The Tech Academy confronts this problem head on, providing STEM education in a fun environment
Most of us have fun memories when we talk about our experiences in school, but very few of us actually enjoyed studying. For most children, getting them to take interest in studying Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is an arduous task.
The Tech Academy confronts this problem head on, providing STEM education in a fun environment that is designed to teach children in a way through which education does not have to feel like a daunting task.
Currently, there are a handful of organizations that provide STEM education in the country, but still far from the numbers most of us would want to see. Critical thinking, problem-solving, and literacy in science and technology are the skills that are a requirement for the global workforce today.
The world is slowly moving away from the traditional schooling we are used to seeing, and rightly so. The existing education system dates way back to the industrial age where education meant learning how to read and write, putting emphasis on memorization and judging students on the basis of their ability to recall contents from the memorized text.
“We are an afterschool program,” says Shams Jaber, founder of The Tech Academy (TTA) -- but gradually, TTA is becoming more and more involved with being a full-time educational platform for young children and teenagers that could change and revolutionize the way we see education in the traditional sense.
The institution is mainly online based (after the lockdowns started) which enables remote learning, especially crucial for times when most students across the world are compelled to stay at home as schools and educational institutions are closed due to the pandemic. However, TTA initially operated offline, but realized they grew much faster online because there is no specified time limit for learning.
Seeing The Tech Academy as an extracurricular activity only wouldn’t be completely justified. Unlike other ECAs, the academy focuses on STEM education. Since there are no specific hours, children can log in anytime they want, and they are always involved in some activity or the other.
Learning about various programs in a fun gamified manner allows the students to be more engaged. TTA has been around for quite some time now; it has been offering education on programming, robotics, animation, game development, and a few other interesting topics since 2013. During a time when the STEM education system as an ECA was not very popular or even known, Jaber says: “We call ourselves the pioneers who started teaching robotics after school.”
For those unfamiliar with the term STEM education: It is a wide term, but in short, it is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as children apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, that not only gives learning a theoretical but also a practical approach.
Even though very few organizations like The Tech Academy are providing this, the system has been proven to be extremely important in this fast-moving world where being technologically sound is expected. STEM education has been proven to create critical thinkers and enable the future generations of innovators.
Shams Jaber grew up in Chattogram, where he finished his high school at William Carey Academy, after which he moved to Dhaka to attend Brac University to study business. Even though he wanted to start something on his own instead of enrolling in a university, he somehow ended up in one, completing three years out of four while realizing that was not something he enjoyed doing.
He decided to drop out and started teaching. “I consider myself to be very lucky to have highly supportive parents, even though there were other societal issues and pressures,” he said. Shams also added that some of the BRAC university lecturers were supportive of the initiatives.
At the time when he started teaching robotics to children for the first time, Brac University’s Robotics club was a collaborator, through which many, including the club advisor, were impressed by the children’s progress and their capabilities to understand and learn.
According to the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, there are around 24 million children enrolled in primary and secondary education. At the primary level alone, there are more than 16.2 million students; this suggests that it is very important that we ensure the future workforce can become more skilled.
This could be one of Bangladesh’s greatest advantages -- to have a young and dynamic workforce. In order to turn this huge manpower into an asset, STEM education can play a vital role. Shams mentions how he was also concerned about weak patenting laws. As Bangladesh is moving towards becoming more and more technologically sound, having a strong implementation of copyrights and patent laws is vital.
The Tech Academy is unique in many ways, one of them being its method of teaching. Through the gamification of education, students do not feel the burden of learning new things as they enjoy learning at their own pace and time. TTA operates like a hub of young minds, engaging in different sorts of activities throughout the day and night, providing a more subliminal form of learning.
There is a preconceived idea that TTA is only for students from an English medium background, but that is not entirely correct. Anyone between the ages of 8 and 16 can join The Tech Academy. TTA went beyond the city borders and held workshops in remote places like Bandarban to teach robotics to underprivileged children.
The academy operates in two other countries -- Indonesia and the USA. TTA is also the very first Bangladeshi institution to export its STEM program to the USA. American children learning from a Bangladeshi academy is, in itself, an achievement, and shows the potential of what they can achieve. Speaking to one of their teachers, we learned that TTA also has a very friendly working environment. “The Tech Academy is a great place to work, with flexible timing; and on top of that, I get to learn a lot from these children,” says Annum, a teacher working for TTA.
“The happy faces of our students motivate me to work further for educational policy reformation. It is a pleasure to be a part of this change,” mentioned Saadia Hossain Muna, a Junior Academic Executive, on their Facebook page. There are around 35 members in the team, some of them working as full-timers, and others, part-time.
According to their website, there are weekly classes for Animation, Game Development and Robotics. The monthly fees per subject per month is Tk4,500. The classes are conducted in very small batches, ranging from 7-15 children.