Fifth grader Norah is a cartoon addict; she also has a passion for drawing. After getting enrolled in The Tech Academy's (TTA) animation course, she was amused at how she could make objects come to life.
Starting from the Beginner level in 2020, she is now in the Advance level of Tech Academy's animation programme.
The young skilled artist said that she recently learnt to create a lizard and now she can create animation models.
"When we first came here, we were shown animations of people eating pizzas, and then introduced to the tools that are used to create animation. The environment is very friendly here. We are encouraged to create whatever we want, and when we need help, our teachers show us how to do it," said Norah, a student of Sunbeams School.
Nehla, studying in class seven in Sunnydale School, shared a similar experience, "We are taught here through gamification. The process is a lot more enjoyable as it also gives us more freedom to choose what we want to make. This experience is missing in regular schools where we are taught to make what teachers show us only. In TTA, if I want to make a building, I can make a building. If I want to make a river, I can do that as well."
Since its inception in 2013, The Tech Academy has been providing Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for children aged between eight and 16.
So far it has launched various after school programmes that include robotics, animation, game development, 3D modelling, and engineering.
The gamified approach of teaching made the programmes popular among children and now, this Bangladeshi organisation's unique classroom model has caught attention from abroad.
The unique classroom models
Founder of The Tech Academy, Shams Jaber said, "Our classroom model is a unique one. Gamification means that attending classes will be like playing a game. Students earn points when they complete a challenge or a lesson. Also, there is an interesting competition among the students. Classroom models like these are rare in any corner of the globe."
While a regular classroom has only one teacher, TTA classroom has three faculties who have their distinctive roles in the class.
Like a sports commentator, it has a 'Voice Artist' (VA) who is more of a socially skilled person.
The second one is the 'Expert' who is a technologist and an expert of the whole content.
The last person is the 'Classroom Coordinator', who has to be qualified in managerial skills.
The specialised roles of the trio make it a unique team altogether.
"Our scoring system is unique as well. We have a live leaderboard where scores are updated instantly. When a child takes up a challenge, his/her logged-in platform gets scored. The whole time children find themselves gaming whereas learning comes as supplementary. After the end of a class, it will turn out that a child has learnt 10 new skills which s/he was not aware of when s/he started," explained Shams.
From Dhaka to Jakarta and now in San Francisco
Initially TTA started with Robotics and it may have been the first institution in Bangladesh to teach Robotics to children.
Gradually, programming, game development, 3D modelling, and animation were added to the curriculum.
The unique methods of teaching Stem education to children as an after school programme drew the attention of some of TTA's partners which led the institution to expand to Jakarta and then to San Francisco.
"One of our partners in Jakarta is a Bangladeshi citizen and when he came to Bangladesh the last time, he enrolled his son in Tech Academy. He runs an institution in Jakarta which also has after school programmes. So, we thought of collaborating with him and started our programme in Indonesia almost a year ago," said the entrepreneur
"Recently TTA launched an entrepreneurship programme for children where one of our programme partners was IMHA (International Mental Health Association), two of IMHA's co-founders are based in Toronto and San Francisco. When we talked to those co-founders about our Jakarta expansion and how we could expand it more, a co-founder's friend joined as a project manager in TTA. Through him we reached a high school in San Francisco. There, we ran a six-week long programme where as many as 11 students were present. Now we are launching an open for all private school students' programme," he further explained.
The reason behind TTA's fast expansion is their gamification of education. Since children tend to spend a hefty amount of their time playing video games or using social media, TTA always thinks of ideas that might interest them and incorporates these in their classroom model.
He said, "We had to experiment a lot to do that. It took us five years to experiment how we can gamify education and engage children more."
"The response we get in Dhaka is huge. The children enjoy the classes so much that they want them to be longer! Our servers are always active so if students want to connect with their co-learners they can easily do that and help each other. The situation is the same in Jakarta and San Francisco," he added.
TTA has chosen Canada and Malaysia as their next destinations as part of expanding their global outreach.
The outcomes of the Stem education
Students from The Tech Academy have participated in the biggest global robotics competition for high school students titled 'FIRST Global Challenge'.
It was a three month long competition from July to September 2020. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition for Science and Technology) is a non-profit organisation that promotes leadership and innovation through Stem education.
By developing several life saving devices and robots during the tough three month long competition, Team Bangladesh clinched the championship out of 174 countries.
Recently TTA got a deal for five animation projects worth $4,000 from Water Aid Bangladesh.
Instead of professionals, TTA children developed the projects and helped in generating revenue for the institution.
"Four of our students formed a game development studio named 'Dhaka Game Studio' that participated in one of the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre's (BYLC) competitions. They reached the top 20. Usually start-ups are formed by adults but this was unique in the sense that four children formed it. Unofficially we got to know that this team would get special recognition," shared Shams Jaber with us about his academy's achievements.
Is TTA only for children?
The courses that TTA offers are equally tempting for adults. When we asked why TTA is only teaching children, Shams replied, "Recently we have launched a programme named 'Children teaching adults'. Often people knock us why adults cannot enrol in our programmes. The reason is that we have a long-term plan. If these children learn and achieve, they can become our brands. It is difficult for adults to cope with a new model. Their brains are a little rigid, so we chose children".
In 'Children teaching adults', adults would learn from TTA's current students. 20 of the students have already conducted an online workshop for adults.
"The adults said that they never experienced such an engaging class. Their words were really inspirational for us," Shams said.
Helping underprivileged kids
The biggest problem of an online platform is that those who do not have access to technology or devices cannot take part in the classes.
Before the pandemic, TTA used to run programmes for underprivileged children.
For example, they launched a programme to teach robotics to children in Bandarban. Also, it worked with Ain o Shalish Kendro (ASK) and Swid to serve underprivileged children with Stem education.
Shams stated, "We cannot run these programmes now because of the current situation. Due to the pandemic, our classes are completely online based. So it is not possible to teach students who do not have access to technologies. We are always interested in extending our programmes for underprivileged children if we get sponsors who can provide them with digital devices."