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TMCNet:  Kolkata achiever shines on Forbes list [Kolkata] [Times of India]

[January 11, 2014]

Kolkata achiever shines on Forbes list [Kolkata] [Times of India]

(Times of India Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) KOLKATA: From the frozen lands of America drifts in some heartwarming news. Sayamindu Dasgupta, a South Point alumnus currently in the PhD programme of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) media lab, has made it to Forbes magazine's prestigious '30 under 30' list - a selection of young innovators in education - for his works on enabling children between eight to 15 years grasp important aspects of maths, science, arts and more through computer programming. "This is the era of the edupreneur... The '30 Under 30' in education are in the forefront of this revolution," says Forbes. "One story that my advisor often tells is of a kid who was having difficulty in understanding the concept of a variable (as taught in algebra class). However, he was creating a computer game and he wanted to keep scores of the players. He did not know how to do it. When my advisor showed him how to do it with a variable, he became very excited and started to shake his hands, saying, 'Thank you! Thank you!' Clearly, the concept of a variable had become much more understandable to him," he explains. Through these programs, students get a better vision on figures and numbers, art and even important aspects of economy. "My research focuses on enabling children to understand and explore data through programming. Using the programming tools I have developed, children have written their own computer programs for online surveys, designed systems to create collaborative artwork, invented virtual economies, and more. I'm currently developing tools that allow children to program with geographical data and design interactive map-based stories, games, and visualizations," he adds. How did it all start? Sayamindu turns back the clock: "After graduating, I worked with the 'One Laptop per Child' (OLPC) project remotely from India. While working with OLPC, I came across the work of a professor in MIT named Seymour Papert. He had written a book called 'Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas', where, based on work that he and his collaborators had done in the '70s, he described how children picked up important concepts in mathematics, language, arts, and science through creating computer programs." Papert invented the Logo programming language, which is still used in schools across India. "Reading the book convinced me to apply to the MIT media lab, where the vision and ideas of Papert are being carried forward by his student, professor Mitchel Resnick. I chose to apply to the 'Lifelong Kindergarten' research group that Resnick advises, and in 2010, I was accepted in the masters programme," he recounts. While he was still in school, Sayamindu helped start the Ankur Bangla project, which brought Bengali computing to mass usage through open source software. "Using our work, one could use a computer without knowing English. At OLPC, I led the effort to ensure that the laptops from the project could be used by children in different language and cultural settings - something that is termed by software engineers as internationalization and localization. Later, I also architected the ebook reading infrastructure for the laptops," says the West Bengal University of Technology engineer. "A lot of conventional education today can be described as 'rote learning', where a learner is seen as an empty vessel and information has to be poured into the vessel. I'm a strong advocate for a more creative approach to learning, where learners participate in building something - be it a poem, computer game, or clay model - to explore an idea, thereby engaging in both hands on, as well as, to quote Papert, 'minds on' learning. Also, there are often larger issues. For example, in my research, I noticed that one of children had programmed an online survey, and had figured out the survey creator could, in theory, also find out who responded to what option, without the respondent knowing. He started to talk to his friends about it in the website forums, and what was really happening is that they were having a conversation on privacy, which is a complex, but extremely important topic," he narrates. And does this achievement boost his zeal to innovate? "Now more people ask about my work, and I always like talking about my work to people from different backgrounds. And naturally, my family is very happy, especially my mother. I have had an unconventional educational trajectory myself - I often didn't do well in examinations and took things into my own hand when it came to learning." From avoiding textbooks to spearheading a revolution, as Forbes calls it, it's a cerebral journey worth celebrating indeed.


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