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‘We need toys and games with an Indian ethos that inspire us to learn through fun activities’

Dr. Subhabrata Kar gets certificate from Ministry of Education and Innovation Cell, Government of India, for exceptional contribution as an Evaluator in ‘Toycathon 2021’ under the ‘AatmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi

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Dr Subhabrata Kar, Assistant Professor with the Apeejay Stya University, who teaches Biotechnology at the School of Biosciences, was selected as an evaluator at the recently held Toycathon-2021.  The Toycathon is an inter-ministerial event organised by the Government of India to inspire the nation’s innovative minds to conceptualise toys/games which represent Indian heritage, values and cultural ethos.

In an exclusive interview, Dr Kar shares his experience as an evaluator, his learnings from the mega-scale event and his views on toys/games that bring forward a New India. Edited excerpts:

Please tell us about your experience as an evaluator at Toycathon 2021.

Toycathon-2021 is an inter-ministerial initiative by the Government of India. It was initiated by the honourable Prime Minister of the nation, Shri Narendra Modi Ji. The idea was to challenge India’s innovative minds across all schools and higher education institutions to conceptualise toys or games based on Indian culture, mythology and ethos. There were three tracks (groups) in the Toycathon. The first for school students, the second for higher education students and the third for start-ups. The Toycathon generated a lot of interest when the contest was announced online. There were thousands of thousands. And such a big event needs evaluators who will assess participants based on set criteria and guidelines. Entries came from all across the nation. The evaluators were chosen by a team from the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the Ministry of Education along with other government ministries. The selected evaluators were given a virtual training for two days. The second day’s session was held by the Chief Innovation Officer of India, Dr Abhay Jere. During the training, we were explained the concept of evaluation, the difference between an evaluator and a mentor and many other key details.

The Toycathon aims to spark idea-generation for developing toys with a focus on the Indian market, ethos and safety standards. Please tell us how the Toycathon works and what was your role in it?

 I was the evaluator at the primary stage. I was involved in the first stage of the Toycathon. After the training, we were allotted a website, where we had to register. Then based on our interests, we could choose themes on which we wanted to evaluate. Given my expertise in Biochemistry and Biotechnology, I chose two themes. The first was about the environment and the second was Learning, Education and Schooling. After that we were allotted the presentations uploaded by different participants. At the initial stage, the participants were not supposed to submit anything physical but only demonstrate their thought process and ideas about their toy/game. Then more selection procedures were to follow. The event ultimately would be streamed down to a final event and the winner or the winning team would be awarded a prize of up to Rs 50 lakhs by the Prime Minister himself. The idea that would emerge triumphant would be commercialised.

How do we make toys/games that are entertaining yet at the same time represent Indian values, heritage and cultural ethos?

I think we have become over-dependent on foreign toys/games for our children and youth even though we have so many indigenous interesting concepts that engage us. Many such toys/games are becoming extinct. For example, so many STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) based toys/games have been initiated which are entertaining yet educating as well. Right now, so many people are playing games such as PUBG and other available options. But there isn’t much to learn and practice from these games. There’s isn’t much to challenge you. Participants in the Toycathon are supposed to create toys/games which provide this challenge and a learning spirit. I evaluated many such interesting ideas. One of these focused on how to make Yoga interesting for students, making interesting games in Yoga sessions so that people develop an interest in the asanas and get initiated into Yoga. We came across hundreds of such ideas which were shortlisted. I believe this was a much needed effort by the Government of India because development of toys/games is very necessary especially in a pandemic situation where everyone was stuck at home with only digital media and their work in an online mode. So the Toycathon allowed students to challenge themselves, work in groups, seek a mentor and get evaluated rightly.

I believe in the idea that we can make toys/games that are entertaining yet propagate Indian values and cultural ethos. I saw so many participants, so many students from all across India. It was a great experience as an evaluator.

How has Apeejay Stya University helped you in this journey to put your best foot forward?

Liberal Arts is a core pillar of Apeejay Stya University. It is the foundation of our university. Liberal Arts has been there in the Indian system of education and culture for a very long time. So, the idea is not just to be an expert at your own field but to be a wholesome learner. One must understand how to apply a concept practically with some inputs from different modes of teaching. We are engaged in teaching students across such an environment of liberal arts in the university. So, I could understand not only about Biotechnology but also about different streams of ideas which could be synced to lead to a common result; in this case the development of an engaging toy. So I learned from my experiences at ASU. Our Pro-chancellor Shri Aditya Berlia Ji, has taught us extensively the importance of an environment of Liberal Arts in life and in the university as well.

The Liberal Arts environment at ASU, prepares you for the future and for life. 

Will toys/games made out of eco-friendly, indigenous recycled material be easily accepted by Indian kids?

Absolutely, it is the need of the hour. It is very up to us also as parents to encourage that. We have grown up playing with eco-friendly colours and games. Today, we see the rise of pollution at all levels across the world, so this is the need of the hour. My experience from the Toycathon tells me that the youth are going back to their roots and trying to get something meaningful out of it and enjoying the process at the same time.

What were some of the toys/games you grew up playing?

We had a mix of toys, some of them handmade by my mother. Abacus was a very interesting concept, I worked on it in childhood. It helped me learn Maths. I also worked on Chess and played it a lot. And then I played physical sports like cricket and other popular sports. These are all now faint memories (laughs).

Now for my kid, I have bought some traditional toys made of basic wood and different colours (non-toxic). Instead of buying toxic chemical crayons, I have got non-toxic crayons made from vegetable oils.

What is your take on toys/games to be made for specially-abled children?

We cannot forget about differently abled children. They should be able to play as well. If you are developing an app, then there must be a particular font or sound etc. You need to keep the needs of everybody in mind. So this initiative fosters inclusion. We need to support them in the 21st century. Specific games and toys are made keeping in mind the needs of the specially-abled children so that they are able to participate on an equal footing. STEM toys are great for kids suffering from autism.  

Will Toycathon 2021 help India become a force in the toys/games manufacturing industry in the future?

It definitely has. There were so many ideas to choose from and ultimately the ideas that were selected and awarded by the Honourable Prime Minister are supposed to be commercialised with an equal partnership from the industry. The student response across all social media and all other platforms was highly encouraging. So I think, yes.

How useful will Indian toys be for children in our rural areas, particularly those confined indoors owing to the pandemic?

There were a few interesting traditional toys but they have gradually got lost. The spinning tops, the Thanjavur dolls have now become rare or have changed forms. There has to be an emphasis on development of apps and toys that focus more on technology, thereby enabling a student to learn a concept.  But one must understand that the pandemic has hit the world financially. So many people have lost their jobs. Therefore not all students might be getting a formal education currently. Then there’s the digital divide as well. So such STEM toys will help children to both learn as well as enjoy. It will teach kids how to make toys from scratch and many other fun educational activities. It would also connect them with the outside world. 

Arijit Roy is a trainee correspondent at Apeejay newsroom. He has done his masters in English literature from Delhi University and has a book of poems published by Writers Workshop India. He can be reached at [email protected]

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