The brainchild behind the innovative ‘Robotics for Kids’ (R4K) project, www.r4kclub.com, rests in the vision of a single individual. His ambitious vision? Empowering underprivileged children throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia with foundational knowledge in robotics and programming. Why? Because he’s passionate about bridging the learning opportunity gap and tackling educational inequality head-on.
I had the recent pleasure of speaking with this inspiring individual, Kris, exclusively for The Nation. Unsurprisingly, Kris chats about his lifelong creative tinkering, dating back to his childhood where LEGO sets were his preferred canvas. His curiosity eventually found a new obsession: robotics.
“Discovering robotics was like crossing paths with a black hole – I was irresistibly drawn in,” Kris explains, his eyes lighting up. “Here was something I could engineer, something tangible, something that could move and interact with the real world. I dove headfirst into robotics courses, eventually making my way to prestigious competitions like the International Youth Robot Competition (IYRC) in South Korea and the VEX Robotics National Champions 2022 and 2023. Not to mention the World Championships in America!”
But, Kris wasn’t satisfied with simply breaking barriers in competitions. He sought out similar robotics-driven prodigies, to share, learn, and expand his fiery passion in robotics.
Exploring this robotics landscape exposed him to a tragic discrepancy in his local education system. The key to the future – robotics and programming – were locked behind steep financial barriers, so high that marginalized children hungry for knowledge were left out in the cold.
“For a child passionate about robots, envisioning an expensive robot equipped with controllers and teach pendants costing as much as a small car is heart-crushing,” Kris shares, referencing both the financial and emotional cost of limitations on this technology.
Undeterred by the scale of the problem, Kris formulated a vision. “I knew I had to provide these eager minds with an opportunity. A way to level the playing field. A means to partake in the realm of robotics and programming. And that’s how Robotics for Kids emerged.”
What began as a humble initiative around six years ago – a simple pitch to a nearby public school director – has transformed into an impactful educational phenomenon enlivening young minds with the intricacies of robotics.
“The enthusiasm is overwhelming,” Kris divulges with a beaming smile. “It’s breathtaking to see these kids, who’ve never even seen code before, witness the magic of robotics. They’re curious, engaged, and eager to learn. And that’s exactly the point of R4K.”
The impact of R4K has now rippled across Southeast Asia, partnering with nine schools in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and the Philippines.
To ensure the sustainability and expand the reach of the project, Kris has ingeniously introduced a ‘student coach’ model. “We collaborate with schools, train select teachers as R4K advisors, and mentor a few students to become student-coach ambassadors. These ambassadors later facilitate group lessons, creating a chain reaction of knowledge-sharing.”
The scheme ensures a ripple effect, with student coaches ushering their peers into the captivating world of robotics, thus perpetuating the legacy of R4K. Furthermore, this model makes robotics not just a subject but an inherent part of school culture.
Nurturing beginners is at the heart of R4K. All courses are specially catered to those new to the field, structured in a way that even novices can catch on swiftly. Kris adds, “We provide all relevant teaching materials on our website; everyone’s welcome to use them!”
R4K has already trained over 100 change agents, from school advisors to student-coaches, and influenced over 60 student graduates. When asked about future plans, Kris shares R4K’s commitment to making the platform more accessible. “In addition to offering robotics and programming, we’re looking into transforming R4K into a digital-physical platform that brings children closer to various technologies.”
Whilst Kris acknowledges the impact of his project so far is limited, he remains optimistic for the future, urging others to support R4K’s mission. “Whether donating or following our events and initiatives, every bit goes a long way.”
For those interested in helping, donations can be made at www.r4kclub.com/en/donate.