Supported by local organisations, Softhouse initiated a LEGO Mindstorms project for school children in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, this spring. The plans for a follow up include permanent robotics classes and workshops for children as well as a future industrial R&D lab.
Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, late 2015: Tanja Madzarevic from the international organisation EDC is making plans for a robotics project for school children. This CROPbotics initiative is just a test educational project for a future industrial R&D lab in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The problem is that the local organization “Laboratorium” who can provide teachers for the CROPbotics initiative is on a very tight budget and the cost of a LEGO Mindstorms box required for the first course equals more than half of a normal monthly salary in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“At that time Himzo Music asked how he and Softhouse could help and I said: ‘By getting the equipment!’” Tanja Madzarevic recalls. “Himzo took care of it immediately. It was Christmas time and suppliers in Scandinavia had run out of LEGO Mindstorm kits, but we managed to find two boxes in a toy store in Sarajevo.”
The whole story started earlier during 2015 when Himzo Music, CEO at Softhouse Consulting Bosnia, and Vijay Velu of Turret Lab met in Sweden. Together, they started forming a vision of a robotics lab in Bosnia which may serve as a distributed R&D contractor for industries in other countries.
“Both of us are also very interested in Corporate Social Responsibility issues, and as a spinoff, we had this idea of a robotics project for school children,” says Himzo Music. “Vijay was inspired by a American programme where school kids grow their own vegetables. And so the idea of CROPbotics was born!”
CROPBotics initiative is envisioned as an educational project where 10–14 year old school children create green, science-based solutions to improve the local community and environment. The prep course in robotics, based on LEGO Mindstorms, took place for the first time this spring in Tuzla, two hours north of Sarajevo. After ten weeks of planning, building, programming and testing, the primary school students successfully built their own robots and were awarded certificates. The course took place at the American Corner – a knowledge center which is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. This is a hotspot for all kinds of tech and science based courses and get-togethers. This summer kids that went through the training in robotics will get education in working with Arduino for agriculture and kick off their first joint CROPbotics project in the fall 2016.
Tanja Madzarevic, Business Development Manager at EDC, grew up in Tuzla and then followed a career path with many foreign contacts, mainly in the USA. Now she commits her professional life to help the children of Bosnia fulfil their future dreams by learning science, tech and programming. But she is very humble regarding her own role:
“More than anything, I must acknowledge the local teachers, Leila Hadzic and Dejan Bojic, who are offering their time and giving away their knowledge without any compensation. I see it as an act of trust!” says Tanja Madzarevic.
”By organized play, these children will be introduced to the world of technology,” says Himzo Musić. “Hopefully, it will inspire them to explore further and eventually become skilled engineers when they grow up. We owe a lot to Tanja who has made a fantastic job and put down a lot of time and effort to turn ideas into reality.”
EDC – ”Learning transforms lives.”
EDC (Education Development Center) is an international organisation with HQ in Boston which “designs, implements, and evaluates programs to improve education, health, and economic opportunity worldwide”. The operations of EDC are funded from a number of sources, eg. governments, universites, public organisations and a number of corporations. Today, EDC employs 1,200 staff worldwide.
Leila Hadzic, school teacher from Tuzla and supervisor during the robotics course: “The most rewarding thing besides the thrill of teaching is the opportunity to transfer knowledge, the love for learning new things and showing our youngsters that they too can take part in the robotics revolution today. Our children often perceive that living in Bosnia and Herzegovina does not provide them enough opportunities and chances to learn about new technologies like their fellows in more developed countries. By working on the robotics workshop I was very happy to show them that they could, that they are already a part of it. The process of teaching can be really transformative and rewarding. It is then that I feel I make progress as well.”