Robotics, AI, coding - this woman is making complex concepts fun for children in Tamil Nadu’s villages
K Suriya Prabha founded YouCode Intelligence Solutions to introduce Artificial Intelligence in a fun, playful way to children in remote villages of Tamil Nadu.
With the increased impetus on imparting skills in all forms of technology, as envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a number of smart entrepreneurs have entered the edtech sector in the country.
In fact, inspired by his new epithet, ‘IT+IT = IT - explained as Information Technology + Indian Talent = India Tomorrow’, K Suriya Prabha, founded YouCode Intelligence Solutions in Chennai in May this year, to take Artificial Intelligence to children in the villages of Tamil Nadu.
“The Prime Minister has always advocated the need to embrace technology in a collective manner than in a piecemeal fashion. It must also be embraced by all sections of society so that the benefits are equally distributed. While India has a young population, with a number of them living in villages, we need to take technology to the villages for India to become a superpower,” says Suriya Prabha.
It’s interesting that Suriya Prabha had no formal qualifications in IT before she founded YouCode. Hailing from Cumbam, a small town in Theni district in Tamil Nadu, she completed her BSc in Biology from Nadar Saraswathi College of Arts and Science, affiliated to the University of Kodaikanal.
Soon, marriage took her to Chennai with her husband Karthik and she worked for four years in an ad designing firm. Once her children were old enough to go to school, she found she had plenty of time on her hands to learn something new. She began learning coding on her own and discussing latest trends in technology with Karthik. The learning developed into a passion that she sought to share with others, especially children, and YouCode was born.
YouCode inducted into its team a group of passionate young engineers in Computer Science and Mechatronics.
Taking Artificial Intelligence to children in villages
So far, YouCode has reached out to 3,000 children in villages in Madurai, Virudhanagar and Ramanathapuram districts. Ramanathapuram district (or Ramnad as it’s called) is part of its latest initiative. Suriya Prabha explains, “In line with Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s statement early this year that all steps would be taken to bring Ramnad out of its backward status and become an aspirational district, we are working with the Director - District Skills Training Office S Ramesh Kumar to impart training in AI.”
The YouCode programme was initiated with approval from the DEOs (District Educational Officers) who allowed the company to introduce awareness programme to schools. The programme primarily aims to introduce awareness in electronics, computer science and robotics technology to students from Grade VI in all government schools.
It covers three areas - “Code the Robots”, “Become a Robot” and “Experience AI” where Google and Amazon kits are used to explain the power of AI. It’s a one-day programme covering various aspects with a lot of interaction and involvement of the children.
Catching them young
Suriya Prabha also quotes IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who recently said, “We missed the industrial revolution, we missed the entrepreneurial revolution which happened in the 70s and 80s, but we don’t want to miss the digital revolution. We want to be a leader in that.”
“Therein lies the benefit of targeting children at an early age so that they can assimilate topics like coding and AI better. Moreover, through this awareness programme, we teach everything in a fun and playful way, which enhances a natural interest for learning. For example, our engineers show them (children) how, by writing a line of code, we can make a robot move. This introduces them to new concepts and a field they an embrace in the future,” says Suriya Prabha.
YouCode is bootstrapped and does not charge the school or children for any of its programmes at present. In Ramanathapuram, it is supported by the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) and the ICICI Foundation and by PTR College of Engineering in Virudhanagar. It aims to tap CSR funding and channel it to AI education in villages.
“The response so far has been overwhelming. I have tears in my eyes when I see the joy and happiness on the faces of children in remote village when they see a robot move when a code is written.
“The knowledge we provide is basic, but the awareness will hopefully pave the way and further their interest. There is no doubt that AI will change the way humans interact with technology in the coming decades. Computer knowledge, therefore, becomes essential and so we believe AI (with a perfect blend of software and robots) should be exposed to children when they are young,” she adds.
Suriya Prabha is aware that the startup world is still largely male-dominated and there are very few women running tech startups.
“It was a bold decision to venture into edtech. It’s indeed a big challenge to manage my family and my business but I simply love it. My future plans include reaching out to more children in villages and inspiring them to have dreams and ambitions. I wanted to make a mark as a woman entrepreneur and I definitely will.”