Creating Future Innovators - Chumbaka's Junior Innovate.

TE: Can you tell us a little about the organisers? E: The organisation behind “Junior Innovate” competition is Chumbaka; our main objective is to develop children’s life skills. We want to prepare them for the future by developing their life skills in line with the rapid changes in the job industry. Life skills are not only interpersonal skills such as communication and collaboration but also critical thinking ability such as design thinking which is important for kids and students to have. This is peculiarly to those that have difficulty being creative and lack of hands-on experience especially in school which prioritises mainly on academic achievements.

Chumbaka uses technology as a tool to teach life skills because technology has become an integral part of everyone’s lives. Children nowadays are consumers of technology, they play games, but they don’t create. So, we want to provide a platform where it offers youth the opportunity to be creative and to create and thus, the ‘Junior Innovate’. By creating, children go through the design thinking process and communicate with people better since they will be going to pitch their ideas across to other people.

(Image: Junior Innovate 2019 - State Level at Anglo Primary School, Kota Kinabalu.)

TE: Can you tell us about the “Junior Innovate” competition?

E: Well, the idea of organising this kind of competition initially started when we wanted students to have hands-on experiences. Schools nowadays teach technology very theoretically and it’s very hard for student to visualise and understand when they don’t see it physically. So, this is the main reason why we want to provide this platform for them. With that idea in mind is how we started the competition 7-8 years ago. Before ‘Junior Innovate’, there was ‘Young Innovate’ for secondary students. “Young Innovate” at that time was only held in 2 secondary schools located in Penang, before it was available throughout Malaysia since then. It was 2018, just last year we decided to bring “Young Innovate” down to primary school level and introduced it as ‘Junior Innovate’. But for ‘Junior Innovate’, we currently organised it in only 5 states due to lack of sponsorship. We are hoping to grow bigger and hopefully find an anchor sponsor for “Junior Innovate” in the future. So today, what you see here is the “Junior Innovate” that is currently available in Johor, Penang, KL, Sabah and Sarawak.

Last year theme for ‘Junior Innovate’ competition was “up-cycle old toys”. We wanted to teach the youth the concept of up-cycling which is to transform something old into something new by using technology. The students will also have to do storytelling as part of their learning communication. This is a great notion since students can make their old toys come to life and tell a story about it.

For this year’s theme, we encouraged them to create a game. We realise that most kids love to play games. So instead of just playing them, why not they create one out of their own imagination and creativity. Therefore, for this we use 2 types of platforms, hardware and software. For hardware, they will learn how to use a micro-controller and for software they will learn how to do coding. Besides that, we only use open source hardware and software to keep things at a low cost. We also encourage self-learning among youths; Self- learning occurs naturally on their own by getting them to be interested in the subjects first which is what we wanted to do. We also encourage students to communicate in English while also allowing the use of mixture of languages, since not everyone comes with a good English-speaking background. However, we always tell them regardless of what language you’re communicating in, you have to be very clear of how you want to convey the message. In ‘Junior Innovate’, communication is the main framework.

TE: Does this mean the whole organisation is based on an annual competition? E: Our organisation have 3 business model. 1st model is running the national competition which are ‘Junior Innovate’ & ‘Young Innovate’. Our 2nd model is conducting after school programs, where we develop our own content and paired it up accordingly to the student’s age. This is because certain subjects are too hard, therefore we start with something easy and let them learn more as they progress. The 3rd model is licensing. We license our programs out to schools and train teachers to run the curriculum.

(Image: The Edupreneurs®'s media team interviewing Ms Eunice, Business Manager of Chumbaka.Asia.

TE: Have the organisation received any strong positive feedback on the progress of the students?

E: Yes. We have a lot of stories from different places that we run. I’ll give you one example of the secondary school competition that we ran, the “Young Innovators”. When we first started, we went into this rural school in Penang. There was this particular boy, so every time when we run the program, we always tell the teacher to select students who are interested, rather than just selecting the best students; because the best student may not necessarily be keen on learning this curriculum. When an individual is not interested it is very hard for them to progress and focus on it. There was this particular boy in that school who was very keen, but he is a slow learner. The teachers already expect this boy to fail his SPM, but we told the teacher “No, if he is interested. Let him learn.” Our learning manual is in English and for him, is difficult as his English is not very good but eventually, he actually started a project. This boy has a disabled uncle at home, who is on a wheelchair. One of the problems that the uncle faced was the challenge to reach down and take things. So, he builds a little car like a robot. So, when anyone in the kitchen puts a drink or food on that machine, it will go to the uncle and it will actually elevate up to the level of the wheelchair so his uncle can just take it easily. He is solving a real-life problem of somebody he knows and eventually he became a mentor to his juniors.

In Chumbaka, we opened up opportunities to students who are keen, who don’t do well academically or to students who loves science but because they don’t do well in PMR, they are unable to enter science stream. We do have non-science stream students winning the competition.

In Sabah, we do run our programs at rural schools in Tenom, Nabawan, and Keningau. We’ve seen that even in rural school, kids are able to learn and show great creativity. The kids in these rural schools are even more creative than the kids living in cities. We are very glad that we are able to provide these opportunities to the rural schools with sponsorship from Hap Seng.

As for our program that runs as a co-curriculum in schools, most of the time it’s actually to replace the ICT classes. I think schools and teachers start to realise that we cannot keep teaching the kids Microsoft words and PowerPoint. We need to be more advance than that already.

TE: Does any challenges come to mind?

E: Challenges? Yes definitely! I think there are lots, and deeper work will have to be done on transforming the mind sets of teachers which is the hardest challenge to do because teachers are so used to one-way teaching. We always told teachers “Don’t worry, this is something that is easy, something that you can also learn, even if you are not from a tech background.” We have so many mentors, partners and students who never had any experiences and lack digital competencies but are able to build projects. When teachers’ worry too much, they become the bottleneck in the program, when they themselves don’t have the confidence in their own abilities, the program’s capacity and potential are held back at them.

Sometimes we have problems pushing teachers to learn, learning is one thing, but they also have to pass it down to their students. Sometimes it is very easy, as they don’t have to do anything, they just open up the box and let the students do it. But teachers are so reluctant, they get scared because they have a stronger belief that they need to know everything, teachers need to know how to teach. But we always tell them “It’s okay, for all you know your students will be teaching you and there’s nothing wrong with that”. There’s really nothing wrong with that. You can learn together with your students.

TE: One last question, is there anything that the children can do more for themselves to improve in the sense of life skills and competency every day without the curriculum?

E: There are a lot of things that kids can do more on their own. With internet being out there, it revolutionises how children learn and their ability to find almost everything on the internet. But the question is, how do you get kids excited and even inspires them to start on their journey through education? In this digital age, whenever they have free time, they will want to do something fun, and the closest entertainment to that is digital screens. For kids, free time equals screen time and you can’t really blame them because every day is tuition and homework. But we want to set them on an educational journey and have the mindset that learning is also fun.

Learning is not only about scoring A’s for exams. Learning will never really stop. The worrying part about all this is that people think that “When I’m done with my degree or my masters, that’s it. I don’t want to learn anymore.” Learning is an ongoing process; You and I are still learning. There are so many things to learn and to do that is by trying to develop your learning habit. The attitude needs to be there regardless of how old you are.

In Chumbaka, we want to start them young and let them know that learning can be fun, and learning can be on your own. You don’t have to wait for you teacher to teach you. Learning can be both ways too. We encourage both teachers and children to learn together, and it’s always great when teachers learn from children too.

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