The year: 2015. The Place: 23rd floor Gurgaon apartment. The people: A Harvard graduate & 4 eager grade 7 geeks of which Chaitanya Prasad was one.
Programming, soldering, burnt hands and several crash landings later, what emerged was a beautiful flying drone, the likes of which these young students had never seen before. Thanks to their enthusiastic mentor, a passion to create and explore technology through the drone was instilled in their minds.
Yet they knew that they were not the only ones with this fierce love. There were thousands of children across India, yearning to experiment with different machinery, explore their interests, and bring change to their lives. They just did not have the means to pursue this path.
The aim of these 4 tech entrepreneurs was simple: to provide such underserved children with a platform to explore and understand their passion and deep dive into the many fields of technology through the medium of the drone. This ethos of theirs served as the embers from which ‘Dronacharya’ was sparked.
Through their parents, they found a learning centre in Literacy India, village Bajghera Haryana, where children from less privileged backgrounds are given the opportunity to learn vocational and traditional skills. They organised a workshop to teach select STEM students the basics of drone building. The young trainers found that they too could learn a lot from the native ingenuity of the students, an ingenuity that had developed through their exposure to mobile phone technology. Even in the midst of abject hardship, these young students’ minds were ablaze with curiosity and a zeal to learn. This awakened the young trainers and made them realise that what they were doing was not an act of philanthropy but, rather, a symbiotic exchange where everyone came out better than before.
With this experience behind them, they decided to aim higher. They raised funds and designed a ‘Train the Trainer’ module, that would lead to enduring learning outcomes. Through Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), an NGO that facilitates digital projects all through India, the children rolled out a three day workshop in their school in Alwar, Rajasthan. The year was now 2019.
On their first day, they gave a lecture demonstration on the various parts of the drone and its flying capabilities to an audience of over 100 students- a healthy mix of girls and boys. The next day, there was a hands-on drone building exercise, involving the senior school students. Third day was back in the DEF headquarters in New Delhi, where personnel who were overseeing the school and were part of the workshop, were given in depth training.
The project appears to have the potential to scale in a sustainable way and bring about many positive outcomes. First, the parts of the drone were directly sourced, as a result of which it was possible to build the drone for as little as twelve thousand rupees, while the market price is close to twenty five thousand. Second, the project was able to draw the participants in with its promise of building a flying object and thereby achieving solid learning outcomes. In addition, children teaching children had a more direct impact.
Osama Manzar, Founder of DEF had the following words to share: “I was delighted to accept the offer of Chaitanya and his team to conduct a stem module in our science programme for underserved children; and was thrilled to see how effectively they communicated technical concepts and inculcated a love for technology in them.”
The next stage they had envisioned for themselves was initiating these workshops and training modules in their own school and thereafter taking it to other schools across NCR. However, by then it was March 2020 and Covid-19 descended on the world like a dark cloud, temporarily obliterating their light offering.
Now with some respite for Covid, the time has come for Dronacharya to soar again!