India - micro:bit workshop

Talakondapally

Akshara School is in the town of Talakondapally, which is about a 100 km south of Hyderabad city. I arrived there with my parents and sister, expecting to run a microbit workshop for a fairly small group of 15-20 students. However, when we arrived I was introduced to a room full of almost a hundred students of Year 10 and 11 and several teachers! Another thing I discovered upon getting there was that the computers did not have internet access, which was expected to be in place around a month later.

Despite this, the faces of everyone in the room were shining with interest and anticipation, which enthused me too.

I decided to run a presentation to introduce the group to coding as they had no idea what programming was. I started off by asking for a couple of volunteers for a demonstration of how humans and robots/computers “think” differently. This activity greatly interested them, and they were all eagerly nodding their heads with understanding. I demonstrated several projects using the microbit and showed how the code worked – and through this showed them how programming logic worked. They loved the radio feature as well as the BitBot robot that I demonstrated. The workshop ran for around 3 hours in all, and despite the power cut (which made it very hot in the room!) they paid full attention to everything I was saying. They also asked questions about practical uses of the microbit and came up with interesting possibilities.

After the workshop, I explained in further detail to the Computer Science teacher how to access the website. In the future I hope to help set up a Code Club there. We left five micro:bit kits with the school and will aim to hold sessions on Skype once their internet is up and running (in the next couple of weeks).

Afterwards, a prize-giving assembly was being held, in which I was invited, unexpectedly, to be the guest of honour! The head of the school invited me to sit next to her on the stage and the students sat in neat rows on the ground under huge neem trees. I was asked to help with handing out awards to top-ranking students in each year, and then to address the assembly too. The teachers all thanked me for introducing the school to coding and the head gave me a memento! They said that as well as introducing coding, I was an excellent role model showing that age or gender did not matter when it came to learning or teaching.

This was followed by a delicious lunch of rice cooked in a traditional way. We were very touched by the warmth of the students, teachers and the organisers. Before heading back to Hyderabad several girls crowded round the car to say bye – I promised to return on my next trip to India.

Teaching these varied audiences has shown me that people everywhere in all circumstances can learn coding if they are enthusiastic enough, aided by tools like the micro:bit, which make coding easy and fun. I am glad I could run the workshops in Aarti Home and Akshara School – they were experiences I will never forget. It made me realize how one can be happy and learn well, no matter what their situation is.

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