India - micro:bit workshop

Kadapa

I landed in Kadapa along with my mum and older sister on a sunny afternoon. Kadapa is a town in YSR Kadapa district located in Andhra Pradesh, a state in the south of India. The district has over 800 villages. Because of its rural location, several of the traditional ideas linked to women and marriage are still in place – for example, when a woman gets married (which they must, and this is always an arranged marriage), her father must pay her husband dowry. This is usually a large amount that some fathers are unable to pay. As a consequence, a girl may be abandoned by her parents before or after she is born, meaning there are not as many females in the district – in 2008 the female : male ratio was 912:1000.

To tackle this problem, a charity named Aarti Home was set up in 1991 by Mrs Sandhya Puchalapalli to help abandoned or orphaned girls. Due to the efforts of this charity, the female : male ratio improved to 942:1000 in 2016.

The charity started off 25 years ago as just a room that housed and fed abandoned girls. It has now grown and consists of a large shelter called Aarti Village, which is home currently to around 120 girls. It has cottages with a few rooms in each, where girls of all ages live together as a family. There is also a school that takes not only girls from the orphanage but also children from Kadapa town and the various villages in YSR Kadapa district. It was at this school that I ran my workshops, armed with the 20 kits that the Micro:bit Educational Foundation very generously gave me through Element14 to donate to Aarti Home.

13 girls and 3 boys in Year 10 and 11 had been introduced to basic programming in block coding as preparation for the workshop, but they had never done any physical computing before. The workshop was in the computer lab, which contains around 20 donated laptop and desktop computers.

I started off by introducing myself and getting to know the participants before loading the MakeCode editor. I then introduced the micro:bit and explained how it could be programmed, showing them the features of the editor. I then guided them to display ‘Hello World’ and to make an animation on their own. After this, I showed them how to download the project on to their devices - this took some time (largely due to the slow connection!), but everyone eventually managed it individually. I then introduced some data types and explained variables.

My next project was a little more ambitious; this was where I introduced the radio feature to the participants and got them to pair up. To start with, I told them to make a project that transmitted a smiley face to the other person’s micro:bit when Button A was pressed. It was lovely to see them all collaborating and working together, helping each other with parts of the program. They were thrilled with their efforts!

Finally, as a last project, I asked them to make a tilting program that transferred a ghost icon from one micro:bit to another. These projects took some explaining, but I was very proud of the results as they all managed to create the final project quite quickly!

I then took questions and asked for feedback. They all seem to have really enjoyed the morning and wanted more coding sessions. I distributed stickers and most students left for lunch, but I was pleased to find that three girls - Navya, Harini and Chaitanya – stayed behind to discover more. They told me about Aarti Home and life there as they were all from the orphanage; Chaitanya also showed me around the school. We visited several classrooms, which were quite different from my school - instead of individual desks, the classrooms had rows of benches with a space at the front, where a large blackboard was positioned on a wall. The labs did not have much room to sit, instead consisting of a large wooden central table and a few cupboards on the wall that had equipment.

Chaitanya told me her story: she belonged to a community of nomadic acrobats who travelled around the villages performing on the streets for money - a bit like buskers in London. They are a very poor community, and girls her age get married at eleven and have children at a young age. Her mother did not want that life for her and sent her to live in Aarti Village and get educated in Aarti School. She considers herself very lucky to be in Aarti Home and said she was very grateful that she had the opportunity to learn things like coding.

In the evening we visited Aarti Village, where we got to see how the girls live. Their lifestyle is incredibly different from a lot of teenage girls living in London. They share everything - rooms, cupboards, mealtimes and even homework time. They each have one small shelf to put their personal belongings in. Our ‘guide’ was a young girl named Gayatri. She told us how kind ‘Sandhya Amma’ (who runs the orphanage and whom we stayed with) was to the girls.

The next day I ran a Python workshop in the same lab for the same set of participants. A considerable amount of time went into downloading the IDE, which failed due to WiFi problems due to power failure. We had no electricity all morning - but this had no effect on the enthusiasm of the participants! I improvised by running the demonstration on my laptop, where the girls crowded round and took notes. They then had a go at coding in Python themselves and asked me many questions. Both workshops ran for around 3 hours each and the positive attitude of the participants was very infectious!

The micro:bit kits we left there will be put to great use as there are further workshops in the pipeline to be run by the students in my workshop. The press covered the event and there is a lot of interest, including from the district collector.

Visiting & running workshops at Aarti Home has been an eye-opening and enjoyable experience for me. I will go back on my next trip to India and run more workshops there.

Thanks Grace, Neill and my mum Namrata for supporting me. Thanks David, Emma and Kavita for helping with the micro:bits. I look forward to more learning and teaching!

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