Image: P Ravi Kumar
Sneha Priya’s mantra to introduce any technology is simple: the right exposure at the right age. “It must not be the other way around—just making it compulsory for the kids,” says cofounder of SP Robotic Works. Decoding the hysteria around coding for children in India, Priya concedes that the way it (coding) is being communicated to the parents, and the kind of FOMO being created, is probably not going in the right direction. “But if a kid embraces coding, it will be useful for her future,” she says.
Started in 2012 by Pranavan and Sneha Priya, SP Robotic Works is an online edutainment company that specialises in providing experiential learning to students between the ages of 7 and 17, in latest technologies such as robotics, coding, drone, AI, VR and IoT. The idea is to promote STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through AI-powered online learning platforms. “We have robotic courses designed in such a way that the child gets an exposure to all the components at an early age,” she says.
SP Robotic Works, which has over 80 branches across India apart from overseas presence, added one lakh students post pandemic. Stressing that the problem in the education system starts from an early age, when a child doesn’t get exposure or is not empowered to make the right choice later on, Priya contends that there are millions of engineers who made wrong decisions in opting for such a profession. “They were not given the right exposure at the right age,” she says, adding that career changes could’ve happened if the child had been exposed to options early on. Today, she lets on, if you ask any engineer or anybody the reason to opt for engineering, all of them will say it was the trend or their father asked them to take it. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Q. You have been teaching robotics for over seven years now, but you couldn’t glamourise the subject the way coding startups have done in over six months…
It’s because the kind of capital that has gone into it, and the type of FOMO languages that have been used. We chose not to use such language.
Q. There is another reason. You didn’t show parents that there’s big money to be made in robotics. Coding companies sold that dream…
Yes, it's about what is being showcased big and bigger. I understand the thought process makes it big, but there is another aspect to it: exposure of kids at a young age so that they make the right decision unlike the previous generation or my generation. The kind of decisions that have come out are not so great because of the lack of exposure. I am not saying that the parents are not influencing their child, but a child with the exposure doesn't get easily influenced. We believe in delivering what we commit on the table to a customer. What we commit is the kind of exposure that the child can have and the fun that the child will have by learning all of these technologies.
Q. So we need a generation of techies and engineers?
I’m not advocating that idea. All I’m saying here is that it’s about giving exposure to the child. Today you are teaching them HTML and some coding that has become redundant long time ago. Now they are bringing C+ and Python, the new age coding, subjects are being revised and the way concepts are being taught has changed. Coding is a separate branch of computer science. Look at it from the other side: coding is just a small part of computer science. We keep telling parents that it’s more like fun and that’s the whole point of doing it, we don’t want children to stress about it. Give the child exposure early to make the right choice.
Q. You mean to say a child would be in a position to influence parents regarding her choices
Yes, because you would be able to logically explain to the parents. Today parents are making decisions for the child because the child doesn't know anything. It should be the reverse way around. We've done this research as a part of our product development. We spoke to lakhs of engineers, and all of them have gone by the societal decisions or their parents' decisions because they didn’t know anything about that particular subject. How will they take the decision? So they have to go by the word of someone they trust. I think NEP (new education policy) is addressing that aspect of it. We can't continue teaching the way it is being done. It needs to change.
Q. Is the problem only with the way a subject is taught or with the quality of teachers as well
There was a time when we couldn't find good trainers in the market. We relied on AI (artificial intelligence) based teaching because we couldn't find quality trainers. I come from a teaching background. All our ancestors were teachers. A child likes a subject because of a teacher. That’s how a child is wired. If a subject is taught well by the teacher, then the child scores better. So, it is all about the content rather than anything else around it. Right from school all the way up to college and universities, we don't have quality teachers. I am generalising but there definitely is a lack of technical knowledge. I'll tell you, the main reason is that a teacher’s job is not respected in India. There are engineering jobs that pay less than a teacher, but people prefer engineering jobs because they can’t go out and tell it with pride in India that they are a teacher. This is happening, this is reality.