In Bangladesh the Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) education has not yet achieved a strong foothold in the national curriculum system. Over the years, however, some initiatives have been introduced at a private and individual level. A few educational-tech companies, nowadays, are keeping the STEM spheres alive.
One such initiative is a social entrepreneurial startup called "Ministry of Codes". The initiative, helmed by a fourth year undergrad student focuses primarily on two agendas: first, it aims to teach kids coding, programming and robotics; and secondly, it emphasises on teaching the curriculum in our national language.
"Ministry of Codes is an initiative to promote programming, robotics and STEM education in Bangla among children," said Prapty Rahman, a final-year CSE student at Daffodil International University. "Our ultimate motto is to create an innovative generation by providing them proper tools and techniques from a very early stage."
Presently, Prapty aims to teach children free of cost, as the first step towards making the Ministry of Codes accessible to all children from all walks of life in Bangladesh. To ensure a level playing field, as mentioned, Bangla is the primary language of instruction and is central to the project's ethos.
To serve its purpose, Ministry of Codes offers courses directly on their Facebook page, Udemy and 10 Minute School. But the organisation is much more than just about coursework. They have a STEM robot named "Kitty". To code and instruct the robot, they launched a Bangla language Integrated Development Environment (IDE) named "Anirban" in February this year. IDEs provide a coder/programmer the tools to write code, automate and debug softwares.
With "Anirban" a child with proper instruction can code in Bangla and instruct the robot to perform various tasks. Working with the robot - although the machine is not an extraordinary automaton - it helps children to learn and practice critical thinking skills, logic building and creative problem solving.
About the IDE, she said that this was the first Bangla IDE ever built. The IDE is specialised for the robot, she added. To make it easier for the kids there are some pre-designed logic blocks built into the IDE.
"The robot can be programmed to move, interact, detect obstacles and follow drawn lines. The purpose of the robot is to create and grow logic capacity among children. This is specifically designed for kids between the stages of preschool and class ten," said Prapty.
In foreign countries, they put emphasis on STEM education from a very early stage through practical and hands-on tasks. She said, "If learning by doing is implemented, whatever information children gain, it will be converted to knowledge. And through practice, it will become a skill."
According to Prapty, there are many unnecessary barriers to learning STEM in Bangladesh, namely, language being the biggest, whereas all other advanced and developed countries' student bodies learn in their own languages.
The Ministry of Codes is a team of 12. Prapty and one of her friends are co-founders. All of the team members are university goers like Prapty. Other than CSE students, her team includes students of mechanical engineering too, who help in the matter of robotics.
She said, "we use 3D printed body parts. And then set up additional electronics and sensors. We have our own proprietary custom designed PCB. As a result, the cost is much lower in comparison to buying ready made products."
In 2020, a month into the Covid-19 pandemic, she created a Facebook page and YouTube channel named "Ministry of Codes". She began a tutorial series titled "C Programming in Bangla". Over time, video tutorial uploads became consistent and dependable. Now the course includes 23 videos, the complexity gamut ranging from beginner to advanced levels.
The course can be accessed directly from the YouTube channel '10 Minute School.' Moreover, if anyone prefers, one can also enrol in this course on Udemy for free and receive certification. In Udemy, the course is rated 4.6 (out of 5) with 1,300 students enlisted so far.
In addition, their activities involve organising campaigns and workshops in various schools and colleges.
Other than being the founder of the Ministry of Codes, Prapty Rahman's list of achievements speaks for itself. In 2019, in her first year of university, she and her team developed a mobile app, Doctor AI, which could detect skin diseases using AI and a smartphone camera. For developing the app, she won the Bangabandhu Innovation Grant 2019 worth 10 lakh.
In the same year she won "Bicchuron" organised by the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources where she raised a seed fund worth Tk5 lakh. In 2021, she was awarded the BASIS National ICT award for her contribution in promoting programming, robotics and STEM education among children through her initiative named the Ministry of Codes.
Earlier this year, she was named Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum for her impactful role in implementing STEM in early childhood education. On top of that, her first book "Babuder jonno programming" (Programming for kids) was published in Book Fair 2022.