KidBright was created to help Thailand 4.0 move forward through the concept of a “makers nation”. Thailand has been creating the new economy along with strengthening human resource in science, technology and innovation in an attempt to reduce imported technology, while exporting local-made technology. What’s the engine to drive this goal.
STEM Education in Thailand
An attempt has been launched to change the learning foundation of Thailand in STEM Education through a new new learning process that engages Thai youth with technology and innovation on a daily basis through the “Coding at School Powered by KidBright” program.
In 2016 a research team at the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (NECTEC) developed a small computer, or embedded board, called “KidBright”, with a dream of Thai children would be equipped with the same simple tools for computer programming as students in industrialized countries, without depending on imported technology or equipment from abroad. The project started with a small working desk of researchers and was then tested with a small group of children between 7-13 years old at a house in a paddy field in Klong Luang, Pathum Thani province.
What researchers learned was that KidBright V2016 had the children inspired to learn computer programming. On their smartphones, tablets or computers, children could command the KidBright board to function, providing them an easy first step to learning programming.
On June 8, 2018, two years after the creation of the embedded board, KidBright V2018 was introduced and it astonishingly created a positive impact on STEM Education and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) because it led to an ecosystem of self-reliance in technology and education simultaneously.
Starting with a prototype in a NECTEC research lab, the technology was transferred to the private sector. Also, public schools nationwide were able to directly procure KidBright V2018 from a registered Thai innovator without joining an auction for the same imported products at a higher price.
Most importantly, KidBright V2018 has inspired students into learning computer programming for Matthayom 1 nationwide. The demand is real from the students, parents and educators who have experienced KidBright.
The Education Ministry also set it as a compulsory curriculum, ministry officials said.
The “Big Rock” project
Dr Suvit Mesinsee, Minister of Science and Technology, said the government is distributing 200,000 KidBright kits to schools across Thailand, which has the potential to impact millions of students. “We are throwing a big rock into the pond”, the minister said, using the “Big Rock” name of the project.
Having supported from the government allows the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) to develop the technology as an open source that manufacturers can produce and distribute without being charged fees. Parents can purchase the program at an affordable price. This will promote the developers of accessories to introduce more new inventions and collaborate with foreign organizations using the KidBright program. Thailand is ready to export this equipment overseas.
From the lab to manufacturing
NECTEC of NSTDA in collaboration with Gravitech Thai have verified the design and production quality of the KidBright board and expect that the 200,000 boards to be distributed by the government will be put to worthwhile use, and lead to a growing group of young scientists.
NECTEC-NSTDA expect the program to expand quickly, withthe Institute for Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST) developing textbooks and experimental kits to augment the KidBright learning experience while bringing the technology to a broader area in the country.
In addition, there will be KidBright manuals available to a higher level of programming that will lead to other real scientific projects as well. The balancing robot, for example, can run based on the embedded command of Kidbright. This is an opportunity for researchers and inventors throughout the country to use this board for creating new inventions as good as or better than other boards in the market.
Mr Thawesak Koanatakool, NECTEC chairman said: “This project has a very high opportunity to distribute more than 1 million boards a year. NECTEC announced this project as open source for any manufacturers to produce and thus all the benefits will be for Thai youths because it can lessen the cost of production. This coincides with the policy addressed by the Minister of Science and Technology that sets KidBright as a key accelerator to uplifting programming capability, having viable science projects and developing the Internet of Things (IoT). All will lead to a large scale of data development and once there are a troop of Thai digital talents, we will have the power to really move forward with Thailand 4.0 and be able to drive the strategy.”
When KidBright V2018 was introduced, experts in coding and maker communities in Thailand shared their opinion via social media.
Assoc Teerawat Prakobpol
Assoc Teerawat Prakobpol, Faculty of Science, King Mongkut of Technology Ladkrabang wrote:
“Personally this is my favorite tool. I talked to inventors today that this is exactly what I would like to do, but not sure I can do. This developer, however, has a very good mindset and teaching method.
In my opinion, I have always believed that the use of drones should not only be as a hobby but for scientific endeavors as well. We should create by ourselves, not just buy for assembling and enjoy play time. Once we think scientifically, we can always create any new things.
To control a quadcopter drone, the required motor direction, configuration, propeller design and calculations, controller programming must be balanced. It is not easy unless the intelligent box is specially designed and not easy to integrate those things based on ones’ own programming.
Those who develop the program accepted that it’s really hard, but if you want to start learning programming, you should try this two-wheel car. Principally, it has gyroscope for balancing. You can try programming to control a car moving without falling. It should be a fast algorithm so that the processing can be done in time.
This is truly learning example, building after playing. And yesterday we have FAB LAB that can build structures by ourselves.”
Dr Panutat Tejasen
Dr Panutat Tejasen, or Dr Jimmy, founder of the Chiang Mai Maker Club immediately wrote an open letter to makers.
“May I have my opinion about KidBright please.
At first glance, I was so frustrated. As a maker, KidBright is not the best board, there are limitations, but I believe that the team of developers must have their reasons to make it as they did.
