A young robot enthusiast employs his passion to build up equitable education
A young man with a passion for robots, 17-year-old Kris Terdprisant or Ken, thought long and hard about how he could share that passion with those less fortunate.
It wasn’t long before he came up with the idea for the Robotics for Kids (R4K) project, www.r4kclub.com, which provides fundamental robotics and programming knowledge to vulnerable children throughout Thailand and the Southeast Asia region.
His aim, he explains, is to help close the learning opportunity gap and reduce educational inequality.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Kris said he had kept in touch with his creative side since his childhood when he would constantly work with LEGO sets and other creative games.
"And when I found out about robotics, it really intrigued me. I recognized the dynamics and the potential to create something that can move and do things with real-life application—I was hooked. So, I immersed myself in robotic courses and participated in several robotics tournaments such as the International Youth Robot Competition (IYRC) in South Korea, as well as being the 2022 and 2023 VEX Robotics National Champions and competing in the World Championships in the United States," he explained.
Apart from participating in tournaments, he searched for like-minded individuals with whom he could share and exchange his passions and ideas about robotics.
That's when he noticed there was a lot of inequality in his hometown's education system.
While robotics and programming will play an important role in the future and already do in the new normal, the high cost of tools and equipment means that not all children who are interested in robots are able to learn or are even able to touch them.
A simple new educational robot outfitted with controllers and teach pendants can cost anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands of baht, depending on the extensive technology and capabilities, he noted.
According to robots.com, the tools the robot uses, combined with the cost of programming the robot for its task, significantly increase the price.
“I wanted to initiate a system of robotic instruction for young learners so that I can create technology equity by ensuring an inclusive educational environment for children of all backgrounds, and provide opportunities for all children to learn about robotics and programming," Kris said.
That led to Robotics for Kids. Founded about six years ago, Kris launched his project by visiting a public school near his local area and pitching his vision with the school director.
And so began the Robotics for Kids initiative to educate young students on robotics. It continues to this day with more members helping him teach and raise funds.
The response has far exceeded his expectations.
"I think they're all really excited and interested in learning about robotics and programming because most of them have never touched a robot or seen code before. It’s an eye-opening experience for them, which is what we want, because everyone deserves an opportunity to learn about programming,” he noted.
So far, his project has partnered with nine schools across Southeast Asia, including in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and the Philippines.
Recognizing his limited workforce and funding, he devised an alternative solution to sustain his Robotics for Kids (R4K) project, which is the student coach model.
"Our organization works by contacting and partnering with local schools, recruiting 1-2 teachers to become R4K school advisors, donating the necessary teaching equipment, and going into the school to mentor 2-3 local students to become student coaches. These student coaches will then organize group lessons to teach and share their newly acquired knowledge with other students,” he explained.
He believes that the model of having student coaches with a much greater depth of knowledge at the schools will help the project to expand. These students can then spread the impact even further and teach their peers at local schools.
“The impact is more long-lasting because there is now an R4K club in that school where they can continue to teach their peers,” he pointed out.
The courses created by Kris and his team are designed specifically for beginners. So even those who have never worked with robotics or programming can understand the basics.
“Student coaches can access these materials from our website to assist with their sessions, but anyone is welcome to use them as well,” he added.
To date, the project has trained over 100 change agents, including 24 R4K school advisors who have integrated robotics or robotics programs into their curricula, as well as 26 student coaches who have taught over 60 student graduates.
Asked what should come next, he said that he is working on making the R4K platform more affordable, which will aid in the further scalability of its impact.
"In the future, other than teaching robotics and programming courses, I plan to develop R4K as a kind of digital-physical platform to connect more technology to children for the benefit of children,” Kris said.
However, recoginsing that what he and his team do can only have a limited impact in society, he encourages others to participate in the R4K project's activities through donations or by continuing to follow the other R4K events and initiatives in the future.
Those interested in contributing to the project can do so at https://www.r4kclub.com/en/donate.