The Optimist Citizen

A duo from Mumbai and 200 government school students are changing the way we learn science

Mumbai based organisation Universe Simplified is empowering children to create inventions that can solve pertinent problems in their community

When Henna Khan was a child, she was obsessed with the seamless and unending fringes of the vast sky. She would spend all of her time wanting to know more about the stars, and galaxies and the mysteries of our expanding Universe. Even before she was 10, she was asking questions like how did life first originate on Earth. Where did we come from? However, this curiosity and love for astronomy and science eventually faded out due to an environment of rote learning and curbing of questions and thinking. She grew up doing Engineering and later earned a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Singapore, but never fully realized what she wanted to pursue in life.

About five years back, while working at her family business, Henna read “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan and all her love for science and astronomy came back with a vengeance. With this, the idea of Universe Simplified was born and she started approaching schools in Mumbai for Science and Astronomy hands-on workshops. At this point, Meera, the Co-Founder of Universe Simplified, joined in and they both embarked on this exciting journey in 2013.

Image courtesy : Universe Simplified
Image courtesy : Universe Simplified

After working with schools and gaining a better insight into the Indian Education System, the original idea evolved into providing an inquiry-driven approach.  “Initially, we used to conduct kit and instruction based workshops for the children, but soon we realized that by using this method the children are still not thinking on their own – they were still following a set of instructions. So we started working on a different approach wherein we provided all the raw material to the children and asked them to make the projects on their own. This enhanced their thinking abilities and stretched their mental boundaries” mentions Henna.

The organization is now setting up low-cost Innovation Hubs for rural and urban children from economically challenged backgrounds. The idea is to inculcate Innovation and Problem-Solving skills in children through a STEM Curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). These hubs run on a once a week basis and rely on low-cost, readily available material in schools itself.

And the impact is evident in the way the children tackle problems now. “Through our program, children have so far created projects such as a stick for blind people which vibrates on detecting an obstacle, a kick-bike (because children had to walk long distances to school), a low cost wheelchair using PVC pipes and old cycle tires, and a washing machine which doesn’t need electricity, to name a few. These are basic prototypes but it shows the potential of these children for original thinking and problem solving” says Henna.

Image courtesy : Universe Simplified
Image courtesy : Universe Simplified

“We are happy to see how the kids repair their household things; we’ve seen siblings work together. It was overwhelming to see one of our girls helping her elder brother in his engineering project. Parents have also started noticing these changes in their children and are very happy with our program” says Meera.

This year Henna and Meera are busy mapping plans for the future prospects of this organization. This academic year, Universe Simplified is running 6 innovation hubs in total – Two at Zilla Parishad Schools on the outskirts of Mumbai, one at a school run by Akanksha Foundation, one at a Trust based school in Andheri and two at Community Centers at Andheri, with over 200 children benefiting from the same. The organization has also been accepted into several fellowships by incubators which is a direct validation of their efforts.

Image courtesy : Universe Simplified
Image courtesy : Universe Simplified

“The children coming for our program have a love for science and for making. There is tremendous untapped potential is them and this is why we wish to bring this program to this segment which would otherwise not have access to a hands-on inquiry driven program. Receiving positive feedback from all our stakeholders – teachers, school principals, parents and most importantly our children is what keeps us motivated.” mentioned both of them.

Henna Khan and Meera Rathod, co-founders of Universe Simplified | Image courtesy : Universe Simplified
Henna Khan and Meera Rathod, co-founders of Universe Simplified | Image courtesy : Universe Simplified

One fellowship program that Henna and Meera have been a part of is Changelooms Program – a learning and leadership journey to support early-stage social entrepreneurs. Changelooms is run by Pravah, a Delhi based non-profit which enables youth to facilitate social action initiatives through various leadership oriented approaches and is supported by Oracle. The team takes pride in adopting several values from Pravah. “The Pravah and Changeloooms community have helped us immensely. The various processes introduced for organisational development have influenced what we do today”, says Henna.

The organization is relentlessly pursuing their aim of building a community of problem solvers, innovators and changemakers with a broader outlook, beyond what they read in their books. “Imagine if every child and community is empowered to address their own local challenges through Innovation!” says Henna.

How can you participate in positive action with them? 

Universe Simplified is a small team and have various volunteering opportunities across all aspects of our organisation. They are looking for driven and passionate individuals who would love to be a part of our program and contribute towards bringing about a positive change in our society. You can contact Henna and Universe Simplified team here.



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