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With AI and robotics having penetrated the professional landscape, Indian schools have started to absorb courses from these fields in their syllabus to train students from an early age with age-appropriate study material. While some CBSE schools have already started pushing AI courses starting from grade 8, the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination, or CISCE, made a recent announcement that it will also design AI/ML and robotics courses in ICSE (classes 9 and 10) and ISC (classes 11 and 12) levels in schools.
Given the rising demand for AI/ML in education, Abraham Nayagam, the head of Department of Robotics & Coding at Orchids International School in Karnataka, spoke to us about the scope of AI/ML in education and how they went about structuring their AI and robotics syllabus. In January this year, the school’s robotics course was awarded by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology or MEITY in Best Robotics (for Learning, Education) Solution in Education Innovation Award 2022 and has been consequently copied by other CBSE schools.
The course was built in a clever manner to close the gap between computer science and robotics. An academic year for a student beginning from Grade 1 until Grade 10 is divided into four quarters. The first two quarters consist of Volume I and Volume II, which are dedicated only to computer science and run from June-end to October. The following two quarters, which start in October and end in March, consist of Volume III and Volume IV and focus on robotics. “We have created a unique and student-friendly syllabus where CS and robotics work hand in hand. CS helps students develop a logical mindset and create complex code structures using multiple simple interlink codes. By enhancing their CS skills, we widen the path for students to select a career in the future,” Nayagam says.
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Since courses like AI and robotics are still nascent, the school eases students into the field using a bridge course. Ten days before their academic year begins, students of all grades are sent study material which covers the basics of what is to be taught in the next year. The students also revise the syllabus that was covered in the previous year.
“STEM education is one of the most important and new aspects of the k-12 traditional educational system. Our school’s STEM curriculum has been accredited by STEM.org, an international body, as we want all our students to receive best-in-class education and exposure to the subject at par with global standards. Our STEM team maps every content of the robotics curriculum with the academic syllabus so students can easily identify and watch real-life connections to other subjects like maths, science, etc.,” Nayagam adds.
Orchids started the course in 2018 with students from Grades 1 to 9. Nayagam notes that there is a vast difference between the students who were a part of that first batch compared to other students when it comes to having a basic understanding of AI/ML concepts.
Portable lab kits
Usually, schools have robotics labs that the students can only visit. What Orchids has done differently to form more familiarity with the subject is to provide students with individual lab kits. There are ten different kits meant for each grade with age-appropriate materials. “For example, grade 1 has origami paper craft so that kids can identify the STEM-related objects while grade 3 has basic batteries and LEDs. By grade 5, we start introducing electrical components in the kits, and by grade 7, the kits contain microcontrollers. These kits that were developed in-house help students interact with hardware and software, which is far more valuable than making students read through course material perfunctorily. These kits act as portable lab setups which can be carried by students into their classes and their homes. This has also pushed students to participate more in interactive activities to truly understand the practical implementation of their kits,” Nayagam explains.
Since 2018, Orchids has constantly improved their kits, books and teaching methodologies to keep students updated with the dynamic nature of the subject itself. Nayagam states that the faculty collects feedback from all students to understand needs and possibilities per age criteria. The syllabus for every year for each grade is also revamped the next year. “We have a dedicated R&D team consisting of students and industry professionals who visit the school at certain intervals to gauge how the school students are interacting with the course. This year the school is also planning to launch a dedicated robotics lab for which it has humanoids and 3D printers in the pipeline,” Nayagam says.
Nayagam states that it was harder for them to look for faculty that are adept at teaching both robotics and computer science. “The course evolves in accordance with the students’ grades, so we have to choose the faculty also accordingly. The lower grades teach basic programming languages, and by grades 9 and 10, the complexity of the subject also increases. We started the hiring process in January, and by April, the faculty will be ready,” he states.
Orchids’ curriculum has also been adopted by other schools which also want to incorporate robotics and AI in their syllabus. The school claims that currently, more than 100 schools are using their core package for the course. Orchids also runs a common portal that these external schools can access.
Nayagam notes that including AI early on in schools is an excellent long-term solution to reduce the systemic gap between boys and girls in STEM disciplines. Since both are equally exposed to the subject from an early age, Nayagam said he has observed students of both genders showing a similar interest.
“AI and robotics have the capabilities of changing the world. From identifying treatments for diseases like cancer by harnessing the power of robotics and AI to supporting everyday tasks will be done with a snap of a finger. The first country that gives birth to these discoveries will change life as we know it,” he states.