Putting tech in the hands of school kids: The Dialog App Challenge


Give kids the right building blocks and they’ll build things that will amaze you. This is something we’ve seen time and time again. It’s not just university students building apps and IoT systems at hackathons. School students even in the most rural areas are catching up. And it’s these students the Dialog App Challenge aims to empower.

What exactly is this Dialog App Challenge?

This is an inter-school app challenge aimed at encouraging school students to build apps to solve problems. It’s not exactly a new initiative. Previous editions were conducted within the Central Province. But now with the support of the Ministry of Education, Dialog Ideamart is aiming to take this initiative to schools across the island.

One of the initial workshops conducted in Vavuniya for the Dialog App Challenge (Image credits: Dialog Ideamart)
One of the initial workshops conducted in Vavuniya for the Dialog App Challenge (Image credits: Dialog Ideamart)

Commenting on this initiative, Sunil Hettiarachchi – Secretary at the Ministry of Education said, “Teaching students at a primary and secondary education level to develop and fine-tune their thinking to solve real-world problems through technology provides for a great platform for the future of Sri Lanka.”

So how exactly will the competition work? The students would register in teams of five. After registrations close, the teams would be tasked with submitting a document. This document would explain their idea. After shortlisting the best ones, the teams would progress to the provincial stage.

Here they will be tasked with making a video pitching the app they’ve built. Finally, the winners of these provincial stages would proceed to the Grand Finale where the winners would be selected. And the winners stand to walk away with prizes worth LKR 300,000.

It’s not just a competition though

The Dialog Ideamart team stated that they would be offering access to mentors for every team that makes it to the finale. The goals here would be to help the teams polish both their pitch and solutions. In other words, to ensure that they can take their ideas forward if they choose to do so.

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday, Shafraz Rahim – Senior Business Lead at Dialog Ideamart shared, “When we did workshops at schools in rural areas, we found that students liked to do IT. But they didn’t have any way of learning it. Even if they found videos on YouTube, they were hard to understand because they were in English.”

Hence the Dialog App Challenge website having a knowledge portal. Here students or anybody else who is curious can learn the basics of building an app. But most importantly, many of the lessons are in English, Sinhala, and Tamil. Thus making them accessible to all and this we’ve seen does have benefits.

Sharing an example of this at the Dialog App Challenge press conference was Sandaru Suranjaya – Tech Evangelist at Dialog Ideamart. He introduced us to the story of a girl named Nimesha that they met during their workshops. She came from a rural village where the primary occupation was farming. Every morning, her father would exhaustedly walk 2km to water his crops.

Yarl Geek Challenge Season 7 Juniors | Dialog App Challenge | Kids
Kids beyond Colombo want to learn IT and they can build creative solutions (Image credits: Yarl IT Hub)

Nimesha wanted to make his life easier but didn’t know how. Until she learned about IT at school, took part in different competitions, and even traveled to Colombo to attend workshops. Soon afterward, she developed an app. This app-controlled a water sprinkler system in her father’s field. All her father had to do was send an SMS and now he only walks to inspect his field casually.

Empowering the next generation

Nimesha’s story is rare but it’s not the only one. Every year we’ve seen equally amazing ideas from kids in Jaffna at the Yarl Geek Challenge Juniors. Similarly, in Colombo, we’ve seen kids build robots and even take them globally. This is why it’s important to encourage and nurture their desire to learn and build.

Dialog App Challenge | Kids
Yes, these are Sri Lankan students building a robot

But this is easier to do so in Colombo than it is for the students in the rural provinces. These are students that may not even have a computer at home. If they’re lucky, they’ll have one at school. But more needs to be done if Sri Lanka wishes to utilize this potential to create something greater. To quote Sandaru, “The students in the rural areas also have potential. Is it fair for us to be in the technology industry and not do anything for them?”


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