Aditi Prasad Is Coding The Future By Teaching STEM Skills To Young Girls Through Robotics
- IWB Post
- February 10, 2018
Isn’t curiosity a really curious concept? The seed of curiosity that their father planted in their childhood is growing into a big strong tree as siblings and visionaries Aditi Prasad and Deepti Rao Suchindran are on a big curious adventure shaping the future through robotics. The sister duo is revolutionizing education by teaching STEM skills through coding-based toys and fun activities.
Aditi Prasad and Deepti Rao Suchindran, who are the COO and CIO of Robotix Learning Solutions respectively, are teaching coding to kids from the age group of 4-18 to develop their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills.
I got the opportunity to interact with Aditi, who firmly believes that technology is going to take over everything in the future and coding would be a prerequisite instead of a special skill to thrive in the future. While you read about this avant-garde educator, I better go and learn some coding!
Here are excerpts from the interview:
From pursuing Masters in Public Policy from Singapore to robotics, tell me about the transformation.
Pursuing Masters in Public Policy from Singapore was kind of a stark experience as Indian students. It was like a harsh slap across our faces. We had no analytical mindsets, we were lagging and this had to be changed. When I entered the business, it was a lot of inspiration from the family. We wanted to reshape the entire Indian education system and we never tried to impart education for the sake of it.
Therefore, we are now teaching kids from the age group of 4-18 to code in STEM and trying to provide them with all the 21st century skill-sets. We make educational toys which are entirely Make in India products. Through these toys, we aim to teach kids to programme and code from the scratch.
You have often talked about your dad’s contribution in your success. What is it that your dad did differently than usual parenting?
We were always blessed in the sense that our dad never made us feel like we were anything less or different from anyone or any guy. He always taught us to be the best at everything that we did. He taught us all the necessary qualities to be curious, hardworking and self-reliant. While we learnt concepts at school, our father ensured that we get a hands-on experience of everything at home. Even when we were really young, he’d ask us to read a paragraph from Time Magazine and say it is very interesting, read this and tell me what’s your opinion on this? It impacted our thinking and shaped our opinions.
Tell me about the biggest curious adventure with your dad.
(Surprised by the question) Wow! The depth of knowledge that he possesses has always been an inspiration for us. He instilled in us a curiosity for everything. I always saw him being excited and curious about everything. So the biggest adventure with my dad would certainly be the curiosity that he instilled in me. He taught us that the best way to appreciate things is to learn from them and that is how we adopted his curiosity.
Talking about confidence, what do you think is the reason that kills confidence in girls. How do you think can we code confidence into girls?
At Indian Girls Code, we have observed that a lot of decisions and choices for the girls are made by their parents. The gender biases are quite apparent in the toys and activities that are chosen for the girls. For instance, the parents tend to buy pink clothes and dolls for their daughters. On the contrary, the kind of activities that the boys are made to do form the basic building blocks and their games and exercises help in problem-solving and stuff. So, the first change that we need to bring is to allow them to decide what they want to play, how they want to play and when they want to play. For example, if a girl chooses a remote control car over a doll let her do it. And let her decide for herself. We can instill confidence in girls by empowering them with different skill sets.
I read it somewhere that in an interview Mark Zuckerberg shared how he wears the same clothes and hoodies every day. This is probably because he doesn’t consider it a big decision and he’d rather be making big decisions. What I want to imply here is that a change in the mindsets is very important. The girls should be provided with good quality toys and should be given an equal footing to the boys. I am not saying more footing but equal footing. We are working with kids as young as four, an age where a lot of gender biases begin to seep in. We are trying to make them innovators, creators, and little leaders.
Secondly, increased women mentorship can help a lot. There are now many women coming into the field and they can set a very good example in the sense that they can make young girls think that if she can do it so can I. It will set a realistic example in front of the girls which they will find achievable.
If you follow the trends you will witness a mystical disappearance of girls from the fields pertaining to science and technology with time and age. Can you decode it for us?
