NRI teen girl invents problem-based learning to helps kids

BENGALURU: Gitanjali Rao, a child prodigy and inventor, said the cause of her success was her community, a supportive environment as well as the focus on problem-based learning in schools.

Speaking at the Diaspora Diplomacy speaker series, organised by the US Mission in India, the 16-year-old talked about her experiences, her thought processes as well as her upcoming inventions. Gitanjali, an Indian-origin student from the US, is an accomplished inventor, having come to the forefront with Tethys, a device that detects lead levels in water and transmits the information over Bluetooth.

“I saw my parents testing lead levels in water at home and the process was tedious, unreliable and expensive,” she said. She decided to find a solution after learning about the Flint Water Crisis, where the residents had to line up just to access potable water.

Rao has also worked on numerous other inventions, aiming to work on at least one every year. “I want to be a change-maker and have an impact on society. I can’t limit my start to one particular moment because it was a series of moments and an ongoing effort to come up with ideas and solutions for world problems.

Not just any solutions, but simple solutions to complicated problems,” she elaborated. Her ideas and inventions include a device to diagnose opiate addictions, Kindly, a cyberbullying filter, and most recently, a way to detect photo alterations on social media platforms to help boost the confidence of teenagers and reduce rates of depression.

“I am where I am because of my community. I’ve always grown in a supportive environment and have had a supportive family and school,” she said. 

‘Simpler approach to learning must’

Further , Gitanjali Rao said schools need to be geared up towards problem-based learning. “We’ve forgotten the real purpose of schools, which is to prepare us for real life. Everyone is so caught up in scoring good marks, preparing for exams, but we need a more simplistic approach to learning and thinking,” she said, giving the example of her computer technician class exam in high school.

“It wasn’t a written exam, I was supposed to take apart a laptop and put it together and I was awarded marks based on that,” she said, adding that children need an environment that fosters and encourages growth, and has less emphasis on stigmatising failure.