In a move that aims to benefit 65,600 students and 540 teachers from government and government-aided schools in Goa, the State government in March this year implemented its novel and first of its kind in India – Coding and Robotics Education in Schools Scheme from the academic year 2021-22.
The scheme aims to incorporate computational and design thinking abilities, as well as programming, into the Goa state board curriculum to prepare students to the needs of the digital world in the 21st century. It was introduced by Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant, who is also the Minister of Education. The State government is looking to make this sort of skill education (coding and problem solving skills) accessible to school-going children from all sections of society.
This scheme is a collaborative effort of the Directorate of Technical Education (DTE), Directorate of Education, State Council Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and industry experts. A Project Management Unit (PMU) headed by Dr Vijay Borges reports to Dr Vivek B. Kamat, Director of DTE, and is tasked with the everyday functioning of the scheme.
“Presently, the mandate of this scheme is for middle school, i.e, Class 6, 7, and 8. The State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) has revamped the computer science syllabus of these classes based on the PMU’s inputs. The PMU has created lesson plans for regular and optional syllabus. The idea is to tap into the creative and problem solving mindset of every student early on and provide training to convert it into a skill. The scheme also intends to achieve education through self exploration, where computers serve as fast feedback providers, helping the student evaluate ideas and improve early. This scheme was Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant’s idea endorsed by visionary Goan scientist Dr Raghunath Mashlekar, who saw the merit in implementing it state-wide. The scheme became a reality once it was announced in the State Budget by the chief minister,” Dr Vijay Borges tells The Better India.
While nations like the United States, Singapore and the United Kingdom have adopted a nationwide computing curriculum, the Goa Government, inspired by the National Educational Policy 2020 — which has sought to introduce coding and greater exposure to technology for students from Class 6 onwards — has taken a similar mandate state-wide.
Why Coding and Robotics
Pallavi Naik, a school computer teacher in Curchorem town, believes the decision to introduce subjects like coding to young school students is necessary.
“Computational thinking, reasoning and problem solving are some must-have skills of the 21st century. The implementation of the coding and robotics curriculum in schools has helped discover the students’ interest in block-based coding, which is definitely a stepping stone for those opting for a career in the field of computer programming. In the past three months, four computer teachers from our school have observed remarkable interest from students in doing coding projects using tools like Pictoblox (a graphical programming software)/Scratch (a high-level block-based visual programming language) programming which is a very colourful interactive graphical user interface. Its features, like drag drop and stack blocks, make it easy to use from a child’s perspective and they enjoy coding as a result,” says Pallavi.
Incorporating coding and robotics at the middle school level could mould students onto the path of computational and design thinking, while also teaching themselves to work in a peer network. “The child will develop a fun way of tackling the problem at hand and take an empathetic approach to it. Students will not look at the subject in isolation but in a holistic manner, applying cross domain knowledge. The scheme looks to not only educate the child about the end result, but also throw more focus on the approach adopted. It also looks to achieve collaborative learning, which will sharpen learning and problem solving,” says Dr Nagaraj Honnikeri, Director of SCERT, Goa.
Training Teachers to Teach Coding
Computer teachers from Government and Government-aided schools are preparing lesson plans. But how are they doing it?
Industry experts are conducting training sessions on the skills domains listed in syllabus to a group of selected teachers termed as Master Trainers. At the end of training, these Master Trainers brainstorm, arrive at a set of lesson plans, and write a detailed handbook which consists of week-wise lesson plans. They subsequently train all the computer teachers on the implementation of the lesson plan actually in the class.
So it is a ‘bottom up’ driven model wherein the computer teachers are empowered to decide and plan the entire implementation of the syllabus and its rollout in schools.
There are 540 school teachers who are striving to mitigate the skill gap and train students to get prepared for this evolving digital age by massively revamping the computer science syllabus.
“The syllabus consists of Regular and Optional components. The regular syllabus is undertaken during regular school hours in 430 schools for two sessions per week by computer teachers. This is mandatory for all the schools and students of classes 6, 7 and 8. For the optional syllabus, which consists of higher-order subjects (artificial intelligence/machine learning, robotics etc,), we will have special instructors named Teach For Goa (TFG) fellows who undergo the pedagogical training to teach it. The optional syllabus will be taken up during non school hours for two hours a week and will be based on the student opting for it,” explains Dr Vivek B. Kamat, Director, DTE-Goa.
The PMU constituted under the Directorate of Technical Education tasked to implement the scheme will appoint and engage ‘Teach For Goa Fellows, Volunteers and Mentors’ as instructors for the advanced part of the curriculum and for providing troubleshooting and teaching guidance to existing computer teachers.
