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Robots for friends

Will they play with us? Will they help with our homework? Questions poured in as Class V students of St. Augustine’s Day School made friends with robots introduced by a team from Tokyo.

Renya Kikuchi, the chairman of the Tokyo-based Learning Systems, was in the city to acquaint the children with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). “This system of education is very popular all over the world, especially in the US. We have come to Calcutta for the first time to promote it,” Kikuchi said.

There is no age limit for STEM education as the curriculum is integrated into the regular one and one can start as early as in primary school.

“It is a practical mode of learning and can help in clarifying scientific conceptions,” said Kikuchi, who was accompanied by Sabal Araaf and David Prakash from Bangalore.

Richard Gasper, the headmaster of St. Augustine’s, welcomed the concept. “We always encourage robotics. I saw a presentation of STEM education during a conference in Bangalore and invited the team to Calcutta. I am interested in integrating STEM with our curriculum, but have to assess the cost of installing a STEM lab.”

STEM education is already a part of the syllabus in some schools in Chennai, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad and around 7,000 students are enjoying its benefits.

Trained instructors help students operate the robotic kit — an assortment of building blocks, sensors and gears. The students are taught how to make their own robots, in keeping with their age and academic syllabus, and how they can make it work by feeding their own programme. Usually, two students share a kit to encourage teamwork.

While junior students can learn more about motor co-ordination through robots, those in higher classes can pick up scientific principles through practical work.

“The Class V students of St. Augustine’s were taught how the gear system operates in fans and other objects. Two students were taught to make their own model and they performed very well. Educational toys make kids learn fast,” Kikuchi said.

Two miniature robots that danced, did somersaults and a bit of exercise for fun kept the kids engaged and happy.

“I enjoyed the workshop very much. The robots are so cute,” gushed Debangana Dutta. “I realised that robots can be useful too. They teach us a lot and if we programme them right, they can even be our friends,” chipped in classmate Afsaruddin.