SRISTI Summer School 2013 – Designing Innovative Technologies for the Elimination of Child Labour

After the enactment of the Right to Education, all the children are expected to be in school. The tragedy is that a large number of children have to work for various reasons, most importantly, because of poverty and lack of support for schooling.

The poor quality of education in many public schools also adds to the problem. However, while technological solutions may not suffice, the focus of the summer school is to fabricate devices that eliminate the need for child labour. Generally, when the productivity increases, the need for child labour decreases. We will also try to take up income enhancing technologies which can enable parents to continue their children’s education. Furthermore, we will try to increase the safety of existing devices so that in the case of an unfortunate accident, children are not forced to work to make both ends meet.

Participants of the fabrication workshop will parameterise the problem, develop designs and drawings for fabrication, choose the materials either before or after drawing depending upon the convergence and then fabricate a prototype. It is possible that more than one group works on the same device but independently to begin with. Later, they can give feedback to each other. All the designs will be shared on this blog for mentors to comment online from around the world. It is hoped that at the end of the workshop, we will have at least three to four functional prototypes for testing on the ground and further scaling up. The idea of collaborative learning for compassionate design will be refined during the workshop. It is hoped that the alumni of the workshop will form a network of compassionate and concerned designers who will allocate some time every week for the purpose and keep the blog alive. The faculty from various designing and engineering colleges / departments will guide the participants.

It is expected that all the participants will spend a few days in the field working and walking with the child labourers to understand the pain they go through in not only ergonomic and functional sense but also in emotional and social sense. They will do rag picking, make and carry the bricks at a brick making or construction site, serve tea at a tea shop or wash the cups. Without going through the drudgery, we cannot innovate ways of overcoming it. There are easier ways of studying the problem by going to the internet and finding out what have people done already. However, this review can certainly improve our understanding but cannot substitute the learning from firsthand encounter with the reality of child labour.

The participants’ final prototypes will be judged on six kinds of efficiencies as compared to existing solutions:

  1. Labour efficiency – per capita output: How many people are required to perform a given function and what is the per capita productivity in a given period of time. Whether the labour requirement per unit of work goes down or increases and its effect on average productivity?
  2. Technological efficiency – output per unit of energy: Whether the energy consumption [human or otherwise] per unit of production has gone up or down and if so by what percentage? Compared to the earlier practice, whether energy consumption during production, work and disposal of the device has increased or decreased?
  3. Financial efficiency – productivity per rupee: Financial viability and productivity are important considerations for an innovation to diffuse. To what extent has the new device improved the financial viability? Whether the minimum investment required to perform the function, say making brick has increased and if so, is it affordable by an individual worker or their cooperative?
  4. Ergonomic efficiency: To what extent the drudgery in the activities performed traditionally has been reduced? Does the new device strain the body of men or women in any particular way and if so, how far is it tolerable?s it suitable for women ergonomically or otherwise?
  5. Gender efficiency: When the same activity is done by men and women, does the new device increase or decrease the productivity of women and if so, by what margin? I Does it shift the traditional women’s work to that of men’s work?
  6. Eco-efficiency: Are there any environmental externalities generated during production, use or disposal of the device? To what extent are the materials and processes suitable with the sustainable resource use principles? What is the ecological impact per unit produced?

It is not necessary that every innovation shows improvement on every index and by the same margin. However, keeping these indices in mind will help in designing better products and services. Since the purpose is to eliminate child labour, we have to ensure that each solution makes it less viable and attractive for the potential employers to involve children.

The Design Process

Every participant will maintain a workbook of rough designs, options and final solution. Whenever a trade-off is made between different forms, features or functions, the same should be recorded along with the reasons for trade-off. A workbook also provides insights about the design directions that were not pursued or were abandoned. Sometimes, those are the relevant directions. In the absence of record, we would not know about these directions. For the mentors to comment online, these notebooks will be helpful. They will know at which step has a particular team done well or not so well. With time, the mentoring process will become more focused and productive. Each team will be expected to blog every day or every alternate day about the progress they are making or the problem they are struggling with. The local mentors, faculty from different colleges will help in choosing materials, forms and balance among cost, features, performance and affordability.

Dignity in Technology

While designing innovations, we need to assess whether a designed device adds to the dignity of the worker. Look at the example of the cobbler and see the obsolescence of his iron triangle, a tool for mending shoes. In India and Afghanistan, the cobbler sits on the ground, uses obsolete tools and has neither a dignified way of working nor servicing customers in that manner. The position of the cobbler in Mongolia and China seems, in sharp contrast, just the opposite. With the change in the design of shoes, we no more need to hammer nails in the leather shoes. We need adhesive and/or stitching. We may need a clamp and other such devices. We also need a proper sitting arrangement for the cobbler as well as for his customer.

The implication is that whatever solution we develop for economically poor people, it should add to the dignity of their work and enhance the self respect of the worker. The dignity quotient should be high for all innovations that aim at improving the conditions of workers.

Autopoiesis Design


I define autopoiesis design as a self correcting design form. When a product reaches the hands of the worker or user, it does not remain static. It undergoes slow transformation in form, feature, and/or functions. It adapts, and if there is an error in its functioning, it lends itself to repair through its internal features or sometimes interactively with the users. A spade designed by a Kashmiri boy could become a shovel as well (something some other people had also tried). Flexibility, self design, self correction and amenability for adaptation to multiple user contexts/operational environments characterise an autopoiesis system.

Intellectual Property Rights

Our preference is that all the designs are kept in open source. However, if a team wants to file the patent, they will be allowed to do so, provided they assign it to SRISTI for larger common good.

Schedule of Activities:

The participants will work either at the Fablab established by NIF at EQDC, Gandhinagar or in the workshops of some of the nearby colleges. It is expected that all colleagues will act in a responsible manner, follow group discipline and respect each other’s privacy. There will be special lectures organised by some eminent faculty members and innovators to mentor the participants and encourage them to pursue social designs for making a difference.

Some of the participants can sleep in the workshop in the night for which mattresses will be provided. For some others, stay at a nearby hostel can be organised and they will have to meet local expenses for travel. The food and stay arrangements will be made by the organisers.

The whole philosophy underlying the workshop is that frugal design requires frugal lifestyle. Without pursuing economic use of resources in our personal life, we are unlikely to follow it in our work.

By following ethical practices, the need for supervision will go down. We hope the workshop will be self-designed, self-managed and self-regulated.

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