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This blog post is written by Ashim Sitoula, a former Karkhana intern, who is currently studying at MIT.

Let’s face it – trying to make cool things using technology in Nepal can be a challenge, especially if you’re a high-school student or even a college student. Whether it’s building your first robot or learning to program a microcontroller, the odds are against your favor. Here are a few real-life scenarios:

  1. Circumstances out of your control come in the way of your awesome idea. Perhaps your school turns you down when you approach them for assistance; you are instead told to focus on your studies. You hear similar things back home as exams are soon approaching.
  2. If the situation is slightly better, you have everything set in place only to find out that the component you’re looking for is out of stock in the market; it’s only arriving the next month.
  3. In rare cases, everything’s worked out perfectly and you’re looking to raise the functionality of your project but you’re stuck without technical assistance.

These were my own experiences 5 years ago during my high-school days. I can understand what it’s like to be rejected by the way things are. It’s quite disheartening when you see this cool project on the internet only to find out you won’t be able to make it for yourself.

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Times have definitely changed and Kathmandu is starting to see more people getting involved in technology. There are more electronics stores and more materials to choose from. There are more institutions and organizations starting to understand the importance of a hands-on component that is imperative to the demands of modern education. But there’s still a culture of ambivalence, or in some cases even disdain, towards this whole idea of learning by making things (which is possibly the best way one can learn to give shape to their ideas).

Until and unless we address the root cause of this issue by working together with numerous high-schools and colleges across Nepal, even factories full of electronics supplies cannot change the narrative. No number of organizations will be able to create the much-needed paradigm shift in education that we’ve been hoping for decades. That is why it’s been one of my biggest dreams to eventually get involved deeply with higher education in Nepal.

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And I feel fortunate that life’s been going in the right direction to meet these goals. Earlier this year, I felt privileged to take an introductory Electrical Engineering and Computer Science class at MIT titled Interconnected Embedded Systems. The class basically taught us how to bring our project ideas to life by interfacing hardware and software at an introductory level, while also making us appreciate the underlying technicalities and complex engineering design tradeoffs that go into creating such systems. We got to work with a cool set of hardware, develop our programming skills, and walk away with our own Internet-of-Things (IoT) enabled devices.

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I was inspired by the rich content and hands-on material presented in this class. But to a greater extent, I was filled with memories working with classmates on the final design project, spending nights trying just to get things in place. During one of those moments, I suddenly wondered how cool it might be for students back in Nepal to share the same inspiring experience – of struggling with issues, creatively solving problems, and making things work using technology!

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That’s when the idea got conceived in my mind – to organize a version of the class tailored to high-school and college students in Nepal. As I began looking for funding opportunities, around a month later, I was awarded a Service and Engineering Fellowship to turn this into reality. Before I knew it, I was having conversations with teachers at Karkhana for planning and organizing the class!

This July, I’ll be coming back to Nepal to collaborate with Karkhana on an intensive 6-week workshop – “Interconnected Embedded Systems – MIT’s Intro EECS class at Karkhana” to share some of my own experiences while taking the class at MIT. The workshop will use the same content and material that was used in the original class, but it will be customized to fit the 6-week timeline and also to concentrate on topics that students in Nepal would find more useful.

We are looking to reach out to some of the brightest minds across the country who can benefit from this experience. This isn’t just going to be another training session or capacity building workshop of sorts, but rather, the beginning of a trend, of a maker movement that aims to disrupt the status quo of higher education in Nepal. It’s a small effort to demonstrate the power of a hands-on form of education and we hope to see participants coming out of it with an excitement and passion for sharing their own experiences and carrying out their own workshops in their communities.

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I remember that one time in the month of September 2014 when I got an invitation to come intern at Karkhana. I would go on to spend the next 9 months here and that was a life-changing experience that opened so many opportunities for me. I believe that students who get selected for this program will also experience in a similar way a big moment in their lives, if not a life-changing one.

The program is scheduled to take place from 24th July to 2nd September at Karkhana, Gyaneshwor and is open to students studying in grades 11-12, taking a gap year, or pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

We will select a highly committed group of 18 – 24 students for the workshop. The workshop is free of charge and students will be selected based on application responses that show immense potential to take away the most from this class. Selected students are required to commit 12 hours a week to the class – 6 hours during the workshop at Karkhana and 6 hours outside of the workshop. We plan on hosting two three-hour sessions each week. The days will be decided based on the preferences of the selected applicants.

Interested applicants should fill out this application form: https://goo.gl/uk5CFi

Please go through it carefully for other details and feel free to e-mail ashimsitoula@gmail.com with any questions.

For a quick glimpse of what the students will be working on, do check out the following videos where some MIT students talk about their final projects for the class:

MIT 6.S08 Final Project: IoT Longboard from Christian Cardozo on Vimeo.

MIT 6.S08 Final Project: MusicBuddy from Christian Cardozo on Vimeo.

MIT 6.S08 Final Project: Wearable Tour Guide from Christian Cardozo on Vimeo.

MIT 6.S08 Final Project: Teensy Trivia from Christian Cardozo on Vimeo.

 

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