A social enterprise uses Lego and robotics to make STEM education fun for Pakistani children.
Muhammad Mubeen Javed
Robokids is a Lahore-based social enterprise that offers interactive courses in games programming, electronics, robotics, and mathematics. This organization is using Lego and robotics to popularize Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education.
Robokids believes that there are certain practical and soft skills that students don’t learn in an academic setting. It includes organizational skills, team management, and creativity. It aims to equip children with these skills to grow up and start their careers.
Aftab Khan, the founder, and director of Robokids said:
“There are practical skills like programming that every child should start learning. Programming languages are becoming a necessity.”
The team at Robokids comprises of electrical engineers and computer science graduates. The team designs courses for participants ranging from three-year-olds to adults. Classes for children are designed using a pedigree of Lego products called Duplo. These are easier to handle. Blocks provided to three year old and given a problem situation. The kids learn problem-solving by these blocks.
The aim is to teach them that it’s possible to solve any kind of problem as long as you go about it in a planned and organized scientific manner.
A class ‘App Studio I’ teaches children between the ages of nine to make a smartphone app. Using an open-source web application called MIT App Inventor. The kids who are newcomers to computer programming can create software applications that can run on the Android operating system.
In the basement, three groups of students are preparing for the World Robot Olympiad. The theme for this year is “Food Matters.” Participating teams are given a mission and to accomplish it. They have to design, assemble and program a robot model that is capable of performing the challenge, or can demonstrate a solution for a real-life problem.
Nearly 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger. But roughly about a third of the world’s food production goes to waste. The mission of this year is to make a robot that can help reduce food waste.
Saif, Ayan, and Rabyan are competing in the seven to 12-year age category, have to design a robot that can sort fruit products from a farm according to their appearance or quality.
The robot has to pick up colored bricks (where each color represents a different type of fruit from the farm) and then transport them to places that can make use of it instead of letting it go to waste.
A colorful map with a black grid on it is spread out on the floor. Pointing at the map, Ayan said,
“We are making a program so we can sort out the different fruits that are here. Blue means rotten fruit, Green blocks mean unripe fruit, red means fresh fruit and so on. We have to program the robot so it follows the black lines, picks up the blocks and places them in the correct color-coded grocery store, ripening room, food factory or biogas power plant.”
To complete its mission, each robot has to perform its tasks on the map and then return to the finishing line.
“The fresh fruit goes to the grocery store, unripe fruit to a ripening room, ugly fruit to a factory to be processed into juice, fruit salad or smoothies, and rotten fruit to a biogas power plant.”
Another group of students are putting finishing touches on their robotic model. Taking part in the 13-15 year category of the competition, the theme “precision farming” assigned to them.
A growing population in the world requires increased food production. One way to go about this is to use technologies like drones, robots, and satellites to make the usage of arable land more efficient. The mission of the robot is to collect data on the soil quality of the fields of different farms. Based on this information, they have to take different seedlings (in the form of colored bricks) and plant them in the correct place based on the soil quality.
Indicating a series of obstacles on the map, 13-year old Sara says:
“We built the robot high because we are planning to make it go over these walls.” Placing the robot on the map, she explains that they had designed it so the wheels were on each side and not the middle, so it could successfully go over the walls without any hurdles. We still have to add program and arm the robot now.”
Robotics is a popular academic field in the developed world. In Pakistan, it remains on the fringes, with most academics and students choosing more conservative options for specialization.
Aftab Khan said: “Parents and school administrations have to understand that the earlier they can get the students to learn these, the better.”