The TFG fellowship will provide an opportunity to professionals where they will undergo pedagogical training and learn of other requirements to deliver the subjects in the optional curriculum. The Goa government believes it’s an opportunity for the graduate BE/BTech or ME/MTech candidates from the best colleges and workplaces to make a real difference. Each Teach for Goa (TFG) Fellow will be assigned four to six schools. Meanwhile, TFG Mentor is for professionals to enroll as mentors and be the bridge between TFG fellows and students, whereas TFG Volunteers provides an opportunity for college or graduate students to embed themselves in schools on a year long or project duration basis.
As Nausil Shah Muzawar, a Class 6 computer teacher at Unity High School, Valpoi, says, “When I heard about coding and robotics education being introduced in the ICT curriculum of Class 6, 7 and 8, I was very excited. As a computer engineer, I wanted this change in the ICT curriculum. The most exciting part of the new curriculum is the pictoblox application, which is a good tool for students to develop their computational thinking, coding skills, etc.”
Nausil notes that initially, the students were confused about why pictoblox is required. After explaining to them the benefits of developing computational thinking skills, he also hooked them on how they can use tools like pictoblox to build games using animation.
“I have also told them to stop drawing on paper and instead start drawing in a pictoblox. At first only two students came forward. They were able to do whatever projects I gave them. I decided to keep their project screenshot as my WhatsApp status so that other students can see it. Then, more students came forward. Now they draw their favourite things in a pictoblox and send me their projects on WhatsApp at any time in the day. I feel proud and glad that the students have started using and adapting their new-found pictoblox skills,” he adds.
As Noor Mohammad Pasha, a Class 6 student at the Unity High School in Valpoi, notes, “Pictoblox was first introduced in my class by my computer teacher Nausil Sir. In the first class he started with the basics of pictoblox. Initially, I found it hard to understand, but as Sir started to teach it in more detail, my understanding grew and I began practicing daily. Sir taught us different types of shapes like square, rectangle, semi circle, pentagon and hexagon, among others, and my interest increased each day. I soon attended the All Goa Lantern Making Coding Competition, which was my first ever coding contest, followed by a Covid Care Project and a drawing of Chacha (Jawaharlal) Nehru for Children’s Day. After that I did some of my own designs and also did animation of a cricket game by myself. I love pictoblox coding now.”
Meanwhile, Bhushan K Savaikar, Director of Education-Goa, explains, “School students need to be taught robotics and coding to mitigate the demands of the digital age. Computing is ubiquitous and people from every walk of life need to be familiar with it. This is why computational thinking is introduced in schools at such a young age. Children need to bring creativity in their problem solving skills. Computational thinking driven through this scheme will involve problem decomposition and logical steps to solve problems.”
Asha Irappa Koudi, a class 7 student of The New Educational Institute at Curchorem, says, “I love coding, and I now have a desire to code. My teacher taught us to code shapes such as squares, triangles, and circles. When she was teaching us, I thought she was doing magic. When I saw that, I also felt like coding like her and started doing projects in pictoblox on a mobile phone. Participating in a local taluka coding competition where I finished second, attending an online boot camp organised by my teachers and coding a picture of Mahatma Gandhi on 2nd October (Gandhi Jayanthi) this year at school gave me more confidence. Coding has really improved my mathematical skills and intellect.”
Since the scheme was introduced in March this year, there were multiple sets of competitions for students. Besides encouraging them to participate in hackathons, conferences, and symposiums, the government will look to offer funding and traineeship opportunities to students for developing project ideas.
“Budgetary provisions to facilitate student participation in competitions and hackathons at National and International level have been made. This initiative of allowing students to bring their creativity and innovations will be best brought out via their participation and performance at State and National level initiatives like competitions and hackathons. Select bright students will be sent on study visits to knowledge parks, IT clusters at national and international levels to have an immersive experience and collaborative learning,” claims Dr Vijay Borges.
In the coming years, additional classes and technical manpower could be included in the scheme with additional hardware like robotic kits, tinkering kits, 3D printers and drones, etc.
Unlike Private Ed-Tech
This curriculum does not aim to teach syntax of programming language or features of the tools being used.
“Instead, it aims at solving problems by using simple concepts and the right tools. Relatability to the real world, real needs and problems at hand drives the need for these concepts to be taught,” says Anay Kamat, an industry expert working in close collaboration with the Goa government.
“Our coding and robotic education scheme is not focussing on a certain tool but the aim is to train these students to be creators, inventors and adopters of technology. Looking 10 years down the line, we hope to see a new education and training ecosystem emerging in which some skills, creativity, problem solving and job preparedness functions are performed by formal educational institutions in fairly traditional classroom settings,” concludes Dr Vijay Borges.
(For more information, you can visit the CARES Goa website.)
(Edited by Divya Sethu)