Chronicling the children’s hackathon: Great ideas from young minds

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“I believe the children are our future” – Whitney Houston

A hackathon for kids, simple as that. Don’t think this hackathon is easier just because it’s for kids. Compared to other hackathons that have been happening which focus on the youth and University undergrads, this too had the same standards and judging criteria. It wasn’t just a coding competition but a whole program that tried to instill innovative thinking, the importance of building sustainable Minimum Viable Products (MVP), team working and entrepreneurship skills in children.

This is the Children’s Hackathon which is an initiative by UNICEF in collaboration with ICTA, Ministry of Education and Microsoft Sri Lanka. The hackathon lasted for 3 days which included not just coding but workshops and seminars along with recreational and entertainment activities. These 3 days included sessions on app development and marketing while bowling and a movie night for some lifelong memories.

Demo Day      

The demo day kicked off with Sachindra Samararatne, a project manager of ICTA updating everyone on what happened so far. 25 teams were shortlisted and came to the final round. On the next level, top 5 teams were selected and here comes the best part, they were given mentors.

Getting through the judges wasn’t easy at all. The judges were Ms. Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson – Managing Director of Hemas Transportation Sector, Mr. Fayaz Hudah – Programme Head at ICTA, Mr. Niel Gunadasa – Director of Ministry of Education and Dr. Arjuna Wijekoon – Head of the Health Information Management Unit, Department of Health Services, North-western Province. The products were assessed based on how successful and sustainable the MVP is, presentation skills, the state of the project, usability of the system and the social impact the idea had. Each team was given 20 minutes for the presentation and 10 minutes for the questions and answers session.

That’s the process of the demo day. So what did we see from Sri Lanka’s young innovators?

Battle Math – Miriswatte Maha Viduhala

Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Sri Lanka
Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Sri Lanka

A game that helps teach mathematics to school students. Designed for year 6 students, it has multiple levels where the difficulty increases as the player progress. Battle Math features a leaderboard and an admin panel which can be used by the teachers to get an understanding on the performance of the students. This feature gives the chance for teachers to encourage and mentor students with constant feedback.

Amigo – Kingswood College

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Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Sri Lanka

Amigo is a Siri like application for windows phone which manage mental stress and resulting depression. How does it differ from Cortana? Their algorithm makes sure Amigo doesn’t speak anything negative. The C# based application gives you mood fixing messages by identifying and analyzing the meta tags using speech recognition. They do have their own knowledge base which they have built by the help of psychology mentors.

BMI rate – Dehiowita National School

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Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Sri Lanka

This Body Mass Index Calculator calculates your BMI and also suggests a diet plan for you based on your weight category. The system suggests weight gaining foods if you are underweight or vice versa. However, the panel stated that the suggestion seems to be more generalized rather than custom catered to Sri Lankans. The judges advised them to modify it to be more fitting to Sri Lankans by adding local food into the database.

Mentaurus – D S Senanayake Vidyalaya

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Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Sri Lanka

The problem this team was addressing was the struggle that students undergo if they want to learn something new. Their solution was to introduce the students to mentors who would then guide them properly from A to Z. Their platform caters institutions, mentors, students and other business organizations with features and functionalities unique to each. The MVP they presented included features like a search, profiles and a chat platform.

Lumashe – Viharamahadevi Balika Vidyalaya

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Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Sri Lanka

Lumashe is a game and it’s goal is to create awareness of issues that surround social media. The team hopes their app will be a safer substitute for kids and prevent them from social media addiction. Lumashe gives you tips and advice as you play the game. The team has also built a website which they plan to use as a platform for marketing and awareness creation.

Review by the Judges

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From left: Dr. Arjuna Wijekoon, Mr. Niel Gunadasa, Mr. Fayaz Hudah & Ms. Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson
Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Sri Lanka

The first judge to share his thoughts was Dr. Wijekoon who stated that the students need to understand the real problems. “You need to find out whether your solution fits the users and the society that it address.” He also advised the participants to improve more on the Presentations skills.

“You need to work like a detective.” Mr. Gunadasa stated, adding more to what the doctor said “You may go through a brainstorming session and understand what is the problem is. Next you have to determine how far your solution meets the requirements of the users and would users like it.”

Afterwards Ms. Kasturi said, “In the excitement of making the solution, you seems to have complexed it. Take a step back and make it simple.” A common problem that many faces when they are developing a product. Yet, the judges had a hard time according to Fayaz who went onto say. “You are still in the education space. You need to find the solution fit better when you move on because of the very competitive space that we live in.

Closing up, it was Ms. Una McCauley a representative at UNICEF up on stage addressing.

“Every day should be a Children’s Hackathon day.”

It was a deep motivating note. She spoke how Entrepreneurialism is important to students and the innovation and technology initiatives that UNICEF has in all ways to support children. “We forget when we grow old about the needs of children. In that kind of a situation; solutions from children to children are what stands out.

“You are the future. And every one of you are a winner.”

She encouraged the kids to take all of the advice and comments as constructive criticism to do better the next time.

The Winners

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Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Sri Lanka

Overall there were 3 awards and all the students were awarded a certificate of participation. The Awards were:

  • Most market-ready solution: Unfortunately no school has been selected for this award. The panel stated that all the apps need refinement.
  • Best Presentation: Kingswood College.
  • The Most Impactful Solution: We had two winners for this. It was Miriswatte Maha Viduhala and Viharamahadevi Balika Vidyalaya.

With the awarding ceremony marked the conclusion of the Children’s Hackathon. The most important advice of all given to the kids was, not to stop from there, deploy the product and make it a real revenue generating business.

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