BrightPath holds TechCamp 2015

Exams are over, school is out, and parents face that familiar struggle to balance kids’ downtime with actual educational activity over the July-August vacation. What if, instead of just vegging out on YouTube clips, your kids learned to create their own artistic and educational short films? Rather than grazing Hollywood blockbusters blankly, what if your kids collaboratively crafted their own customised movie theatre, complete with silver screen and popcorn machine?

It’s not so far-fetched, says Bevil Wooding, one of the masterminds behind BrightPath Foundation’s TechCamp. In fact, it’s already here.

“In this TechCamp, if you want to watch a movie, you have to make your own movie theatre. You have to set up your projector, you have to create your customised lighting and set up your anti-reflective screen, then you have to put your high-definition surround sound system in place,” said Wooding, BrightPath’s Executive Director.

Since its inception in 2013, the local edition of TechCamp has earned a reputation for directing young people’s energies towards building solutions that are locally relevant but globally applicable.

The first two editions of TechCamp focused on digital content creation. This year organisers went one step further to create a camp that could only be completed by the campers themselves.

“If you want to fly drones, you first have to know how drones are made. This is TechCamp,” Wooding explained.

The idea is simple. Rather than sit around face-planted on digital devices all day, Tech Campers are taught to open up and take apart familiar gadgets, identify their internal parts, understand how those components work together, and then put them together again.

“It’s not sufficient to merely be the consumers of someone else's technology. But if we are to make the shift from net technology consumers to net producers, we must deal with deepening knowledge of core principles. At the same time, we also have to develop the mindset and discipline necessary to convert natural creativity into sustainable innovation. This is the essence of TechCamp,” Wooding said.

Over two weeks, campers are exposed to the fundamentals behind the tech that surrounds them in everyday life. Then they get to put those fundamentals into practice in highly collaborative group exercises. And of course they have a lot of fun in the process.

“At TechCamp, we create an environment where natural creativity intersects with engineering, science and art principles. We told them that for the Camp they are not children, they are Makers, and Makers make cool stuff,” Wooding said.

A day at TechCamp is pretty packed.

The smart class at the Cipriani College Of Labour and Co-operative Studies was transformed into the TechCamp Fundamentals Lab. Hands-on interactive sessions were held there covering some of the latest technologies, from three-dimensional printing and mobile software development to micro computing, drones and robotics. The kids also took part in expert-led presentations on the fundamentals of data analytics, mechanical and electrical engineering, animation, photography and videography.

To go by responses from the young participants, ranging from ages 10 to 15, the impact of the two-week experience was profound.

If eleven-year-old Amaris John has her way, she’s going to use what she’s learned at Tech Camp to transform her living room into a fully Internet-connected workspace where she can dream up other designs and work on bringing them into reality.

“I’ve already started working on it,” she said.

Old-school values TechCamp has made its name by giving kids a unique blend of technology education and life skills needed to take concepts in their heads and transform them into reality.

“The children just love it,” said Nyasha Pierre, executive assistant at the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies, whose 10-year-old daughter took part in the camp. “The children find it mind-blowing, as they get to build things they never thought they could build.”

But what really sets TechCamp apart is its strong emphasis on imparting core values such as teamwork, discipline and respect for others.

Darielle John, 11, was part of a group that designed the floorplan for the TechCamp recreation room. At first, working in groups was “complicated,” she said.

“Everyone wanted to do what they wanted. Nobody wanted to cooperate.”

After a while, one of the TechCamp facilitators encouraged the group to listen to all the ideas and document them, and then work on blending them together.

“That’s how we started working together.”

She said their change in strategy produced a shift in attitude from “selfishness” to “other-mindedness,” which made a huge difference. As she described her personal process, Darielle’s friends Regan Wilson, 12, and Zéah Lamont-Harper, 10, looked at each other and smiled knowingly.

“I realised that I didn’t always have the best ideas, and other people had better ideas than I did, so we used other ideas instead of mine,” she said.

A number of participants are also children of BrightPath growing list of local sponsors, including Teleios Systems, Flow Trinidad, KR Consulting, K.Jameson and Associates, Heritage Wonders, Double X Workshop and the venue host, Cipriani College. Head of Stakeholder Relations at the College, Valene Mc Dougall, said, “We are ourselves intimately connected with the experience of discovering science, technology and the value of teamwork.”

The focus on character development issues is deliberate, Wooding said.

“We strongly believe that there has to be a values-based component to all learning.”

He explained that BrightPath Foundation is part of Congress WBN, a faith-based international non-profit with operations in 100 nations.

“TechCamp is designed to educate youngsters while exposing them to the things that they are interested in. Ultimately, however, the real education is to instill the values that can service them for life. We don’t want them to just be academically qualified or simply tech savvy. We want to ensure we are raising a generation of confident, creative and morally-centered citizens capable of being positive contributors to society.”

Originally published: Trinidad and Tobago Guardian