Team Edvantage Point speaks to 14-year-old Nihar Thakkar, an enthusiastic maker and student entrepreneur, who has opted for home-learning.
Q. What was your motivation to choose home-learning over regular school?
A. I went to school till I was in 4th grade. I enjoyed school and had no complaints against it. But, I realised that after school, I had a lot of homework. At the time, I was interested in building Legos and I didn’t get the time to do that. I had to wait for the weekend.
Much earlier, when I was in 2nd grade, I had met some friends who were into homeschooling and that’s when I was introduced to the concept. So, when I wanted to build Legos, I needed time for myself. That’s when I thought of home-learning. I wanted to call it home-learning because I didn’t want it to be a school at home with curriculum or subjects. I wanted to work on projects, build and learn how to make things. That helped me learn concepts required to make/build things.
When I told my parents about my interest in home-learning, they were positive about it. They enquired whether I had any issues at school. Few days later, went back to them and asked about their decision. They were happy about it and we decided to do it.
Q. What were the initial challenges when you started off home-learning? How did you begin exploring your interests?
A. The main challenge was that I didn’t know what to do. It was really new to me. There was no compulsion to do anything all day. Slowly, I got back to building Legos and sometimes, worked on electronics. At first, I started exploring these projects – working on them for a day of two, learning the concepts behind how they are made. Travel and constant learning helped me identify my interests. Most of my projects are built through learning concepts online.
Q. How did the idea for creating a BMTC app come by?
A. It was purely out of necessity and a challenge I faced. I was taking classes in the city and had to take the BMTC bus everyday. BMTC already had an app which lets you track buses. But, it is really cumbersome, poorly designed and doesn’t work well. So, the idea came by because I had learnt Android app development through an online course two years before that. I used my skill and developed the app so that people could use it better. I worked on it for a few months and released the app. The first version was very simple – purely to track buses. Initially, the downloads were limited to 10 to 20 per day, then it gradually increased to 100 and then in a month, it surged to 2000 downloads a day. That’s when I understood that people liked the app.
I then worked on the second version to make it more tourist-friendly and for anyone to navigate the city in buses. I released the second version in October 2017. There are over 90,000 downloads now and I’m pretty happy with the response. However, I understood that BMTC hasn’t thought the implementation very well and it gave me an opportunity to use their data to build a better app. I’m happy that BMTC has recognised my effort.
Q. How supportive is your family while working on projects?
A. My father helps me on technology-related projects because he was into software. I realised that most of my projects involve Mathematics. So, from the last two or three years, I have been learning Math concepts and my mother has been helping me out with that.
For instance: When I had seen a Segway, I was really interested to understand how it works. I wanted to build something like that. So, I came back home and discussed with my parents about it. At that time, I was also thinking about getting a bicycle. I had to choose between a building a Segway or getting a bicycle because getting both would become quite expensive. So, I decided to building a Segway. During my research for Segway, I came across a Unicycle and zeroed in on that. I ended up blowing a lot of parts but kept working on it. It took me a year to build the Unicycle.
Q. What did you learn through making/building things? How do you balance your projects with your daily activities?
A. When I started working on projects, I used to leave them when it got hard for me and then work on other project. Because, there was no instruction manual or anything like a guide to fix things. I realised that if I just kept quitting when things got hard for me, I would never really learn. The Unicycle was one such project that I worked on for a few weeks and discontinued. But, my parents pushed me to keep at it and finish it despite the challenges. When I finished is, it was amazing to see my hardwork reaping efforts. That keeps me motivated.
I’m currently interning with a French start-up where we’re building an Android Operating System. I’m also interning with IISc where we are working on a drone. Simultaneously, I’m learning dance, theatre and crochet. I’m experimenting on how the schedule works.
Q. What are the key takeaways from your home-learning experience?
A. It’s really important that your parents support home-learning. You have to be together and work on it, together. It also depends on the kind of homeschooling you are doing. Another important thing I’ve learnt is that when things get hard, we cannot give up on it. We should experiment and explore different topics. That will keep us going and make us a constant learner.
(Edvantage Point is India’s go-to platform for education-related products and services. We facilitate online admissions and recruitment services for schools, offer career advice and counselling services for students.)