If you look at the sex ratio at high school level it’s not bad. But it drops when it comes to enrolling in engineering and further drops with jobs. It hits its lowest low with the mid-level of career. These statistics have a lot to do with the social biases and gender responsibilities. A woman is supposed to fulfill many commitments including family, home etc. She is considered the primary caregiver of the house and these biases are so deeply entrenched that she is constantly questioning how to balance work and home. Although a lot of workplaces in India are changing it now and providing women with flexible timings, maternity leaves etc.
What was your first tech project that became a success? How did it make you feel?
It’s always a fantastic feeling and I felt ecstatic when our first project became a huge success. It was a Lego-compatible Phyro robot. We wanted to make sure that they are completely made in India as it is a country full of engineers. So, we aimed to make real world class products for a global audience. We received an overwhelming response for the product.
As educators, it is very fascinating and exciting to see kids learn from our products. Their eyes light up when they create something of their own and as educators, it’s very rewarding to witness the process.
How can we inspire parents to teach coding to their kids? Can coding teach other life skills?
If we try to define coding in really crude language it is a bunch of steps which give us outputs, right? Coding enhances logical thinking and sequential programming can teach problem-solving effectively.
For instance, think of Amazon. They found a product-consumer gap and solved it by making the product available at the doorsteps of the consumer by just a click of the mouse. So coding and programming can certainly solve problems be it social or the scale of Amazon. A few years down the road technology is literally going to be everywhere no matter what field and coding is preparing our kids for the new tech-savvy world.
Technology is taking over both hardware as well as software. Platforms like Uber and Airbnb have changed the landscape of others industries drastically. Do you know that the valuation of Airbnb is equal to all the big hotel chains in the world combined? And what is Airbnb? It is literally a website! All thanks to Uber you don’t need to buy a car anymore as it provides you with the comforts of a chauffeur driven car at a much cheaper cost than car maintenance, fuel and driver’s salary. Technology is disrupting the current industry space and things are changing for better. It is like the Industrial Revolution. Hence preparing your girls with the essential skills to thrive in that kind of market is extremely important.
Sounds to me like you are designing the future!
That is the point! Currently, there are so many engineers in the country but where are the jobs? We need to fill the gap between the talent and job opportunities and we are aiming to empower the kids with the skill sets to achieve the same.
How did UNESCO’s policy forum where you were a keynote speaker impact your life?
First of all, since I am a student of public policy, it is something that I always wanted to be a part of and thus it was like a dream come true. To see the number of people who have come together from different parts of the world and know how they are working together to transform the society is definitely exciting. Though it was a little disappointing to see no Indian representation but I hope the dynamics will change very soon.
Do you think that the Indian educational system requires changes? If yes, what would you like to change?
Yes, the entire system! (Laughs) Although our education system provides with a strong foundation what it lacks is an independent mindset. We need to make education more practical and thus infuse it with more hands-on learning. The teacher-student dynamics need to change and the teacher should transform into more of a facilitator. Secondly, project-based learning is very important. We need to make education more play-oriented. For instance, what we do is we ask our students to identify a social problem and then shoot a movie on it in groups. This helps them grow and learn in multiple dimensions.
How did your sister code get stronger with robotics?
I have not been asked these kinds of questions before! Very few people know this but we are actually three sisters and we are all super close. We have always been everything for each other. We have our separate strengths and that is how we have separated our duties. We really believe that as girls our experiences have taught us really differently. Coding has taught us the importance of empowering girls and our bonding helped us bring about that change.
Would you like to share the warmest memory of your childhood along with your sisters?
We were not allowed to watch TV from Monday to Friday evenings and thus during the weekdays whenever our parents went out we’d sneakily watch TV. One of us used to guard the door to send a warning and we used to take turns for that. Three of us always had each other’s back. Whenever we think of our childhood it comes up as one of the fondest memories.