What made IBM align with HT Codeathon?
One of our biggest programs was something called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for girls, where we had MoU [memorandums of understanding] signed with the states, and the whole goal was to reach 130,000 girls and 70,000 boys. Unfortunately, Covid-19 arrived and we were unable to reach most of these children.
When the Hindustan Times said it was conducting a Codeathon online and that it could reach children who can do it at their own pace, we thought this was an incredible opportunity to partner to reach places the program has yet to go.
Obviously, we had the opportunity to go to the corners of the country with this scope and give the kids a chance to test coding, try Python and HTML. The idea was to get their hands dirty and get an idea of what coding is, because 80% of the jobs of the future are going to have a STEM element.
Coding the future?
As they say, education is the gateway to opportunity. If that’s the case, then encryption is like a premium pass that will get you to the front of the line.
How early does a child need to become familiar with the concept of coding?
Our program begins with 8th grade students, because we believe that when you are at that standard (13-14 years old), that is when you start to form your own opinions. That is the age when they begin to explore what they want to do in life. With that being said, it can always be argued that we should start much earlier, but we strongly believe that eighth graders are decent enough to start.
Also, you don’t need to think of coding as simple programming languages; how we get started in our programs is by using MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] open platform called Scratch. It is very friendly and you can tell stories through it. You can build a story, and through those stories we introduce you to the concept of encoding. It shows them building blocks, which they can drag and drop and loop and create a story.
They identify a problem, for example in a village, and really look at how well they can tell the story with the use of technology. In the end, they realize that what they essentially did was code. It is encoded through the concept of storytelling, which makes it fascinating for them.
What changes do you see in the workplace and education scene in the post-Covid era?
The digital transformation has already been underway and, I believe, Covid-19 has only accelerated it. What we probably could have accomplished in five or six years is now possible in a year or so. Just look at the example of [Covid-19] vaccine; something that used to take years is now available in months. The field of education itself has already moved towards a hybrid model. It may have taken us 34 years to have a new education policy, but basically what it has done is accelerate the whole transformation. The amount of tools that are available now; And the catalyst for all of this is the teachers, as they are the ones who have to transform the children and impart whatever it is that we are trying to teach at the basic level. Now they have had an incredible opportunity to expose themselves to technology, new modes of education, new platforms and new content that they did not have access to before.
I’m sure the hybrid model will continue because once it sits down, there is no going back. IT companies would never have thought of working 100% from home. But now, people work from home and you can get things done and are being more productive. I suppose the same will happen in the field of education. Investment in hardware, software, and capacity building will really accelerate in the future.
Could you tell us about some of your projects?
At IBM, we launched two online platforms during the pandemic: One is called Open P-Tech, which is a completely open platform for school children to learn about emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT (Internet of Things), blockchain, cloud and others, as they continue to hear these terms and it is up to them to know what it is and how we can use it in our daily lives. We have developed content on these open platforms more geared towards young people.
Today we have about 80,000 students on that platform. Anyone with a Gmail account can access it. Once you finish a course, you also get an IBM authorized digital badge that they can also display on their resumes.