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New breed of engineers turning into teachers at ed-tech startups

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The Times of India | Shadma Shaikh & J Vignesh | ET Bureau | Jun 8, 2016 |

BENGALURU: An eighth-grader visiting her grandparents during vacation didn’t trust her maid enough to care for her pet-fish back home. To ensure her fish was fed, the 13-year-old, with some help from facilitators at her school, devised a fish feeder using a pepper bottle attached to a rotating motor.  The facilitators who helped her build it were engineers-turned-trainers employed at an education-technology startup called BiBOX . Anew breed of engineers are turning into teachers at a slew of ed-tech startups that are designing innovative teaching methods.  Bringing in a refreshing change to rote text-book classes through experiential learning, ed-tech startups including BiBOX, Hobby-Master and Experifun are helping school students understand science and technology concepts by implementing them in solving everyday problems. From Pythagoras Theorem to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, these new-age teachers are helping students build solutions around them.   Former Infosysian Guruprasad Athani started HobbyMaster when he realized that campus recruits with good grades were not necessarily good at work.  Athani first approached engineering colleges but realised that the changes had to be made at a much earlier stage. He built a startup that partnered with schools to use hobbies as a method to teach science. For engineers employed with these startups, platforms like BiBOX and HobbyMaster give them an opportunity to fill in the gaps of education.  “Even though I had it on the tip of my tongue I could never grasp what good were Newton’s motion laws,” said Varun Kumar, a trainer and technical lead at BiBOX.

Kumar, an engineer-turned-entrepreneur-turned-trainer, knew this was his true calling when school students under his mentorship launched a water rocket based on Newton’s Third Law of Motion. But this new approach to education and training is no cakewalk even for engineers who graduated from premier institutes.  “An engineering education helps you learn the theoretical concepts. But for a lot of projects that we train the kids for, as trainers we need to undergo a training programme ourselves and do a lot of homework before each class,” says Vivek BM, a mechanical engineer who chose to teach at HobbyMaster over an entry-level programmer job at software giant Accenture.  Kids ask all kinds of questions, says Abhilash S, a 23-year-old engineer-turned-trainer with HobbyMaster. “If you show them that by connecting two wires, an LED glows, they want to know why? They are curious to learn the science behind it,” says Abhilash. Concepts like these are important for them to know when they are out to build solutions. Their solutions range from making everyday household chores easier to building more organised ways to do things.  Ablind-aid walking stick that senses obstacles and triggers an alarm; smart car wipers that start on detecting moisture on a car shield; a pulley that retracts fresh laundry put out to dry on detecting rain; and an automated hospital room for paralysed patients are some solutions built by school kids through BiBOX. The startup has partnered with around 80 schools across Bengaluru, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. HobbyMaster has partnered with 50 schools in Karnataka and is expanding to Maharashtra, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.  If BiBOX and HobbyMaster are helping kids create solutions, startups like Experifun are into giving a real-life feel to concepts being taught in class.  For example, a kit for ‘conductors and insulators’ will have a small printed circuit board with a small bulb on top of it, a connecting wire and a battery. When the kit touches a surface, the bulb lights up depending on the conducting capacity of the surface; brighter the light, higher is the conducting capacity.  –  Courtesy


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