Without sounding too crude or offensive, but taking the current scenario into account, it’s safe to say that the prevalent education system of our country is quite the joke. Repetitive question patterns that eliminate the entire idea of having to read the books, leaked question papers, unfair grading system, lobbying at examination centers - despite all of this, we have a country that produces GPA 5s by the thousands.
Tech Academy is an institution founded on the belief that given the right resources and right kind of guidance, anyone can learn and excel at anything. Founded by Shams Jaber, it is an institution that teaches school going kids, from both underprivileged and affluent backgrounds, on programming, electronics and robotics.
Like a lot of the youth of this country, Shams Jaber also questioned our education system. To him, home-schooling seemed like a better option than the farce of going to school every day and effectively learning nothing. As a child, Shams had always been innovative although not academically exceptional. Thus his thought process was never encouraged by the elders.
“When I was young, I didn’t have anyone who’d tell me that I was right. This is something that I currently do for the children at the Academy. I tell them that the system is inadequate and they need to pave their own way and follow their heart”, said Shams. He took a semester off from university on his second year in February 2013 and decided to pursue his dream. Inspired by writers like John J. Medina, Sir Kenneth Robinson and Tony Wagner; all of whom talk about re-inventing the education system, Shams set about achieving his own goals.
Shams Jaber sharing the inception memories of his journey
Shams started his journey with a school for underprivileged street children. His assumption was that since there is no competition among these children about picking school or education systems, it’d be easiest to start his alternative education theory with this bunch of young minds. However, due to various complications, primarily the lack of sponsors, the project ultimately had to be dropped. He then tried targeting children from upper-middle class families and offered a diverse curriculum that included robotics, physics and even psychology.
This project didn’t work out too well for the duo either, after which they decided to focus solely on Robotics. Thus the WNES Robotics School was founded. Eventually, WNES evolved into the Tech School which is now called the Tech Academy.
The Tech Academy is basically a do-it-yourself institution that teaches programming, electronics and robotics. The academy presently has 20 regular students at its Dhaka premises and offers courses mainly on electronics and programming.
Tech Academy came into limelight at the TEDex ‘14 where two of its earliest students, Abrar Zawad (10) and Safwan Rahman(12) attended as speakers. Besides the fact that they were the youngest in a lineup of very high profile speakers, Abrar and Safwan impressed everyone at the event with their passion towards the work they were doing.
Initially the Tech Academy was entirely focused on robotics. However, it has broadened its scope to cover electronics and programming within the last year because robotics turned out to be a very little part of all the things they wanted their students to be open to.
The entire program is divided into two phase – the basic training and a more flexible schedule for long standing pupils with a higher degree of freedom. Beginners joining the academy are required to attend basic training classes once every week. Students who have been with Tech Academy for an extended period of time however are given more freedom in this regard as they can come and go as they please, freely use the resources at the academy to invent, create or simply tinker away at electronics and machinery.
Selfie of the prime members. (From left) Murshed Al-Amin Tonar, Neloy Anik, Mujahidul Hassan Rana, Abrar Jawad and Shajia Noor.
Curious minds at the Tech Academy
The Tech Academy’s method of teaching is its distinguishing factor. The mentors’ at the academy do not believe that children have to be taught by experts in order to learn about a certain topic or a subject. They believe in learning through doing, through practical experiences and mistakes. At the Tech Academy, students are allowed to tinker with electrical circuits and computer programs under the guidance of their teachers and instructors.
Shams, not being from a technical background himself, believes in participative education. He says, “I believe this allows me to teach the kids in a way they would understand. Their level of understanding is not too different than mine is when I come across something new. So, since I know where they stand, it is easier for them to understand when I’m explaining something to them.”
The students also enjoy the not-so-rigid environment at the academy, since it lets them unwind and do things that they are truly passionate about, instead of just having to memorize things you are expected to know by society. “I like the curriculum, the way they teach. At schools teachers scold you if you do not understand anything, but here they tell us that it is not something we will not understand; we will understand. If we do not understand this time, we will understand it the next time,” Abrar Zawad shared during an interview.
The Tech Academy only takes in children aged from 8-13. When asked about this particular age group, Shams replied, “It is said that children are born as scientists. If these changes are influenced by the system once, it is quite difficult (to teach them something new). So, when trying to work with someone already within the system, certain limitations are bound to be there. On the other hand, children are open to change. These children can grow with us.”
Abrar, showing how to write a program to run a line-follower robot.
A memorable moment for the apprentices at Tech Academy: Showing off their newly received certificate from us in affiliation with the Robotics Club of BRAC University. Thanks to the president of BRAC University Robotics Club, Ahk Kafi and former president Imran Farid for the arrangement
Inventions at the Tech Academy
One of the completed inventions from the apprentices at Tech Academy is the Drag Pong. It is a game that combines hardware and software that have been planned, designed and built completely by the students. Others include a Batman gadget, a wearable device that allows one to locate obstacles in their way, quite a few video games developed by the students.
Another project that they are currently working on is a language app which will enable young children to learn different language while playing the game. It is a project the team is still working on and so the details are a little hush-hush.
At present, Tech Academy is working on projects in Bandarban which is called “Computing in the Clouds-Literally” and also in Fatikcchari. They have also started a pilot project for providing technological education under the “Ain O Salish Kendro”.
“The people of Bandarban are just becoming consumers of technology and so I thought it would be interesting to help them at this early stage” stated Shams. In Bandarban, as of yet Tech Academy is operating through one school. The student pool at present is only 15, and they are making do with just one computer till date due to logistical limitations. However, they have received a couple of few solar powered Raspberry Pi computers, courtesy of NewsCred, which are being tested at their Dhaka premise.
Abrar holding the Maze escape: A real-life scenario based game, 'Maze Escape' is a world the students here like Abrar will design and develop along with the gadget, 'Ultra-sound Vision'. In this game, players will have to navigate through a maze blindfolded using this gadget to win.
Planning for the Future
The Tech Academy gives its students a four year plan/course at the institution. It’s not a rigid curriculum, but more like a means to keep track of progress by. “The aim of sharing plan duration with the apprentices is that when there is a timeline, we as human beings intuitively tend to work towards that. The incentive for our children is that as a nation, Bangladesh is already quite behind in technical advancements, so after four years, some of them will already be at a level , where they can create something new and offer the country; or even the world”, stated Shams while also adding, “The start-up community or world of technology is not limited to age; someone may be 12 years old, but depending on their technical knowledge and their thought process, they can excel and the society will not be able to hold them back.”
Besides providing an alternative means to learning, Shams is also giving his apprentices a head-start in the world of technological advancement. He has a very simple plan for the future and that is to create young citizens who are not bound by the rules of education and occupation set by our society, who will think out of the box and revolutionize the technological sector of the country.
The Tech Academy is now located at Moar, 8th floor, house 25, Banani 11; for enrolment details, you can reach Shams at firstname.lastname@example.org