that we value the event more than the substance of the purpose.

Take the issue that should be present with today’s science text books. Four new elements had been added to the periodic table and 1447860643s2 Alwis Lthis table is surely one destined to be placed in a student mind in some way during the teaching process. Even to appreciate and critically evaluate the changes by the addition of new elements 113, 115, 117 and 118, there is the need to have that broader understanding of the purpose and the detail. With four new elements – discovered by scientists in Russia, US and Japan – if the changes are not present, all printed matter containing the periodic table in effect becomes obsolete.

One with a deeper understanding of the new additions and their significance in context may be able to inform about the changes and teach the student about the impact of the additions even if the diagram is not quite up to date, thus doing justice to the present. The last time the periodic table was updated had been in 2011, when two elements were added. How many tuition masters – and there are many and really too many from the point of view of a healthy education system – may even be aware of this development is a question where an answer may be interesting to observe. There is the need for positive synergy in our society where people can come together and discuss together and be agents of change together. In doing so, we should be tackling science for services and development and one should spend discussing typical discussion topics of the day which unfortunately will have no bearing on supporting the national economic growth trajectory.

Public innovation space

It was indeed interesting to note the following in the last Budget speech. “Honourable Speaker …. I propose that the Nenasala’s be upgraded to be Public Innovation Centres for entrepreneurship. As such Nenasala centres should be upgraded to include a 3D printer, laser cutters and engravers, and other power tools which are vital for a typical fabrication lab. As such I propose to allocate Rs. 100 million to upgrade selected Nenasala centres in 2016. These upgraded centres in addition to their usual task of facilitating ICT empowerment will also drive local entrepreneurship and provide technology support to SMEs.”

This proposal is yet to be moved on and I sincerely hope that the point mooted had been brought into the notice of those who can implement it. One must remember that with quite a limited budget, this is a doable proposition and the need is really in understanding the value. It is really interesting to note this concept of public innovation space articulated in the Budget. In Sri Lanka, we do have two institutions reaching out to the depth of the country – Nanasala and Vidatha centres. While Nanasala tackles the IT literacy and promotes IT, Vidatha has the task of bringing science and technology to rural areas. Thus, the proposal can equally be applied to Vidatha centres. Here we may be speaking about 500 centres of both types spread across the country.

Imagine an inventor today. One area that an inventor finds hard in realising is prototypes. For schoolchildren, usually ideas are articulated as crude contraptions in most situations. Having a place which is open, informal and of high quality prototyping within the reach of many would be a great step forward. More so, the important point would be that with having such equipment etc. in an open space one can wonder into such a place and come almost instantaneously in touch with emerging technologies. This facility could also enable turning ideas into a working reality. Thus familiarity with the disruptive and the emerging is brought within reach. Properly implemented this would be a major step forward in the national innovation drive. Are we being too ambitious and are we out of step with the real system needs? I do not think so. Displaying a bit of boldness is always welcome and sure to give rise to change seekers to come forward and embrace the offerings. It is not the naysayers that are important but supporting those who can give momentum.


Two of the items mentioned – 3D printers and laser cutters and engravers – have been touted to be the next revolution. Certainly, 3D printing or additive manufacturing, as it is known, has the power to disrupt. The power of 3D printing is even extended to printing body organs and parts – bioprinting and who can disagree with the potential of organ printing in the coming days? Certainly for CKDu, a printed kidney and with all today’s breaking news of kidney rackets involving donors and recipients could be a thing of the past. If Sri Lanka takes the idea forward and implements – walk the Budget talk – we could be joining in cities such as Barcelona who had promoted pioneering public network of ‘fab labs’. When this was carried out in Barcelona – the establishment of four public funded fab labs – had been an international first.

It is certainly due to such bold and enterprising ventures that Barcelona is among the top innovative cities of the world. Being open houses, they encourage both the young and the old and the excitement of the former augurs well for the future as they come into contact in an informal learning environment with the tools of the future.

Remember today as our experimental techniques in school curricula had been reduced to rote learning and not doing. The Barcelona experience is explained as follows: “The operation of fab labs has been based on three programs – social innovation, education and family. The first, social innovation, places an emphasis on sharing talents and knowledge: the centres provide support for developing a project through technology and advice, thereby brining in collaboration. Programs in education are aimed at different age groups to ensure that the learning is intergenerational. Also noted is the support towards sustainable consumption – the labs would support the repair of things that can still be useful in a higher quality manner. What Barcelona is doing is an eye opener to us.

The Budget has this very important paragraph. This emulates a direction the best of cities are following. We do have an issue with our youngsters and also perhaps for families who lack spaces for innovative expressions. Talent restless on corridors is a pitiful sight especially as we do have a demographic battle on our hands as well as years rolling by. Let us for once do something completely out of the normal box and bring a breath of disruptive fresh air to a public place close to us.

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