Hacking Education – A Makerspace Experiment

This is an Education hack, and it’s pretty awesome. [Abhijit Sinha] received an Engineering degree and took up a run-of-the mill IT job in Bangalore, considered India’s IT hub. 7 months down the line on Dec 31st, he gave notice to the company and quit his “boring” job. He ended up in Banjarpalya, a village just 30 kms out of Bangalore. But it could well have been 30 years back in time. The people there had never come across computers, and there wasn’t much sign of other modern technology. So he set up Project DEFY – Design Education for You.

He bought a few refurbished laptops, took a room, and put kids and computers together. Except, these kids just knew a smattering of English. They went to the village school, run by the government and staffed by teachers whose training was basic, at best. He told the kids there are games in those boxes for them to play, but they’d have to figure it out on their own, without help from him. Pretty soon, all of them were playing games like they were pros. That’s when [Abhijit] stepped in and told them that they’d created a base line for having fun. Everything else they did from now on had to be more fun than what they had just done. If they were interested, he would show them how.

He had a gaggle of kids waiting to hear him with rapt attention. He showed them how to look online for information. He showed them how they could learn how to build fun projects by looking up websites like Instructables, and then use locally available materials and their own ingenuity to build and modify. Once a project was done, he showed them how to post details about what they had done and learnt so others around the world could learn from them. The kids took to all this like fish to water. They couldn’t wait to get through 5 hours of school each day, and then head over to their makerspace to spend hours tinkering. Check out their Instructable channel – and see if you can give them some guidance and advice.

A year onwards, on Dec 31st again, [Abhijit] gathered the kids, and several adults who had joined in during the year, telling them he had news. He had figured they were independent enough to run the space on their own now, without any help from him. He would still get them the 500 odd Dollars they needed each month to keep it operational. Other than that, they were on their own. He’s been monitoring their progress, and from the looks of it, the hack seems to have worked. More power to [Abhijit] and others like him around the world who are trying to bring the spirit of making to those who probably stand to benefit from it the most. Check out the videos below where they show off their work.

PS : Here’s the latest update from [Abhijit] : “Got back to the Banjarapalya Makerspace after quite a while, and this is what they show me – they built a little plane. Of course it crash lands, and needs a better programming, but I am super impressed that they are ready to fly.
Anyone who wants to help them technically? Financially? With parts and components ?”

18 thoughts on “Hacking Education – A Makerspace Experiment

  1. I would have enjoyed something like that where I grew up, though I would probably have been more about learning than doing.

    After having learned the basics like reading, writing and doing basic math/maths, I have often felt that school held me back a bit by limiting the time I had left for reading into more interesting stuff, usually to try understand what I saw and read about outside of school.

    In essence I would rather have had hints and tips on information gathering, problem solving and in particular finding learning paths to gather needed skills needed for completing certain goals (and sometimes lots of pep talk), than having to go through something akin to a multi-shot injection molding process within a limited time budget, having to fit the mold and in short time.

    I should probably also note that curriculums probably could be expected to be lagging up to a decade from the real need and be colored by more or less ephemeral ideas from the time of their conception.

    Side note: I find it to be a very basic and not too uncommon pedagogical mistake to give instructions that only are useful in certain circumstances, rather than to do the usually better thing and instead teach more general principles that can be applied in more situations.

    A specific example picked up from a FaceRocker podcast (#44, https://youtu.be/mLLvByG4Cag?t=19m14s) is teaching people how to use certain video editing and post effects techniques in certain software but failing to teach them the more general stuff like what filters and effects usually can be found in various pieces of software, differences in nomenclature between them and how they can be combined, and in particular failing by not teaching script writing and various way to build up a good story.

    1. Thank you. What you write is so meaningful. Everyone has different ways of learning and therefore generalising doesn’t work. You might want to read, and someone else wants to dive right in. All we really need to do is to make the options available, and let people find their own way. It is confusing and not as obvious as holding the torch for someone, but I believe that it leads to a much deeper understanding of what one wants, and thereafter a much stronger will.

  2. Twenty-five years ago when I served on a school commissioner there was an endless amount of handwringing over the need to instal computers in the classroom and to teach these skills in the belief that without this the kids would be left behind. However I was not among those because I could see that my son and my nephews had taught themselves far more quickly, and in far more depth than any structured classroom teaching could have ever done.

    1. Quite the scene in India, and what happened with the ICT school programs. Many computers are locked, many were sold, and only a few ever used. The reason being that someone just believed computers were important to teach, but did not convey to the learners why they were important to learn about. And of course, everyone was too scared to touch them – especially the teachers who themselves had no idea how to operate these properly, and could not bring themselves to fiddle with it, or let the kids figure out.

  3. Public schools should adopt that same model….
    Make their life so unbearably uneventful and depressing that they can’t help but to become passionate about any possible release.

  4. The most important skill you can teach a student is not how to get good grades, not how to take tests, but how to learn on their own. too many people graduate from high school and college and do not continue their education on their own. they believe that without a teacher that they cannot learn. We are much more capable and can use our intuition and build upon knowledge to solve new problems. if you are not afraid to make mistakes and break something, then you will never learn something. in any science, failure is an option because even in failure you learn something – if you do not try in the first place, then you will never learn.

  5. This makes me nervous…

    If the instructions / comments are to be believed a kid has created a mains-voltage short-circuit with bare wires in a bucket of water… and probably creating explosive gases by electrolysis as a side-effect for good measure. Now I realise there’s plenty of other ways for children to kill themselves in a rural village in India but this is why a little bit of supervision from a knowledgeable adult is a good idea.

    1. Hi John, Thank you for the comment.
      The makerspace receives both kids and adults, and the access of things increase with proven experience.
      Shivaraj, who made this project is about 25 years old, and has worked with heaters in a diploma program.
      There is supervision in the space, and the people within the space do that, as they get more experienced. Kids generally are not making anything that goes directly into a wall-socket, and uses more than 12 volts.
      The most important thing though, are the comments on instructables, which pointed out the possible danger of hydrogen here due to electrolysis. He quickly had responded to it accepting his fault and agreeing to change the model . Maybe he should also edit the intractable. However, the fact that he is supervised not just bone person, but by many who are not physically present but can see his work, is why this becomes possible.

      1. And actually I am being told that they do this all around the village as a common way of heating. The fact that the instructable was made, and Shivraj received the comment, many more people here know what is wrong with this, and can prevent harm to many many people.

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