Thousands of Rural Students Engage in Yarl IT Hub’s Gamified Engagement Program for STEM

Over the last eleven years, Yarl IT Hub in partnership with the Provincial Department of Education Northern Province has been conducting Yarl Geek Challenge Junior (YGC Junior), a Technology and Innovation competition for school children in the Northern Province. In 2020 and 2021, due to covid, YGC Junior was conducted online and as a result we observed a drastic drop in the number of rural students engaging in the program.

The team came up with the idea for a ‘Gamified Rural Engagement Program’ while ideating on ways to engage more rural students aged 11 to 14 years in Tech and Innovation, especially those students who are left out due to unavailability of devices and internet connectivity. Initially started as a small pilot, it turned out to become a massive project in no time and perhaps the most impactful program Yarl IT Hub has run since Uki (www.uki.life), the Technology school.

Structure of the Program

The project was named புதிய பயணங்கள் (Puthiya Payanangal), which means “new paths.” It was a three-level game the students engaged in.

Image 1: Process of Puthiya Payanangal

In level one, they had to follow instructions in the given workbook and use things they can find in the environment to carry out the activities and record their learnings.

For example, in level one, one of the seven exercises was to collect 10 types of flowers from the garden, count the petals, tabulate, learn about the Fibonacci sequence, and then try to spot it in nature, architecture, etc.

Digital copy of the workbook was made available online in parallel with 9500+ printed books distributed to 80+ rural schools in the Northern Province. Students were allowed to make their submissions via Post, Whatsapp and Viber for all three levels. This was to ensure that a student doesn’t get left out due to the unavailability of a mobile or internet connection at home.

Image 2: Three level of Puthiya Payanangal Books

Those who completed level one received their level two book with a gift pack which included a motor. Those who completed level 2 received a level 3 book with a full Arduino kit with sensors. The first 50 students who completed all three levels were awarded Android Tablets at the prize giving held in Jaffna in July 2022, coinciding with the prize giving of Yarl Geek Challenge Junior.

Image 3: One of the students receiving the Android Tablet from Prof Surenthirakumaran at the Prize Giving

Results

This process found an excellent way to find passionate students without allowing devices to be a restricting factor. Once they have got themselves engaged in the maker world they were awarded a device, so they know how they can best use the device they have won.

Image 4: Statistics of the three levels of workbook

Broadly speaking, 1 in every 6 students who got the book engaged with the program. Female students accounted for 56% of the engagement. The program was designed in such a way that each workbook introduced progressively more complex ideas and exercises. The ratio between engagement and completion indicates the same.

Some of the most Rural Zones showed the highest level of engaged students in all three workbooks.

These three zones had the highest number of students completing as well.

As a direct consequence of Puthiya Payanangal, the participation at 2022 Yarl Geek Challenge increased by 300% from previous year.

Acknowledgements

A project of this scale wouldn’t have been possible without Yarl IT Hub’s partners ITEE Foundation, LBR Foundation, Serendip Foundation, Ford Foundation, Lankan Angel Network and Aravanai.

The Team, Interns and volunteers who made this happen. The following experts for giving us their time and knowledge..

Ms. Vaithegi Vasanthakumar

Ms. Nirubarani Amirthalingam

Dr Thanihaichelvan Murugathas

Dr Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

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Yarl IT Hub

Yarl IT Hub is a not for profit social enterprise focused on fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and technology in Jaffna.