I was very interested in KidBright, not because of the board itself, but because it is an opportunity for the country, a rare opportunity, and this might be the only one that we could have. In the past that internet boomed, we used to have school net, university net, which all failed repeatedly. In the blossom of mobile age, we had school tablets. Personally I preferred the “one laptop per child” project, which provided the model for KidBright.
The school tablet initiative totally failed with two reasons: the procurement process and product quality, and the content and curriculum contained in the tablet.
We don’t know the future of KidBright, but at least, the first problem is gone, the state supported the hardware for 200,000 quality boards with a leading chip, ESP32, unlike the tablets from China.
In terms of content, NECTEC announced it will be open source, with the maker community quickly becoming familiar with the hardware in just a few days. This time the content that children can access is not from the state only, but also from the community and I do believe in the power of community. The content is powerful and will drive the students who use KidBright to dare to think, dare to make and dare to try with a belief that the community will help beat the barrier of hardware constraint. The matter before us is how to tap into our children’s imagination and give them the courage to try and become programmers and scientists.
What happened today is very impressive. At least it’s a good start that the government supported, that schools pay attention, students participate and most importantly, that the community helps create content and push the market. Let’s join together. It may not the best board or best ecosystem, but if every maker helps, we can push the ecosystem and have this participative education system make its mark.”
Dr Sharnon Tubabadi
Dr Sharnon Tubabadi, CEO of Gravitech Thai loves his homeland and moved his research and development and electronics manufacturing base from the US to Thailand. He bought a copyright of Thai researchers to manufacture the board.
“After the opening of Coding at School by using KidBright as a pilot project so that more than 1 million Thai children can access the programming and IoT equipment, I would like to say that I am a developer and a Thai maker.
The KidBright project was started on March 4, 2016, by several teams of experts in technology and education. We wanted to create a platform for Thai children to learn and access electronics technology, programming and IoT equipment. Each expert brought their experience to jointly develop that lead to the first version of KidBright, which used the ESP8266 chip by the end 2016, and then the board was tested with a group of kids throughout 2017 in which real problems were found, allowing developers to create a new, better version. KidBright32 was created in early 2018 and we are confident that every single step of the learning process is fun, combined with the skills of STEM, which will allow children to create tangible stuff from their imagination.
Thailand may be developing this technology later than powerful countries like the UK and US, but I think that it’s not too late. Today I saw the smile of children from every part of Thailand, the smile of the minister and found that our intention to develop the youth has been on the right track.
Someone may think that KidBright is not the best hardware, the best software or the best platform, but we can be proud that it was created by Thais, manufactured by Thais and for Thai children. Most importantly, it’s a beginning for Thai youth to learn programming and acquire the skills that might perhaps make them a maker in the future.
For Thai makers, I think this is a good opportunity. If we open our minds and help develop the ecosystem, additional board, kits and lessons, we can create community and content as the business opportunity of everyone and we can be proud that we are part of the education development of Thailand. I promise that I will work hardest to drive KidBright to the global market, the same as Arduino. The minister has already initiated the project, we just have to work together.”
200,000 boards of KidBright delivered to schools nationwide
Two thousands boards of KidBright are gradually being delivered to more than 1,000 public schools nationwide beginning in July 2018, along with the opening of the learning community of students, teachers, and makers at the website http://www.kid-bright.org. Every school must submit projects for competition, at least three projects per school, with the final round of competitions being held in October, 2018.
Dr Sarun Sumriddetchkajorn, NECTEC director believes that with the research quality of the board that is second to none globally, the production process and learning society process will allow more than 1.5 million students of the project to have the opportunity to experience and learn STEM education. It is also expected that KidBright will be exported to the global market soon.
The beginning point of KidBright research
The beginning point of KidBright started in March 2016 by two researchers at NECTEC, Anuchit Leelayutho and Dr. Apichart Intarapanich who thought that Thai children should have same opportunity as those in England where the BBC supported the budget for manufacturing 1 million boards of micro bits for students ages 11-12 throughout England so that the kids can learn computer programming, Both researchers are experts in embedded technology and board development. They asked for a budget of 99,200 baht from NECTEC making the first version of the board that used ESP8266. They tested the board with a group of children, ages 7-13, on Oct. 20, 2016, and KidBright was born. The research resulted in the expansion of KidBright V2016.
NECTEC received support from Bangkok Bank to produce 500 boards to be tested at pilot schools.
- Suankularb Wittayalai School Nonthaburi 50 boards
- Suankularb Wittayalai School Rangsit 50 boards
- Suankularb Wittayalai School 50 boards
- Chit Jai Chuen School 50 boards
- Ban na Nakhonnayok School 50 boards
- Samkhok Pathum Thani School 50 boards
- Mahidol University Network 100 boards
(Reference: Bualuang Project for KidBright https://www.bangkokbanksme.com/article/10611)
In addition to delivering the boards to pilot schools, NECTEC also held a workshop of KidBright and project contest as follows:
* Trained science teachers of pilot schools on Dec 28, 2016
* Held activities for students to join competitions based on following procedures:
- Submit proposals for consideration during January-February 2017
- Ten were selected from 77 projects and the students were trained on Feb 18-19, 2017
- Project contest and award on March 20, 2017
- Join exhibition at NAC 2017