There come these occasional moments when we realise that all the preconceptions we held about some things were absolutely flawed. I had one such moment during the Robotics Workshop which was organised by Bhumi and Dwengo (a Belgium-based NGO which supports people interested in robotics) this month. The workshop was primarily held to enable under-privileged children to improve their interest in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). A Google Rise winner (hence, the UDAVI Project was funded by Google), it saw participation from 35 children across six shelter homes and orphanages in Chennai. Now, mind you, very few children here were even familiar with computer applications beyond MS Word or Paint. But, the enthusiasm they showed in learning unfamiliar concepts is what led me to bust that notion I had.
In one instance, Veerachan and Jakulin (students of Class 8), who were using computers for the first time, impressed the audience with their active participation and performance in the introductory robotics course. They took minimal effort to comprehend the concept of binary numbers, loops, shortest path algorithms and finite state machines. I must say, the organisers from Dwengo also put in commendable efforts to make the children learn these concepts in a fun and interactive way, thus engaging all of them and developing a passion in them to learn new things.
On the second day (of the workshop), the children were introduced to basic hardware used in robotics, like LCDs, motors and sensors. Many said they were able to understand the working and functioning of each part separately. They were also able to understand, with relative ease, the pin diagram of the microcontroller used in the Dwengino board and its interface with other peripheral devices. They gained hands-on experience with these devices. And of course, they were thrilled when their names appeared on LCD panels and they made the motor rotate to their wish and will.
On the third day of the workshop they actually built robots by themselevs. They challenged their limits by coming out with creative ideas to build robots that could fly, that could be an obstacle detector, a light, a line follower, a garbage collector , a painter and even a scorpion . The fact that the robots were autonomous is an icing on the cake. They learnt the tricky part of coding and logic, using interactive games and simple software. They could even design their own algorithms with the assistance of volunteers.
Overall, it was surprising to see that, even after a few days, the children remembered every small detail from what they learnt about robotics. Studies and learning aside , the biggest positive they could take out of this workshop was that they were exposed to a world they never knew existed. They made new friends (Bharati from Webbs found new friends in Avvai Home and Kali from Seva Samajam befriended children from SISTWA), and they developed an attachment with the volunteers, especially with Francis and Naveen, the workshop organisers. A second revelation was that language never proved to be a barrier . They interacted with Francis at ease and cleared their doubts.
The most humbling opinion they put forward was that they felt special when individual care was given to them. Since the children were used to being one among many in a classroom, the sudden importance and individual attention given to them boosted their confidence. With no presumable exaggeration, I recall their words; “What we learnt these three days is imprinted in our minds. We rarely learn such fun and interesting things in school.”
What this shows is that they are more than happy to attend such sessions and are looking forward to even more. Such heartfelt feedback not only reassured us of our work, but also motivated us to reach greater heights in giving these children the best the world can offer.
Photos from the workshop can be viewed on: http://www.bhumi.org.in/2015/01/27/robotics-expo-by-children/
– Nithin Krishna, Bhumian