After a particularly long session where we had asked students to come up with their project ideas, Siddhi and her friends from 7th grade of Zilla Parishad School in Mulshi confided in us that they were unable to agree upon the problem for which they would build a solution. As we finished motivating them to keep looking, Siddhi observed that the school bell hadn’t rung in a long time. As we realized the same and went about trying to find the person-in-charge, her group told us that this was a regular problem at their school where classes spill over when the peon forgot to ring the bell and those who brought books by the timetable were affected. As they explained this to us, it became evident that they finally decided that the group would build a solution to this problem, to benefit their entire school. Today, her automated bell system hangs proudly on the walls of the school, with the principal requesting the Pi Jam team to install it, after resounding with the need and vision for this solution.
The school bell at Mulshi
The Zilla Parishad School in Mulshi, a district lying about 40-50 km away from Pune, has a majority of its students coming from low-income farmer families. Surrounded by beautiful greenery on all sides, it is a small co-ed school operational till Grade 8. Siddhi was one amongst the many wide-eyed 7th graders, who had never before had the chance to interact with technology and looked forward to the Pi Jam classes with a lot of hope, and more importantly – brimming with questions! Similar to all other girls in the class, Siddhi and her group were anxious about using wires, batteries and electricity – things they were earlier afraid of and were always told to stay away from.
As they ploughed through circuits and were introduced to more complex electronics, this group quickly became adept at completing the tasks given to them and understood the scientific concepts behind each with ease. They would always wait after class to ask more probing questions about the session or try to understand more about each piece of technology they used.
The day after Siddhi’s group finalised their project idea, they approached us with three different plans of actions and we sat together to figure out which would be sustainable and most efficient in execution. Over the next few days, they fine-tuned their prototype and built a working model of an automated bell system, hooked to a 7 segment display, programmed to ring by itself at the right period intervals, working tirelessly with the Pi Jam team who provided necessary guidance and the motivated for the group to arrive at decisions through their own logical reasoning. Siddhi’s was also the lucky team whose solution was adopted and implemented by the school.
As we said our goodbyes to the class, we were tailed by students who were pointing out problems in their homes or school for which they hoped to build technology-based solutions over the year.
How Pi Jam started
During my tenure as a teacher in an under-resourced government school in Pune, the harsh reality of my students’ future hit me. While our industries are unable to provide suitable employment opportunities for graduates who have completed professional courses and are from renowned schools and colleges, I wondered what chance my students stood.
Every child in my class had their own story, came from economically difficult backgrounds and still attended school each day with the dream that education would change their lives for the better. As a teacher who promised them that coming to school and performing well in studies would catapult them out of poverty and lack of opportunities, I began researching into what I could provide them with, which would groom them to become powerful individuals that the industries would value and hire.
It became evident to me that every one of them had smartphones, but did not know how to navigate simple functions in a computer. While I was reading into what industry leaders wanted from their future workforce, I came across problem-solving, design thinking and creativity as some of the essential 21st-century skills. Together with my team of co-founders, we built Pi Jam Foundation (section 8 not-for-profit company), where we use affordable, low-cost technology as a means to teach students algorithm forming, problem-solving, design thinking and a creative outlet to use theoretical knowledge learnt in schools by building technology-based solutions.
All about Pi Jam Foundation
We encourage our students to actively look for problems around them, in their schools and homes, and equip them with skills and knowledge that allows them to build their own solutions for such problems using technology. This makes the essence of education important and relevant to the learners too. Through our workshops and labs, our students have built amazing solutions like an automated school bell system, a water monitor that rings an alarm when a farmland is flooding and smart street-lights that conserve energy. The imagination of these children are limitless and have the ability to change the face of the Indian creative workforce.
We’ve had many such stories across the duration of our interventions. 8 of our student projects have been successfully implemented by their respective schools. This is the essence of education that Pi Jam Foundation believes in – turning students into active problem solvers and a part of the creative future workforce of our country.
Written by : Shoaib Dar, Founder, Pi Jam Foundation