Inside the auditorium of the Zilla Parishad Primary School at Lonikand near Pune, tiny robots manoeuvre around obstacles, move up and down miniature ramps, and throw balls into mini rings. These demonstrations are part of a robotics training programme. The students will learn coding, IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) to create robots that can perform specific tasks. All thanks to the efforts of RC Pune Sinhagad Road, RID 3131, “these students will learn the skills of tomorrow,” says Deepak Mahajan, the project coordinator.
He points out that these students “can hardly afford two sets of uniforms a year. Some of them don’t even have electricity at home. But they have dreams and the determination to learn new things.” While nurturing their interest in the field, this programme will help them learn other important skills like teamwork, community participation and communication, he adds.
In association with Robotex India, a non-profit organisation bringing robotics and STEAM education to government schools in urban, rural and tribal areas, the club has started a Robotics STEAM Lab at the school. A CSR partnership with ZS Associates, a management consulting and technology firm in Pune, helped cover the project cost of ₹25 lakh. This programme will cater to 1,500 students.
Jothi, a Class 5 student, and her robotics workshop partner Rekha are learning to design codes to make their robot pick up a ball. “We can create a robot that can carry water for our village,” says Rekha. Jothi wants to make a robot that can “carry my bag to school.” Post-training, these students will also have an opportunity to participate in district and state-level robotics competitions. “Some of them may also represent the country at the Robotex International World Olympiad,” says Mahajan.
Some of these students don’t even have electricity at home. But they have dreams and the determination to learn new things.
– Deepak Mahajan, project coordinator
Under the initiative students are provided with Learning Management Systems (project-based hybrids, such as software to run a robot, science instruments, and calculators), workbooks, worksheets, video content, live and recorded sessions demonstrating robotic prototypes, the hardware based on physical computing, followed by assessments. Payal Rajpal, the director of Robotex India, and a member of RC Pune Central, says that the programme will increase awareness, interest, and confidence in STEAM fields for the students.
Recalling how Robotex, which was limited to private schools expanded its programme for underprivileged students, Payal says that at a robotics event in Ahmedabad in 2018, “a village boy came to me and asked if he could talk in Gujarati instead of English to present a robot that could help his father plough the fields.” Amazed by his confidence she asked the boy how he got the robot and coded it. The toy bot was handed down to the boy by a family who had employed his mother for domestic help. With the help of Wi-Fi connection at his mother’s employer’s home he learned to code the robot to plough the field. “It was mind-blowing to see what his robot could accomplish. He represented those students that could do wonders with a programme like ours and that is how Robotex for Rural India was born.”
Today the programme has coached over 20,000 government school students throughout India. Payal’s club has started a Robotex India programme at a zilla parishad school in Pune. With Rotary’s help, she says, “we can introduce robotics to more children. This is the start of a long-term engagement that will improve the lives of children across India, preparing them for future employment opportunities.”
Addressing the disconnect between college degree and skill development she says, “bringing children to school doesn’t equate to quality learning. But bringing AI, and STEAM education through the medium of robotics will integrate technology into the classroom and also increase the effectiveness of the learning process.”
At a one-day event called Hackathon in Pune hosted by Robotex India, students from various zilla parishad schools ideated robotics and coding solutions to tackle environmental problems. “From beach cleaning bots to solar-powered vehicles, the students left us spellbound with their innovative projects,” she smiles and adds that “instead of mugging up definitions and formulas the students learn through a hands-on approach in this programme which enables them to understand core concepts in a way they won’t forget and can apply it to solve real-world issues.”