InnoTech: Inspiring student innovation | Daily News


 

InnoTech: Inspiring student innovation

Much of this country’s 18,000 plus ‘tanks’ or ancient water reservoirs, large and small, are laid out in intricately inter-linked ‘cascade’ systems to ensure that the maximum use is made of the water harnessed therein. The oldest tanks and canals were built over two thousand years ago, and they are all designed to supply water for human consumption as well as for irrigation of the vast tracts of cultivation that, at one time, made the country famous for its agrarian products, especially rice.

Significantly, the cascade system, when functioning at its peak during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa kingdoms, also ensured that the bulk of the water channelled to the fields, villages and cities, was clear of the sediment at the lowest levels of the waterways. This careful filtering thereby avoided ill effects that could be caused by the accumulated ground chemicals and minerals that lie at the bottom of the waterways. Such is the scientific innovation of our ancient civilisation.

Today, as the country slowly recovers from the intellectual numbness of colonial dominance and exploitation and regains economic capacities on reaching middle-income status, society is energized into new intellectual explorations, taking off from where the ancients stopped.

Sri Lankans have now not only designed and built their own scientific orbital satellite, but, most recently, have innovated in the field of renewable energy driven luxury transport, showcased in the Vega EVX sports car launched in Geneva earlier this week.

If, yesterday, we complimented those Sri Lankan manufacturing entrepreneurs for their innovativeness, today we must draw our readers’ attention to the latest endeavour to encourage and promote even more innovation by our younger generation upwards.

The ‘InnoTech 2020’ exhibition that opens in various venues in the Maharagama-Homagama area on Monday will both showcase innovations and technological explorations by our school and university students as well as enthuse and channel young minds aspiring to become inventors themselves.

‘Innovation’ is not just about inventing something – a new machine or product or software or tool. Rather, ‘innovation’ is about the whole human practice of being continuously creative in approaches to things, in types of activity, in processes, strategies and policies. An invention can be the concrete outcome of innovative practices. At the same time one can be innovative without necessarily inventing something.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines four types of innovation: product innovation, process innovation, marketing innovation and organisational innovation.

A developing country like ours needs as much innovation as possible and the primary institutions and structures that promote innovation are our educational and research institutions. At a secondary level, the private sector, through its own corporate ‘R&D’ (Research and Development) as well as in its product design, can also lead the way in innovation of various kinds.

InnoTech 2020 is a four-day programme which hosts a massive array of exhibits and experimental displays spread across several educational campuses centred on a 300-acre setting in Pitipana, Homagama. Launched under the leadership of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation Minister, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena in collaboration with Education Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, it will harness youthful creative energy drawn from all fifteen of the country’s public universities and from some 130 schools and technical training institutes. The Armed Forces will also display some of their locally invented equipment, many of which have non-military uses.

The five principal venues are the Technology Faculty of the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, Sri Lanka institute of Nanotechnology, National School of Business Management, Department of Measurement Units and Standards and, the Mahinda Rajapaksa National School. The exhibition is a first step in the fulfillment of commitments to national technological advancement enshrined in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Vistas of Prosperity & Splendour’ policy document.

The vision is to promote scientific literacy at all levels. The creation of a rational and scientific consciousness among students is the harbinger of creating new generations of Sri Lankans free of obscurantism and intellectually blinding superstition or ‘avijjaa’. What is needed is scientific imagination and the practice of intellectual adventure – a boldness to explore beyond the constraints of archaic traditions that stultify and constrain forward movement out of the depths of colonialism and, regaining our own civilisational stature.

The organisers of this mega-event will hope that the visitors to the exhibition as well as the many participating students will go away with their eyes and minds opened up to new horizons of creative possibilities. Future endeavours must reach out to the frontiers of creativity.

Such intellectual foundations are crucial for modernisation of Sri Lankan society and are the necessary launch pad for rapid technological advancement which, in turn, is the basis of economic development.

In a global economy that thrives on innovation, Sri Lanka must attain suitable levels of technological dynamism if we are to be competitive and achieve the desired development.


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