CoderDojo Heroes: Gauthamraj Elango – CoderDojo Champion @ Erode, India
CoderDojo Heroes: Gauthamraj Elango – CoderDojo Champion @CoderDojo Erode, India
Which Dojo are you from?
CoderDojo Erode located in India.
Describe what CoderDojo means to you in 3 words!
Exposure, Opportunity and FUN !
Where is your Dojo located and what venue do you use to run? Why did you choose to set up your Dojo there and in that venue?
Our Dojo is located in Perundurai, a town in the district of Erode in Tamilnadu, india. Currently, we run our Dojo in F-infotech office space, a tech startup that I co-founded recently.
Our Dojo was formed recently and activities were carried out in our Village called Sullipalayam ( about 7 kms away from Perundurai). We used to carry out the activities on the temple ground of our village every Sunday. However, it became evident that it was unsuitable as it had many distractions for both learners and mentors due to various personal and environmental reasons.
We then moved to a small room in our village which was previously unused. Having this space wasn’t enough as we lacked a lot in terms of resources. Gradually, the moral of both the pupils and mentors diminished as pupils considered playing on the grounds more fun than attending Dojo. Eventually, this had an effect in Mentors.
Posting different things about the Dojo on twitter by the mentors gone down tremendously. Upon analysis, we figured out most of the current mentors are from Non- IT background that they themselves finding hard to move beyond the basics of HTML and CSS.
Sadly, there is not enough resources for our Mentors to learn at first place. In the mean time, I co-founded a tech startup called F-infotech with few of my friends. We took a office space a part of which is now being use as a cyber cafe. Rest of the space on Weekends is being used for the Dojo activities.
F-infotech is located in the heart of Perundurai offering access for the Dojo to much more people.We realized we shouldn’t limit activities specific to coding when aiming for sustained participation. It’s working 😀 We are seeing increased numbers.
However, still we are finding it difficult to afford for Internet and maintenance cost.
Explain any disadvantages in terms of access to education, and in particular technology education, among the community your Dojo serves.
Where the Dojo is based there are almost 8 schools around with 5 of them run by government and it’s free to attend. Their are other schools but by private groups and these not affordable by everyone to join due to high tuition and donations. Sadly, all these schools make students to focus on scoring high marks instead of encouraging to understand concepts or think differently.
That said, access to technology in the schools of rural areas is quite an impossible feat. Students are even made to memorize computer programming even when I was in school. Having out school clubs like CoderDojo and Digital Literacy programs (that we develop as F-infotech) can be a game changer but a lot of groundwork still has to be done.
Is school free to attend in your area? Are there any other barriers to education in your area?
As I said before there are two kinds of schools. One Public and Private. Public schools are free to attend and monitored by Government. Private schools have much better infrastructure but focus remains on just marks, they are not affordable due to high cost fees.
Lack of exposure to the latest technologies and advancements in students learning pattern by teachers is the biggest barrier in my view. Their lack of exposure affects as lack of opportunities and loss of skills and opportunities in future.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to set up and run your Dojo?
When I wanted to set up, my efforts to find people with IT background with the interest went in vain. All of them wanted immediate recognition or something for their work. This means, they haven’t understood what a open community is and how the work also benefits them by being part of it.
That said, instead of searching I decided to make people around me interested even if they aren’t from an IT background. To start with, I called everyone and shared a story of our semi-literate friend with his ATM card. At that point, they started thinking and I gave them an introduction to the community and explained how organisations like CoderDojo can help changing future generations with better knowledge and skills.
Helping them understand about community changes their expectations and interest for learning something new and sharing it back to the community was on the higher side. Thankfully, even when I am away things are running smoothly as someone is always ready to step up to lead.
How do you attract young people from underserved backgrounds?
As I myself is from a rural area and I have access to so many people from undeserved backgrounds, so as a result attraction has never been a problem. I share my personal story, the changes I have faced and the growth in my personal and professional life after the community involvement. It inspires and motivates.
Effective story telling would be the way to go.
What languages/programs do you cover in your Dojo?
We aren’t just tech focused Dojo. We host different program from english speaking skill sessions to designing web pages. Tech based programs help to make people think a while other programs ensures engagement and participation by giving everyone a platform to express their skills in a place where there is only true motivation is offered.
How has your Dojo improved the access to education and the area in which you are based?
We wanted to lead the way in making effective changes to education in our region. But, we are still a young team and most mentors have their own work and family to look into. However, we are planning to reach out to different organizations seeking help to run more Dojos in different areas in the region as a way to recruit volunteers as well to create awareness and an opportunity for youth to use their mobile phones for learning.
How would you encourage someone to set up their own Dojo?
Pitch in the message about open Community and what to expect with clarity. Identify potential people and train them to help you run that Dojo, don’t wait for the best.
Encourage volunteers and mentors to share thoughts on Twitter. Why twitter ? One of the major barrier in accessing technology and being an active participants is English Skills. In regions like mine, most people will quit great opportunities just because of the language barrier. On twitter, no body cares about grammar, it is limited to 140 characters which gives sufficient confidence to break the shackles.
Favourites and retweets ensure great confidence and energy boosters.
Kick start things with the resources you have, don’t wait looking for it. When we started we didn’t have a computer for the Dojo. So we decided to go with with paper, diagrams to explain the process and it was effective. In fact we taught HTML on slates and using the streets.:)
Where could you use more support for your Dojo?
Training would be more effective by a community leader and liaising a connection between our Dojo and other big organizations in our country.