By Tope Templer Olaiya
It’s a changing world; from chanting ‘Who is in the garden’ to ‘Bojuboju, o loro bo’ to playing ludo game, snake and ladder and recently computer games and play stations, today’s kids are now learning to have fun and outsmart each other with robots.
This much was put to test last weekend at the Exposure Robotics Academy (XRA) grand finale, after 45 secondary school kids had spent five weeks in the summer academy at Grange School, GRA, Ikeja.
The programme, which is in its second year is being taught by five instructors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and three teaching assistants from Columbia University and the University of Ibadan.
Robotics, a branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots is a combination of hard science, mathematics, computer programming, and mechanical engineering, among others.
Students, representing 14 different states across Nigeria participated in the programme, which organizers say was aimed at teaching kids how to think creatively and apply theoretical knowledge to practical life situations. At the grand finale, the students competed against one another in groups of three to demonstrate the skills they had acquired during the programme.
This was witnessed by representatives of the programme sponsors, which included Alhaji Abdulrazaq Isa, chairman, Katchey Company Limited; Mrs. Kate Isa, CEO, Katchey Company Limited; Akeeb Akinola, Regional IM&T Manager, Shell Upstream Africa; and Enyioma Anaba, Head of Marketing, Interswitch.
The theme of the contest was Robotics Assisting Surgery and the winning team, Team Dbig, comprising Madukwe Chidozie, SS 2 student of Government College, Ughelli; Onyeahialam Gregory, SS 3 student of Kings College, Lagos; and Bio-Ibogomo Ebi, SS 3 student of New Total Child Academy, Bayelsa, used their robots to demonstrate how nano technology can be used carry out bone transplant, by sending nano robots into the body of human beings to perform the surgery.
For Obinna Okwodu, president of XRA and a student at MIT, it was pure joy for him watching some of the kids grow from never having used a computer to writing intelligent codes in the space of five weeks and making robots do complex tasks.
“We saw the need for Nigerian students to be taught how to think critically. Much of that is not going on in our educational system, which this programme aims to achieve because robotics teaches children to solve problems on their own by thinking their way through complex situations,” he said.
Noting that not all the kids would become robotics engineer in future, Okwodu said the skills learnt, which emphasizes three important things: problem solving, creative thinking and teamwork, are qualities that will go with them through life.
“I attended Grange School for my primary education and Olashore International School, so I have pass through the educational system here and have seen the things that need to be fixed. The XRA team put heads together and decided to fill this need through the six weeks training and we are happy with the outcome.
Obinna’s verdict after the curtain fell on this year’s summer programme was that the kids in America are not smarter than Nigerians. “Our kids are smarter because this programme they have learnt in five weeks is what students use a whole year to learn, but they mastered the use of robots in five weeks.”
Beckley Emmanuella, student of Holy-child College, Ikoyi, was short of words to describe her experience. “There is just not one way to describe my experience at the programme. At first when we came, we were all wondering what it was all about and when we got introduced to coding, we were all frustrated with our first attempt at writing programs.
“Sometimes, we just run the code and the robots, which do not have emotions, just decide to do something different. We were all getting frustrated but it was part of the lessons we were being taught, especially on the way we approach problems and apply it to our everyday life. We were taught to think well and fast of ways to solve problems.
“This was completely different to the learning style we are used to, which is spending a lot of time copying notes and memorizing them few days before exams. The robots’ experience was a practical one. The robots also taught us their lessons, to keep trying and never give up, that failure is the route to success. When you fail, you keep trying at it until you succeed.”