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Problem-solving: The creative way

There may be many solutions to a specific problem but the best is the one that makes students tread an unconventional path report Pranab Ghosh

education Updated: Jul 21, 2010 09:24 IST
Pranab Ghosh
Pranab Ghosh
Hindustan Times

The ‘Odyssey of the Mind’ is an international education programme which provides creative problem-solving opportunities to students from kindergarten to college. As the students go on to solve open-ended problems, they develop creative-thinking skills that can be applied to real-life situations. Teams of students from across the length and breadth of the US and from across more than 20 countries participate in the programme.

“It teaches young people to think, create different possible solutions to problems, evaluate ideas, and then carry them out. The problems must be challenging and, at the same time, make learning fun,” said Dr C Samuel Micklus the founder of the programme. Since its inception in 1978, millions of students around the world have solved problems written by ‘Dr Sam’ - as he’s called lovingly by the young people.

Dr Sam’s son and programme director Sammy Micklus was in the Capital recently to brief the authorities of different schools about the efficacy of the programme. He spoke to Pranab Ghosh after conducting a workshop with schoolteachers and researchers at the American Center, here. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

How and when did the journey of ‘Odyssey of the Mind’ begin? And why?
The journey began in 1978. It was like taking creative activities from a college setting and planting it in middle and high schools — grade sixth to grade 12. About 26 schools participated in the first year’s programme. In 1980, from just being a New Jersey-based programme it went international.

It wasn’t a pre-planned programme. Someone asked my father if he could frame some activities for the school kids. And Odyssey happened. We never thought it would be more than a one-time affair.

How has it evolved over the years?
It has spread throughout the US. Expanded to other continents — Europe and Asia — and eventually to Australia, South America and Africa. There indeed, was a need for problem-solving opportunities for students — that need still exists in many places. In the world of traditional education there is, in general, not much scope of creative problem solving, which is something that people love to do and is inherent in human nature.

What topics does the programme teach the students?
Tonnes of things — time management, money management, team work and negotiation, appreciation of ideas of others etc. It also builds ‘soft’ confidence by creating solutions and it gives an opportunity to perform in public so that the students do not develop a fear of public speaking.

Does the ability to think out-of-box increase a student’s productivity?
If it’s in an environment where creativity is nurtured and guided, it definitely increases productivity, because they (the students) are happier and more engaged in their learning.

How relevant would the programme be for Indian students? Would it clash with the existing methods of teaching?
It would indeed be relevant. Its impact would, however, depend upon how it is used; meaning whether the programme is accommodated as the principal way of learning or is taken up as an after-school activity, in which case there wouldn’t be any clash whatsoever. However, if implemented, the programme will demonstrate its true worth and value, and people who resist it initially would end up embracing it. And this has been our experience world over.

First Published: Jul 20, 2010 12:40 IST