“Children have the most curious minds and we must do our best to encourage this. I feel that our educational philosophies emphasise on teaching the basics such as English, Math and Science but do not dwell into applied knowledge,” says Nishigandha Palshikar. A software engineer by profession, she decided to take a leap into the startup sector after being inspired by a TED Talk by computer scientist Mitch Resnick. “In this he basically talks about how computer programming is not just for computer whizzes but for everyone. This gave me an idea: with my technical knowledge I could do something with this. Besides, I’ve always wanted to teach,” adds Palshikar.
Being passionate about teaching, she decided to integrate it with her software development expertise through PrograMitra (www.programitra.com). A startup intended to incorporate critical thinking and problem solving in kids through an innovative and fun technique. For Palshikar, the journey “began in mid-2014 brainstorming about the ways to create excitement about computer programming among kids.” That’s when she discovered one of Resnick’s projects known as Scratch. It has been developed to create new interfaces to help students engage with technology, in a way that encourages them to create and experiment. In today’s constantly developing technological world, understanding it has become a critical part of education. The entrepreneur further explains, “Today, if you are a chef, you need your own blog. It is essential to be well-adept with technology. All machinery is controlled by computers, even in medicine.”
The software used by Palshikar helps students understand and make their own games, apps and animations. “Through this my students will not just play computer games but will create them as well. The older kids, can build their own apps and use them. It’s all based on visual imagination and creativity which contributes to making them good professionals and questioning about how things around them work,” smiles Palshikar.
PrograMitra keeps the successful entrepreneur busy throughout the year, as she conducts eight-month courses as well as summer workshops. The curriculum for each batch is designed by her, tailormade for the age groups. It is based on what the kids are currently learning at school and the things they draw and paint at that particular age. Sharing some of the success stories of her students, she says: “Thirteen of my students took part in the Google India Programming Contest. They have come up with such innovative apps all by themselves. One made an app which lists out all the endangered species, another created a homework sharing app for his school and a Class 6 student developed an app which shows the doctor the patient’s past medical history digitally.” But her biggest moment of pride is when parents come up to her and reveal how attending PrograMitra has improved their child’s learning abilities and made them more curious. “Now I have parents tell me how their kids are so excited to come to class that they are ready way in advance. This is what drives me to work harder, since one of my major challenges was explaining to parents the value of the concept,” beams Palshikar.
As the batches increased in number, Palshikar began introducing new concepts such as Robot Programming which enabled children to make their own fully-functioning Lego Robots. As time passed, PrograMitra organised enriching events such as Code to Learn, Code for Fun 2016 – an exhibition of games, animations, Android Apps, Lego activities, Compushak and CodePad by the students. “These exhibitions allow students to showcase their hard work and creativity to people. Also, building their confidence as they get to explain how the particular creation was built and what it can do,” she explains. With even more fascinating future plans which will inspire holistic learning, Palshikar believes that Pune was the best place to begin venture. “Here parents are interested in new ideas and avenues and there is a strong focus on education, which has really helped me,” explains Palshikar.
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