In small town Telangana, an attempt to embed coding skills in students

The training programme selected one student each from classes 8 and 9 in the 13 schools along with a teacher from the school.

Every evening, 14-year-old Tasnia Tasneem waits for her father to finish his day and return home early. As he returns and gets busy with family chores, Tasneem wastes no time to take away his Samsung smartphone. The device is her portal into another world, a world of mobile phone games. But the teenager is not playing them, but practicing how to create new ones and exploring what is beyond.

The Class 9 student from Makthala, a small town in Telangana’s Narayanpet district, Tasneem has never learnt the basics of computers. Till a month ago, she had no idea what goes into the development of the animations and games that she played on her father’s smartphone. Now Tasneem, who aims to become a scientist when she grows up, is confident that she has made the first step in the right direction.

She was among the batch of 26 students and 13 teachers from 13 government schools in Makthala who recently finished a two-week online course on coding organised by the Telangana Information Technology Association (TITA). Following an online assessment, these students are certified as Telangana Early Coders (TEC) by the University of Texas in Dallas (UTD).

“I never got an opportunity to learn computers. Though there were initial hiccups, my parents are very happy and proud that I could make a few games and animation stories on my own using my father’s phone. The course was an exciting experience,” says the student of Telangana Minorities Residential Educational Institutions Society (TMREIS) school.

“The plan is to impart coding literacy to one lakh students in Telangana before 2022,” said Sandeep Kumar Makthala, the global president of TITA.

“The World Economic Forum 2019 has said that 65 per cent of students in primary school now are going to do jobs which do not even exist today. In 2022, 133 million jobs are to be created using AI. The first step towards this future is imparting coding.”

G Rajitha, a Class 8 student of Zilla Parishad Girls High School and daughter of a farmer couple in Dundu village near Makthala, says it was the first time she used a zoom call. “I found it very interesting. We could interact with our tutor and get clarifications instantly,” said the student who aspires to become a Mathematics teacher. She is now eager to go back to school once regular classes resume. “It was a great opportunity. My friends are eager to know and learn what I learnt from this course.”

The training programme selected one student each from classes 8 and 9 in the 13 schools along with a teacher from the school.

Mohammed Aijaz Ali, a Mathematics teacher from Rajitha’s school, who participated in the programme, has only words of praise for the organisers. “These are students from underprivileged families in rural areas. Most students have not used a computer before. They have no avenues to learn coding, which is nothing but writing a set of instructions for the computer to react the way you want it to. Such early training will expose them to a wide range of opportunities,” he said.

Students learnt Scratch and Python programming languages. Apart from designing games like Apple and Bowl, Cat and Mouse, etc they learnt to develop a calculator and design different quizzes. By choosing Scratch programming, which is as simple as plain English, Makthala says the idea was to let students understand the logic behind the coding.

“The certified students will have to educate 10 students each. We will give them a task every month and also conduct a hackathon every three months so that they stay connected to the course,” said Makthala. About 40 per cent of the students secured a score of over 80 per cent in the online assessment by the University of Texas at Dallas and all students have scored marks above 60 per cent.

According to Harichandana Dasari, the district collector of Narayanpet, the course has instilled a lot of confidence in the students from the government schools who doubted if they could do it. There are about 1,100 schools across the district and the course will be extended to schools across the district.

“We have asked the school education department. In addition to ongoing digital education, this is something like extra-curricular learning. It will be like an outside school activity to promote learning. After all, all that one needs is a smartphone,” she told.

While it is a topic of debate if children should be exposed to coding at a young age, as psychologists believe it might put an additional burden on them to compete with their peers and thereby add to stress levels, the district collector begs to differ. “Everyone might not want to become a software engineer. Right now we are looking at it as an extracurricular activity like painting, dancing, etc. It has become a confidence builder for them. They will know about a different opportunity out there,” she said, adding that whoever is interested is welcome to take up the course.

Collaborating with the Department of School Education and the Department of Information Technology, TITA had earlier this year conducted a six-day pilot training programme to introduce coding to students of 18 government schools in Atmakur and Amarchinta mandals of Wanaparthy district. While the students, equipped with laptops, were physically present for learning then, the latest batch of students undertook the course through video-conferencing.


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