By Bhawna Parmar and Nayanashree JR
Science-mindedness is now a priority in the National Education Policy (NEP), and the recently adopted science and technology policy recommends training teachers to foster creativity and inventiveness and promote entrepreneurial education. Additionally, the curriculum will include 21st Century Skills, Mathematical Thinking and Scientific Temperament under the new policy.
Today, hackathons have become a popular way for students to develop STEM skills and mindset. Hackathons are hands-on development models based on solutions similar to project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, STEM, and design thinking. As students work together, they gain experience in identifying context-specific problems, prioritizing them, and developing prototypes. As a result, hackathons help students develop a sense of identity and self-efficacy in relation to STEM careers.
Hackathons as a way to develop 21st century skills
As the pandemic unfolded, educational organizations turned to new ways to reach young people in India. A particularly successful initiative was a series of Hackathon events held in six states, involving more than 1,100 students. Through the FIDS method (Feel, Imagine, Do, Share), the students were introduced to Design Thinking. During the hackathon workshops, the students learned various techniques to solve the problems they identified in their environment using various tools and skills acquired in the Hackathon process. A qualitative study on these Hackathons conducted in 2022 showed that such spaces are vital for the development of young people. A total of fifteen students, six facilitators, five teachers and five parents were involved in the study from Assam, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Karnataka.
According to research, Hackathon has proven to be a space of disruption. The presence of these spaces pushed students out of their comfort zone and challenged the status quo. After identifying a problem and implementing a solution, the students became competent social agents. As a result, students are empowered to ask questions and engage in critical reflection rather than passively receiving information. During these workshops, students applied critical thinking to solve problems, innovate, tinker, take risks, communicate, collaborate, and communicate effectively. This prepared them for the ever-changing demands of society.
A student from Karnataka, when asked if it was fruitful to attend the workshops, said: “I learned how to solve a problem, if I face a problem, I should not be afraid and try to solve it step by step. I also learned to express myself better.
In Assam, a mother spoke of her daughter’s transformation: “She is so confident now. Her confidence leads her to ask more questions. She has much more confidence in herself in social situations since the workshop. She no longer feels nervous around strangers.
Transcend gender stereotypes
The hackathons have also enabled girls to transcend gender stereotypes, which has been particularly beneficial to them. Secondary research found that girls are discouraged from taking risks and often encouraged to stay in their comfort zone. Due to a lack of participation and curiosity, they are more inclined to memorize. Yet the hackathons gave them the opportunity to build prototypes independently, something they had never done before, giving them the confidence to build something from scratch. “Before the Hackathon, I didn’t know how to do anything; it wasn’t even an idea in my mind. said a student from Bihar.
‘The Hackathon gave me experience, knowledge and confidence to build things. It will help me in my career as a designer.
During hackathons, girls are encouraged to take risks and tinker, encouraging them to adopt a STEM mindset. A combination of hackathons and interactions with role models has led to increased student interest in science careers, as evidenced by quantitative data. For example, a female student from Bihar expressed her interest in banking and UPSC jobs in her 10th grade essay. Her participation in the workshop inspired her to express how much she enjoyed studying science and now plans to pursue medical studies. Questions to understand people’s needs aroused students’ curiosity, which they carried into class.
Self-learning facilitates self-exploration
As a result of the Hackathon workshops, the teachers reported that the girls had become more creative, outspoken and curious. Not being afraid to talk to strangers or authority figures made it easier for the girls to ask questions, participate in conversations, think about ideas and articulate them. 86% of respondents said they became more confident in speaking up and asking questions after the hackathon. At the workshop, there was no “right answer” and students were not given step-by-step instructions on how to conduct an activity. As a result, many students have sought clarification and knowledge on various topics and processes from YouTube or their seniors. Through this self-learning process, students become motivated, independent and comfortable exploring a variety of topics. Students are able to take responsibility for their own learning by breaking the student-teacher paradigm. 73% of teens in the sample called themselves “creators” or “inventors” during the hackathon. As students created, patented, and solved problems, they developed an identity as inventors and problem solvers. Therefore, they expressed great confidence in their projects.
Hackathons foster a maker mindset in students
Despite their ability to provide students with opportunities to go beyond the norm and instill new skills, one-on-one hackathons are unable to produce long-term mindset shifts in students. due to their short-lived nature. As students become more interested in these subjects, the number of these skills also increases. However, upon returning to their schools, where they are expected to follow societal norms, students reintegrate into their school environment. In order to enter the world of STEM mindset and 21st century skills, students can participate in an individual hackathon, but these spaces should be created at regular intervals in order to reinforce the new skills acquired by the students. . While this may be the case, hackathons offer students the opportunity to cultivate a maker mindset, challenge the status quo, and encourage digital literacy among young people while cultivating the state of STEM spirit and 21st century skills.
Bhawana is a design researcher responsible for this qualitative study and Nayanashree is a technology associate for the Quest alliance.