Students who have just finished writing their board exams typically long to cast aside their books for a break. However, at the Devnar School for the Blind in Hyderabad, seven students are looking forward to staying back in school even after their Std X exams. They are, after all, about to have their first brush with coding.

Helping them in this is a cardboard-based tactile coding kit that Next Skills 360, a four-year-old start-up, has created for school students. The company is beta testing the kit.

“We are testing it with small groups of learners to improve the kit after taking the feedback,” says Suraj Meiyur, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Hyderabad-based start-up.

The tactile coding kit, embossed with Braille script (along with English), is an improvised version of a coding kit — named ProGame — made up of cardboard blocks that the start-up had earlier developed and used in hundreds of schools across the country.

The kit works in tandem with tools available on an AI-based app. Students arrange the cardboard blocks in a logical sequence and scan them using a mobile phone to generate an ‘output’. For instance, a set of blocks showing a cat, a beach, and a circle would need to be arranged in a specific order to generate a small video clip of a cat drawing a circle on the beach.

Problem-solving skill

The start-up aims to ensure that government school students, who are often deprived of good teaching in mathematics and science, do not also lose out on coding skills, Meiyur says. 

“Unlike their peers in private schools, they don’t have access to computers. By offering foundational coding techniques, we are exposing them to logical thinking and problem-solving methods,” he says.

Using cardboard blocks, Next Skills 360’s ProGame take coding skills to schools that have no computers

Using cardboard blocks, Next Skills 360’s ProGame take coding skills to schools that have no computers

The teaching module does away with the need to learn the jargon associated with coding. “They don’t need to learn all of that syntax required to write a program. If they make an error, the whole program fails. So we made it easier by avoiding that route and giving them blocks to complete the tasks,” he says.

The start-up trained over 10,000 teachers to use the app and teach students to code. “In a single project, about 34,000 students in 250 schools in Asifabad district of Telangana learnt the first level (foundation) of coding,” he says. “We will introduce the second level from the next academic year,” he adds.

Coding for all

Meiyur says the start-up aims to teach life skills, including protection against child abuse and coping with peer pressure, alongside coding skills to children in underserved communities. 

“We have taught coding and life skills to 2.4 lakh students belonging to the under-served category. Now we are building a specialised kit for visually challenged students. After testing it, we will make it available to all,” Meiyur says.

He and his wife, Sowjanya, are both recipients of the MIT Solve fellowship, an initiative by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to fund solutions that use technology in innovative and equitable ways. The couple is using MIT’s Scratch platform, an exclusive free coding community for kids, as a base to develop their coding kit for school students. 

The bootstrapped start-up is making profits.

“We plan to go for fund-raising by the end of the year to expand operations,” Meiyur says.

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