I have never seen gender disparities in tech says robotics expert Akshay Ahuja
Women and girls are often depicted as being uninterested in technology, even incapable of it. But Akshay Ahuja, founder of RoboChamps, which holds robotics classes for children, immediately refutes the stereotype.
“We have never experienced any reluctance from girls to sign up for our robotics courses,” asserts Ahuja as he discusses women in tech with SheThePeople.TV. While he acknowledges that sometimes, parents are responsible for such stereotypes, preferring a different kind of education for their daughters than their sons, Ahuja says he has never come across such a situation himself.
“Even in the workshops we hold in slum areas for the underprivileged kids, we do not see a skewed gender ratio in terms of the children’s participation,” he says. “We’re really fortunate to have had this experience.”
Ahuja’s RoboChamps is two years old – he became an entrepreneur while he was still in his second year of college. As a take off for his start-up, he organised two learning-based programmes. “The first was a summer camp for school students. We taught these students basic circuits and other concepts related to electronics. The second initiative was a six week long industrial training course for B.Tech students,” he says.
Based in Chandigarh, Ahuja managed to fill his B.Tech programme with 29 students from all over the city, teaching them the use and functioning of ATMEGA 8 IC technology which is, “an integrated circuit that is usually taught to students at the M. tech level.”
This was not a smooth journey. Ahuja had no infrastructure. His classroom was the roof of a building under construction.
While the classes were formally intended for the students, Ahuja learned a lot himself: primarily, how fast young people are to pick up concepts compared with adults. Curious to test this realisation, he introduced nine-year-old Aryaman Verma to his B.Tech class, taking the child through the same ATMEGA 8 IC course as the others. Within days, Verma had shot past his older classmates.
“This led me to the conclusion that kids are like a blank hard disk, and the software our education system has installed in them is a pirated one,” says Ahuja. “From that moment onwards, I decided to start training kids in robotics, introducing them to the effective teaching methodology of hands-on practice. And that is how RoboChamps came into being.”
Over the years, training children in schools, and in slums, Ahuja realised that there is no truth to the stereotypes of gender disparity in technology. Given a chance, girls are just as good at robotics as boys. And girls actually are given that chance. “Be it boys or girls, there is always a curiosity or keenness among kids to try their hands on robotics,” he says, recollecting that at some schools, girls actually outnumbered the boys who signed up for robotics classes.
RoboChamps itself proves how silly the gender stereotypes of technology actually are. Out of a workforce of 25, 14 of Ahuja’s instructors and researchers are women.
“The stereotypical notion that women can’t do well in the technology field is completely false,” says Ahuja. “There is literally no field that women can’t participate in. The women in our research team regularly come up with impressive modules that have helped RoboChamps grow immensely.”
Now all that’s left for girls in technology is to learn robotics, Ahuja adds. “Robotics can help turn many girls into entrepreneurs.”
That is such a great idea.