Krishnav Karnani of La Martiniere for Boys, Nikunj Dhandharia of The Heritage School, Kabir Bhutoria of Lakshmipat Singhania Academy, Aarav Agarwal of The Heritage School, Vivaan Ghosal and Nibedita Ghosal of South City International School, Varun Prasad and Yashvardhan Somani of LMB, Tejas Somani of Don Bosco Park Circus and Madhubani Paul of La Martiniere for Girls take a break from their DIY projects on a Saturday afternoon in April
The clock strikes noon and the pitter-patter of tiny feet is heard on the staircase at 22 Ballygunge Park Road. The door opens to reveal a shelf of miniatures (which we later found are 3D-printed), Lego sets, robots and much more. And near an Eiffel Tower miniature stands Meghna Bhutoria to welcome all to MakersLoft, the place where kids, upwards of the age of five, learn the meaning of DIY. t2 walked in for a chat with the 38-year-old resident of Chak Garia...
What makes MakersLoft special?
DIY is almost a part of everyday life and culture in many countries, people make and fix their own things as labour is expensive, especially in developed countries. Most people own an extensive set of hand and power tools and it is not uncommon for people to put together IKEA furniture, or paint their house, or do their own garden. So the typical DIY workshops abroad use more digital fabrication and advanced tools and machinery. In India, we have mistris to do it all for us. So most people don’t know how to use or own even basic tools like pliers and spanners. At MakersLoft, we need to teach the very basics as well.
The idea behind having sections like carpentry, Lego workshops, robotics, tie-dye, 3D printing...
We strongly believe in interest-based learning, therefore we try to have a good selection of activities for students to choose from. Many a time students don’t even know what they are interested in, either they are used to being simply told what to do or they don’t have sufficient exposure. At MakersLoft, we give students a chance to explore. We also focus on things that are not as easily available and accessible. For example, there is no other place in the city for children to learn woodworking, or a textiles lab to learn natural dyeing and printing.
Another reason is that there are some equipment and educational tools which are expensive for individuals to own. For example, a 3D printer or Lego Robotics kit costs upwards of
Rs 30,000. We make it affordable by spreading the cost across multiple users.
MakersLoft is having a bunch of summer camps till June 9. Children can learn to code using Scratch, attend robotics camp and Lego workshops, take part in a natural dyeing and printing camp and brush up their wood-working skills and 3D printing. Also on are science camps.
If parents were to ask you why MakersLoft, then...
We facilitate learning through self-discovery and collaboration with other kids and trained mentors, in a prepared environment with lots of stimulating materials like Lego, Google cardboard and 3D printer. They take part in fun activities related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and art to develop the ability to think in new ways and problem-solve in our changing environment. MakersLoft is probably one of the few places in the city, and even the country, that provides children an opportunity for hands-on learning, something that is largely missing in formal education. Unlike schools, we focus on ‘process’ (of learning) rather than ‘product’ (what is made) or ‘output’ (grades).
Are you working with schools to take your start-up forward?
Yes, we already have two school projects running and are in talks with a few others in Calcutta as well as pan-India. One is with The Newtown School in Rajarhat where we have set up a STEM and Robotics lab for over 800 students in Classes III to IX.
The other project is with Filix School of Education in the village of Para in Purulia, where we will be setting up our first full-fledged makerspace in a school. Children will get access to Lego Robotics education, they will learn coding skills through Scratch and do hands-on science and electronics experiments, like the Banana Piano (a DIY conductive piano where bananas are transformed into piano keys using an electrical circuit).
Pictures: Arnab Mondal
THE MAKER OF THE LOFT!
Meghna with a 3D designed and laser-cut MDF (made of wood dust) installation of the Eiffel Tower at MakersLoft
Education: St. Agnes’ Convent School, J.D. Birla Institute and MBA from INSEAD, France
Life before MakersLoft: Worked in the corporate communications section of ITC Ltd and then for a semi-conductor company in Silicon Valley, making her shuttle between San Jose and Bangalore. Then she joined the agri-biotech company Syngenta as global product manager where she helped launch bio-pesticides in Europe, the US and Asia.
Life after MakersLoft: Her planned two-month sabbatical became an unplanned stay in Calcutta. “I wanted to have my own workshop to make things by hand. I had acquired quite a few tools in the years I lived abroad and being with my boyfriend at that time who was a German architect, I yearned for sensory contact with materials and tools — to use my hands to build things. And this voice inside me came out of nowhere, but fortunately I heard it,” she said.
Favourite DIY project: “Everything from hacking radios, scavenging through defunct lamps to making ornaments out of flowers and leaves. Anything that was sensory was appealing. Even the community cooking that happened back then... we would help with things like peeling almonds to make badam ka halwa.”
First project: “It was a school project. I upcycled a large old tin container into a garbage bin using fabric and paint. Doing the project gave me confidence that I had real skills to create something.”
Next up: “Lego is coming out with a new education product called Boost in August with which children can build, code and play. Can’t wait to get our hands on the Boost kit!”