A 33-year-old is changing the STEM education in India by teaching underprivileged girls how to code.
In a world where the technological upscaling is reaching new heights every minute, the constant gender gap in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) education is damming the holistic development of our society. In a bid to bridge this gap, Aditi Prasad, who spoke at the ‘TEDxGatewaySalon: Breaking Barriers’ at NCPA on Friday, has started ‘Indian Girls Code’ – an initiative that equips underprivileged girls with the knowledge of coding and robotics.
“No matter what part of the world you are looking, there is a major gender gap in the STEM fields because they are traditionally dominated by men. ‘Indian Girls Code’ focuses on girls because we also want to make it known that our girls in our country are also equipped with the future skills,” says Aditi who founded the initiative in 2014 and is currently running six to seven programs under this initiative. Although the initiative focuses on bridging the gender gap, it is just another step towards Aditi’s larger goal to change the STEM education landscape in the country.
While pursuing her Masters in Public Policy in Singapore, the gap between her Indian education skill set and her counterparts’ were too wide, making her realise how our country’s education system is lagging behind. “There was a significant gap in how we were taught and how my counterparts’ countries have trained them in analytical thinking and awareness. We all are not trained per se to use our brains, which really hit me hard when I went outside the country,” says Aditi. Hence, resolving to equip the innovators of tomorrow, Aditi founded Robotix Learning Solutions in 2009 with an aim to provide STEM skills through digital tools like robotic toys, coding apps, coding games and learning apps, and thus introducing robotics and coding in the education curriculum.
“Coding is actually becoming digital literacy. Like reading, writing, and arithmetic, the fourth essential skill is coding. For a current three-year-old, the job market 20 years down the line is going to be way beyond what we know now. Alexa and others are going to be the things of the past for these kids. You are looking at times that are going to be technologically advanced but we are also looking at the education system that is outdated. India as a country is going to need that transformation. We are not only going to be the youngest country but we also need to give opportunities to our kids to become the game changers in the modern world,” Aditi explains. At a time when information is present at our fingertips, or are just click or an ‘enter’ away, it is crucial for the children to know how to perceive, analyse and break down the information to solve problems.
Hence, through Indian Girls Code and Robotix, Aditi and her company are teaching coding to young innovators from the age of four to 18. One such digital tool that comes handy is Scratch, an open source coding software by MIT Media Lab. “Think about when you put LEGO blocks together to construct a building or a structure, similar to that there are colour coded commands which can be put together to create an output which is what coding is - a set of commands that you put together and you get an output. And, it could be very simple like moving a character from left to right, or designing a game like Candy Crush,” Aditi explains. Giving an example of her favourite experience, she shares that post the 2015 Chennai floods, her students wanted to share their ordeals and therefore, made an animation stitching more than 530 images with codes.
Moreover, Robotix is also contributing to the global digital education market through its products. Launched last year, Robobricks is world’s first screen-free coding toy designed for younger age groups. With sensors attached to the LEGO block creations, the structures become functional with movements.
Despite providing tools to the kids, Aditi has faced some glitches in her initiative due to lack of access to basic education in the small and rural cities. “In the orphanage where we teach, we show children the practical applications of robotic skills like machines. They have watched Robot and they understand the movie but they have never been to a hotel or the mall to see the practical application of the automatic sliding doors. So, these concepts and skills are very difficult for them to relate to because they have never seen them before,” she reveals. Additionally, being devoid of resources like laptops, computers, and phones, the girls even find it difficult to differentiate between left and the right click. Further, the English codes also pose coherence challenges. “So, the basic education and foundation is the first step. But when you reach that foundation where they are able to understand what you are talking about, that’s when you see that all the kids are on equal footing. The kids have beautiful ideas, and the way they look at the world is amazing. All you need to give them is access to the tools and expose them to the learning using the tools, and that’s when you can sit back and look at the magic getting unfolded,” she concludes.