Manoj Jamsandekar has enjoyed a long and diverse career. He served the Indian Air Force for eight years, rising to the position of flight lieutenant, and serving as officer-in-charge of Launchers in PECHORA missiles. After retiring in 2003, he spent another 10 years in the IT industry working for MNCs like HCL and IBM.
“The last three years of my life as a corporate employee were spent in Australia,” he says. “Everyone there mentioned Indians as great consumers, but I didn’t hear much about them as makers.” It was also during this period that he experienced alternate teaching methods, through his 2-year-old daughter whose learning included reading, music and playgroups minus parental participation.
When he returned to India with his family, he decided to dedicate himself to work in an area that would encourage a spirit of ‘making’ among Indians. He began his work in late 2013, focusing on the enormous potential of robotics as a teaching mechanism.
His vision led Manoj to start Qurious Mind, an enterprise that makes robotics accessible, and affordable, for school students in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Though he had no formal experience in robotics, technology was never an alien subject for Manoj. An engineer by training, he has dabbled in various branches of his chosen field—from mechanical to electric—during his time in the Air Force and as a corporate employee. On returning to India, he decided to pursue his vision full-time.
His aim was to use robotics as a tool for forward-thinking education.“Teaching was my passion,” he says, adding that his emphasis was at all times to simplify robotics in a manner that it would be accessible for school going children to understand.
He encouraged children to explore the area, and created a robotics curriculum that could be run in tandem with the school’s conventional syllabus. “My first school was a prestigious institution in Kolhapur. It was my big break,” says Manoj.
Since then, Qurious Mind has organised workshops in around 20 schools, and also set up robotics labs in a few institutions.
“We have been active in Maharashtra, and we have held a few workshops in Gujarat too,” says Manoj. Their robotics lab in a Kolhapur school has helped 180 students, and the number of students is expected to rise up to 300 this year. Though India has a long way to go in appreciating and adopting robotics, Manoj is sure of its creative and practical value.
“Robotics is part of STEM learning, and taking a practical approach is helpful for students,” he says. “Additionally, robotics also involves physics, maths and trigonometry. Students sometimes find these subjects difficult, but robotics can make the learning process simpler.”
In his effort, Manoj’s partners and support has been his wife Nutan. Having worked in IT for 15 years, she serves as the company’s Technical Director. The couple have also recently added a few members to the team, taking up the strength to seven.
In their next step, the couple is now developing a method of making syllabus-driven education more accessible through games and experiments. For instance, logical reasoning is boosted by puzzle sessions and Manoj hopes to include website development and app building to boost creativity as well as entrepreneurship.
Having studied in a Marathi-medium school, Manoj is also invested in making robotics accessible for students in every school.
Qurious Mind works with NGOs to hold workshops and sessions in municipal schools, and are now planning a summer workshop for students from Marathi-medium schools. “We keep the terms in English, and teach the rest in Marathi,” he says, adding that access to mobile and television has made it possible for children to understand such concepts better.
It is also one of the reasons that Manoj stresses on affordable prices. Starting out, one of his biggest challenges was the astronomical prices of robotics kits usually made by international brands like Lego. To solve the issue, he decided to take up manufacturing the kits too.
“We started making our own kits, and they are priced from ₹500,” he says. “We also encourage the use of materials like cardboard for robotics, which helps to reduce the cost too.”
Manoj is on a mission to encourage robotics in a country where parents and schools are still unaware of its potential. Despite the challenge, he thinks it is a necessity in times when technology rules the roost. Automation is considered the driving force for the next 20-25 years and robotics is a key arm of this technology.
More importantly, Manoj hopes to use this growing technology as means of transforming education in Indian schools. “Children are imaginative and experimental,” he says, and teaching them the means of problem-solving on their own, rather than textbook commandments, is sure to add value to their lives.
With additional inputs from Lahiri Bellarykar.