New Delhi: Bhavika, who grew up in Patiala without a computer at her home, had only ever worked on word documents and PowerPoint presentations at school. She can now create animated stories, mobile apps and even sift through data from CERN’s particle accelerator to look for a Higgs Boson.
Bhavika was among 53 students selected from across India for a two-week pilot workshop, which just concluded at the Navodaya Vidyalaya in Jaffarpur Kalan village on the outskirts of Delhi. The workshop, held between 25 November and 7 December, is likely to pave the way for a new school-level curriculum in computer programming.
Led by the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor, the workshop, CodeIndia, not only introduced students and some of their teachers to the basics of computing but also enabled them to interact with scientists working with Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN.
Shailja Vaidya Gupta, senior adviser at the Office of Principal Scientific Adviser Dr K. VijayRaghavan, told ThePrint that if such interventions are brought at the school level, half the work around scientific education in the country would be done.
The future is going to be driven by computing and automation, and our young generation needs to know coding like they know their alphabets, Gupta said.
“This project has already taken a life of its own,” she added. “There are people who have now gotten in touch with me, and said they want to become a part of this project.”
The Modi government now plans to take these workshops across the country, working with more experts and incorporating other regional languages as the medium of instruction.
In the future workshops, the organisers hope to bring in more women students and eventually create a model curriculum that can be adopted across schools.
Workshop to induce interest in computer coding
The workshop included teaching students on how to create digital cartoon characters and animated GIFs, building mobile apps, simple games, creating websites, and the basics of computer coding using Python.
It had a session by Archana Sharma, a senior staff scientist at the CERN Laboratory in Geneva. Sharma introduced students to particle physics and gave a virtual tour of the world’s largest particle accelerator. She also taught them to process open-source data from the particle smasher to identify sub-atomic particles.
N. Apurva Ratan Murty, a postdoctoral research associate at MIT, also joined the students through a virtual class, talking about the applications of computers in the field of neuroscience.
The students were also taught all about security threats and internet ethics, as well as about platforms that they can use to earn money from their animations and GIFs.
While the pilot workshop was only able to introduce the students to the very basic concepts, the teachers involved hope that they have been able to spark an interest among the students to pursue these fields in the future.
“We designed the curriculum in such a way so that even students who have had no previous exposure to basic computing can follow the instructions,” said Bingi Binathi, a PhD student at Dayalbagh Educational Institute, who served as a teaching assistant at the workshop.
“We try to instruct in English as well as the local language,” she added.
Navodayas the best place to start
Prem Sewak Sudhish, associate professor at Dayalbagh Educational Institute, who designed the programme, told ThePrint that the Navodaya Vidyalayas provided the perfect starting ground for this pilot workshop.
The Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas are a system of alternate schools for talented students predominantly from rural areas in India. Run by Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, these residential schools aim to provide quality education to those who are economically not in a position to access it.
“These schools have exactly the kind of students that we want to target. Ultimately, these are the students who would benefit the most from such programmes. This workshop teaches them to work with tools that can help them become entrepreneurs,” said Sudhish, who got his Master’s degree from Stanford University.
“If we can successfully carry out this programme among rural students, urban schools, where students already have much better access to technology, can easily adopt it,” he added.
Dr A.N. Ramachandra, a senior consultant at the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti told ThePrint that the primary education system in the country focuses too much on the theory in early years, scaring away students from important fields of study before they can gain any insight on how interesting these subjects can be.
In this workshop, the students are first taught to work with stories, and animations to get them excited about the subject before introducing them to the theories of coding, he said.
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